Occam’s Razor volume 8

Yesterday the journal I advise, Occam’s Razor, had the release party for its eighth volume. I was sad to be kept from attending by a wandering kidney stone. Here’s what I’d thought to say as the event got underway.

I’m delighted to welcome you to the release party for the eighth volume of Occam’s Razor, Western’s cross-disciplinary journal for undergraduate scholarship. Written by students, edited by students, also, you should know this, funded by students. Be sure to take one. You own it.

Eight years ago two undergrads were sad that all the work they put into a seminar paper or a research project went to getting an A and then – nowhere. Done, gone, forgotten. So they started this journal, to publish the work of their peers and those who came after, so they wouldn’t be sad in the same way.

At first it was held together with string and chewing gum. No office, no equipment, no budget except what they could beg each year. Year by year, things steadied out, and now, thanks to the good folks at the Student Publications Committee, we have a budget we can count on, and thanks to the kind hospitality of the Jeopardy staff, we have some office space we can use. And thanks to you, the students and faculty of Western, we’re getting more and better submissions every year.

I’ve only just got my hands on this year’s issue, but what I can tell you is, it has the highbrow ambition to take on Deleuze and Guattari, the bravado to look at law enforcement reform in the age of Trump. It ventures into the wilderness of ecocriticism and some bewildering press coverage of #metoo. It examines links between international adoption and trauma, and maps out styles of white racial socialization.

Some hard topics. It’s not an accident the cover is a rockface. Ezra Pound liked to say that beauty is difficult. This cover, and the contents too, argue that difficulty is beautiful.

I’ll let those who speak next introduce the authors to you. But please join me now in congratulating the Editor-in-Chief, Paola Merrill, and her Associate Editors, Cassie Bartlett, Chris Horton, and Grace Dunbar-Miller. And also please help me welcome Grace into the role of next year’s Editor-in-Chief.

Occam’s Razor 2016

Celebrated the launch of Occam’s Razor with its faithful dedicated brilliant editorial staff this evening. Wow they done good. So proud of them.

I’m faculty advisor, which in some situations might mean doing lots, but here’s mostly meant saying, “you, go be you; oh and keep a style sheet.”

Soon, a link to the online issue, in all its glory. For now, a TOC to titillate or intimidate you – maybe both – and brief remarks I made at a podium.

Check these Western moves out.

  • The Beneficence of Gayface
  • Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment Screening
  • The Historical Biogeography of Phototropic Consortium
  • Perspectivalism and Blaming
  • Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Cause to Treatment
  • Deterministic Chaos: Applications in Cardiac Electrophysiology

And what I thought to say, or close to it.

Ockham’s Razor. Called a razor because it shaves away the excess, the unnecessary. Named for William of Ockham, a medieval Scholastic theologian whose shapeliness of mind may still be of help to us.

An early form of his razor goes like this. “Plurality must never be posited without necessity.” Got that?

Or – other things being equal, the simpler explanation is the better one.

Or – don’t add entities to your story of what happened you don’t have to.

For instance, when your iPhone stops working for no reason you know, you could blame leprechauns for it, but you don’t, because that would be extra.

In other words – cut through bullshit, your own or another’s, as best you can, in every way you can.

The world is complex enough; don’t add needless complications.

The more complications you cut through, the more the magnificent complexity of the life we share here together steps out.

And these guys get that. Their work shines forth their understanding of it. Look at this cover, at the edge of this cloudbank here. It’s complex. Puffs and crannies. And you know that if you zoomed up to it, it would be just as complex, six inches from your face. Wisps and droplets.

The only way that works – the only way complexity can resound like that – is when everything unnecessary has been let fall away. Look at this design. Clouds and empty space and a pebble moon. Complexity meets simplicity, and right at that edge, there’s life, and light.

Anyway, heeding Ockham’s principle, I’m going to be brief.

Does this journal matter? Is it more than just a needless complication?

I think it is. I think it does. Students at Western are doing some phenomenal work in their classes, their research, their independent projects. And all too often it gets handed in, graded, filed away, forgotten. No one in their class sees it – let alone other students in their department, other departments, other colleges.

I think of Occam’s Razor as the geekiest coffee shop on earth. It’s the place where the papers and projects that otherwise might not meet come together, share the same space, relax a little, caffeinate a little, share their intelligence with each other. Calculus chills with social science methodology. Cultural studies flirts with chaos theory.

Geeky coffee shop, or, the university, remembering why it came to be. There are no grades in these pages, no student learning outcomes, no bureaucracy of any sort. This is inquiry not institution. Curious, restless, meticulous.

I’m honoured and grateful to have been a small part of it.