Occam's, Hanlon's, Grice's: How to Level Up Your Life With The Power of Cognitive Razorsby@scottdclary
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Occam's, Hanlon's, Grice's: How to Level Up Your Life With The Power of Cognitive Razors

by Scott D. ClaryMarch 28th, 2023
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Cognitive Razors are mental Swiss Army knives that philosophers and big-brained folks use to make sense of this crazy world. We've got all kinds of these bad boys, from Occam's Razor (keep it simple, folks) to Hanlon's razor (don't blame evil when stupidity will do).
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Have you ever seen a carpenter chisel away, sculpting something insanely impressive from just a block of wood? Inch by inch, they craft a masterpiece. That's how the human mind works, and it's time we talked about Cognitive Razors, those mental Swiss Army knives that philosophers and big-brained folks use to make sense of this crazy world.

We've got all kinds of these bad boys, from Occam's Razor (keep it simple, folks) to Hanlon's Razor (don't blame evil when stupidity will do). Trust me, understanding these and knowing when to whip 'em out has changed my game.

If you're anything like yours truly, you crave these mental hacks to navigate the world. So let's dive into some of the slickest cognitive razors out there and figure out how they can level up our everyday lives.

Grice's Razor

You ever dive into the philosophy of language? If so, you've probably come across implicature. The mastermind behind these mind-blowing ideas is Paul Grice, a British philosopher who knew that what we say and what we mean don't always match up.

Picture this: you're on a date at a hip coffee joint. You ask your date if they're having fun. They pause, then say, "Yeah – the coffee's good." They've said something nice, but they're slickly dodging your question.

Enter Grice's Razor. It tells us to dig deeper into what people say, not just accept their words at face value. What's their tone revealing about their real thoughts? What's the context? Are they leaving stuff out or sidestepping an issue on purpose? What is the implicate thing they’re really saying.

It's not just about decoding your date's vibe. On a deeper level, it's about truly seeing and getting the people around you.

Occam's Razor 

Alright, let me tell you about a personal favorite that's seriously changed the way I think: William of Occam, a philosopher and theologian from 1285 to 1348, who was kicking it with the likes of Saint Nicholas and Marco Polo. This dude wrote, "Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate," which translates to "Plurality must never be posited without necessity."

And thus, the law of parsimony was born. Now, to give props where they're due, the first philosopher to chat about this concept was actually Durandus of Saint-Pourçain, but Occam made it a household name. So, what's it all about? It means that when you've got multiple explanations for something, the simplest or most logical one is usually the right one. This razor is all about cutting away the excess complexity and getting to the core of an issue, instead of getting tangled up in weird, abstract possibilities.

I've found Occam's Razor to be a total game-changer for dealing with anxiety and ruminating thoughts. Let's say you get left out of an important meeting – is it because everyone secretly hates you and your boss is planning to fire you? Or, without any solid evidence to back up those fears, is it way more likely that the non-invite was just an oversight? Occam's Razor helps you cut through the mental clutter and separate your thoughts from reality, keeping you on track.

The beauty of this mental tool is that it can be applied to all sorts of situations, from personal relationships to business decisions. When you're faced with multiple potential explanations or solutions, Occam's Razor pushes you to choose

Hanlon's Razor 

Now, let's talk about Hanlon's Razor, a principle cooked up by Robert J. Hanlon during his work on military conflict resolution. The idea's a no-brainer: don't assume malice when plain old stupidity can explain it.

In other words, don't jump to the worst conclusions about people. When someone messes up or lets you down, it doesn't always mean they've got it in for you; sometimes, it's just a simple mix-up or blunder.

Don't get it twisted – you can still be totally justified in feeling ticked off or disappointed, even if their intentions weren't evil. But just being able to admit and accept that the other person isn't your arch-nemesis can take the edge off a rough situation.

Hanlon's Razor is like a cheat code for navigating social interactions and understanding human behavior. It reminds you to keep an open mind and consider alternative explanations before jumping to conclusions. We're all human, after all, and we all make mistakes – sometimes without even realizing it. So, give people the benefit of the doubt and save yourself some unnecessary stress.

The next time you find yourself in a sticky situation or dealing with someone who's screwed up, try applying Hanlon's Razor. You might just discover that the issue isn't as sinister as it first seemed. Instead, you'll be better

Sagan Standard 

The Sagan Standard, inspired by the legendary astronomer and skeptic Carl Sagan, is a killer tool for evaluating claims. It says that if something sounds too wild or too good to be true, you better demand some serious proof before buying into it. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, my friends.

I could go on for days about the ways you can use this razor, but let's hit the highlights:

Nailing down your personal values and beliefs. Maybe you've got beliefs and values you've held onto since you were a kid, but never really checked 'em out for yourself. Put on your Sagan hat and remove your personal bias. Ask yourself – do these beliefs hold water? Where's my rock-solid evidence?

Keeping it real with your goals. We all have dreams and aspirations – but how achievable are they, really? You might have a game-changing idea that could shake up the world, but hype and motivation alone won't cut it. You need research, financials, and solid signs that your plans are doable.

Sorting through the news. We live in an era of nonstop info coming at us from every angle. But don't be fooled – just because a news anchor looks sharp and sounds serious doesn't mean their facts and opinions are gospel. It's easy to believe everything you hear, but the effort it takes to critically evaluate info is worth its weight in gold.

