Occam’s Razor, Hanlon’s Razor, and Tinfoil Hats

Recently, the Farnam Street Blog (Shane Parrish’s excellent site) published primers on two related mental tools: Occam’s razor and Hanlon’s razor.

Occam’s razor is the more well-known principle: if you have two competing explanations for something, the simpler one is more likely correct.

Hanlon’s razor, which is a play on Occam’s razor, states: never attribute to malice that which can be more easily explained by neglect or stupidity.

I enjoyed Farnam Street’s exploration of both of these ideas, and was reminded of a pernicious force that can be effectively countered using these two mental models: conspiracy theories.

You probably see them on social media, or in the comments section of your favorite newspaper online. Are dark, powerful organizations collaborating to topple the global economy? Is a worldwide cabal of scientists working together to push phony climate theories in order to get funding? Is gold the only real store of value? Is everything rigged against me?

Thanks to Occam and Hanlon, we know the answer. Probably not.