Markov’s Razor

December 3, 2007

So I came across this interesting set of posts on the cognitive development of political behaviors (via Sara at Orcinus). I thought it was fascinating, although I don’t have the background in cognitive psychology to really evaluate the claims. What struck me, though, was the description of “levels” of thinking which were purely sequential. What would it be like to have such a mindset? Furthermore, would the predominance of sequential thinkers explain the awful post-9/11 atmosphere, in which anyone whose answer to “Why?” went deeper than, “Because they hate freedom,” was branded a traitor, in league with the terrorists?

I’ve come up with a handy shorthand for this mindset: sequential thinkers live life according to Markov’s Razor. (Yes, I just now made that up.) You may be familiar with Occam’s Razor: “the simplest solution is the best.” My definition of Markov’s razor is: “the simplest unitary solution that is also independent of all previous events is the best.” (I’m open to better phrasing.)

In other words, if you view your life as a simple sequence, then causality becomes a Markov chain, with each effect having only one cause. Looking to explain an event, you instinctively seek out the reason that has both the most explanatory power *and* is closest in time to the event. Having found a cause, then it becomes the entirety of the explanation. Any further attempt to dig actually *is* wrong, since events can only have one explanation.

What’s more, by Markov’s Razor, the prior history of *that* cause (what caused the cause) is independent of the current event. That is, once you’ve found the explanation, there is no reason to go further into the past. The terrorists were bad men who hated us for our freedom. What made them bad men? Irrelevant. They were bad. Why do they hate us for our freedom? Not important. If you ask these questions, then it is because you are seeking to supplant the cause. Seeking to explain the terrorist behavior breaks the Markov chain, because if they had reasons that were more complex, then the fact that they were bad men ceases to be the cause. In fact, in a sequential mind, if an explanation for their behavior exists, then it in fact becomes a justification for it.

I dunno. This kind of Markov chain-based reasoning seems to explain a lot. Criminal behavior, for example, shouldn’t be examined, because explanation is an excuse. One cut of Markov’s Razor, and poverty, drug abuse, mental health, can all be ignored societally, because *criminals are bad people*. If you explain *why* someone turns to crime, then that is exactly the same as *excusing* them.

Looking for root causes to address is a waste of time and money. We should just find all the bad people, and prevent them from doing bad things.

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One Response to “Markov’s Razor”

  1. And then we end up with “future crime” as per Minority Report. I came here searching for markovs razor, as I had accidentally conflated Markov chains and Occam’s Razor. I like your explanation though, I think it fits well.

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