Challenging assumptions. We're all human, and we make assumptions based on what we see – it's just how we roll. But think about it: judging a complex human being based on their appearance or actions is actually making a bold claim. So, it's worth questioning our assumptions and digging deeper if we want to form an accurate opinion.

Can you tell I'm a huge fan of this particular razor?

The Sagan Standard can be a game-changer in so many areas of life – from business to relationships to self-improvement. By adopting this mindset, you'll train yourself to be more critical and objective in your thinking, which is an invaluable skill in today's fast-paced world.

So, the next time you're faced with a wild claim or you're questioning the validity of something, break out the Sagan Standard. Ask yourself if there's extraordinary evidence to back up the claim, or if it's just a bunch of hot air. By being more discerning and critical in your thinking, you'll be better equipped to make smarter decisions and navigate the complexities of life with confidence.

Remember, the Sagan Standard isn't about being a buzzkill or shooting down other people's dreams – it's about keeping your feet firmly on the ground, making informed decisions, and pushing for the truth in a world that's often more interested in flash than substance. Armed with this razor, you'll be a force to be reckoned with, in both your personal and professional life.

Can you tell I'm a fan of this one?

The Arena Razor

Alright, I couldn't dig up much history on this one, but it's too good not to share. Big shoutout to Sahil Bloom for helping to put this razor on the map.

The Arena Razor is a mental exercise that throws you right into the action. Picture this: you're faced with a choice – do you want to be the gladiator fighting in the arena, or the spectator throwing rocks from the sidelines? This razor says you should always choose the gladiator.

In other words, there's no satisfaction or honor in being the judgmental bystander. Sure, it might seem easier, but that's just an illusion.

I like to bust out the Arena Razor when there's a heated debate or a polarizing issue on the table. It's all too easy to side with the loudest voice – like, maybe four of your buddies are all gung-ho about a certain policy, but your other friend has some doubts, and deep down, you kinda agree. Take the hit and stand up for your convictions. In the long run, you'll feel more fulfilled and earn more respect.

The Arena Razor is a reminder to be brave and take risks, even when it's uncomfortable. It's about stepping up, making your voice heard, and having the courage to stand by your beliefs, even when you're outnumbered. Choosing to be the gladiator helps you grow, learn, and become a better version of yourself – someone who isn't afraid to get their hands dirty and fight for what they believe in.

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you have to pick a side or voice your opinion, remember the Arena Razor. Embrace the role of the gladiator, and don't shy away from the challenges that come with it. Be willing to engage in meaningful discussions, defend your stance, and learn from the experiences of others.

This razor also applies to taking action in your personal and professional life. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and criticizing others, choose to be the person who steps up and makes a difference. Whether it's pursuing your passion, starting a business, or advocating for a cause you believe in, being the gladiator means taking control of your life and shaping your own destiny.

The beauty of the Arena Razor is that it encourages self-reflection and growth. By consistently choosing to be the gladiator, you'll develop resilience, courage, and a stronger sense of self. As you face challenges head-on and learn from your experiences, you'll become a more effective problem-solver and a more empathetic listener.

In the end, the Arena Razor is all about embracing your inner warrior and living life on your own terms. By choosing to be the gladiator time and time again, you'll not only gain the respect of others but also cultivate a deep sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth. So, gear up and step into the arena – your future self will thank you for it.

Wrap Up

I hope I've done justice in showing you just how game-changing cognitive razors can be. The ones I've shared here are just a handful of the many that exist – but they're some of my personal favorites and have been absolute lifesavers when it comes to tackling tough decisions.

But don't stop here! If you're hungry for more, I strongly encourage you to dive into some research of your own. It's a fascinating field that can seriously upgrade your decision-making skills and help you navigate life's twists and turns like a pro.

Here are a few more cognitive razors to get you started:

Chesterton's Fence: Before you tear down a fence, understand why it was built in the first place. This razor reminds us not to dismiss traditions, rules, or established systems without first considering their original purpose and potential benefits.

The Law of Triviality: People tend to focus on trivial issues rather than tackling complex ones. Recognize when you or others are getting bogged down in minor details and refocus on the bigger picture.

The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule): In many situations, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Prioritize your efforts on the most impactful areas and avoid wasting time on less significant tasks.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, and there are countless other cognitive razors waiting to be discovered. As you explore more of these mental tools, you'll start to see how they can be applied in various aspects of your life – from personal relationships to business strategy, and everything in between.

By understanding and utilizing cognitive razors, you'll develop a sharper sense of discernment and a more well-rounded perspective on the world around you. You'll become a more effective problem-solver, a better communicator, and a more resilient individual overall.

As you journey through this fascinating world of cognitive razors, you might even find yourself creating your own mental tools that cater specifically to your unique thought processes and experiences. There's no limit to the ways you can expand and sharpen your mental toolkit, so stay curious and keep exploring.

So, what are you waiting for? Dive into the world of cognitive razors and start unlocking the true potential of your mind. Not only will you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you, but you'll also discover how much more satisfying and fulfilling life can be when you're equipped with the right mental tools.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. As always, I appreciate your support and interest. Keep learning, growing, and challenging yourself – the world needs more gladiators like you.

Stay sharp,


Also published here.

Editor's note: Featured image generated using AI (Stable Diffusion 2.1) with the following prompt: "Robot thinking about the world while looking at the busy streets of new york."