Parsimony (Noun.)

A post from Karyn 


the quality of being careful with money or resources :thrift :
the quality or state of being stingy: economy in the use of means to an end

I guess that’s what were doing out here; living with little. Trying to exist in a state of being where every action has a reaction. Simply, we have to live with the understanding that less is more.

plug your laptop in all day–> lose power at night–> no purified water in the morning

low sunlight–> less power–> don’t conserve –> no purified water



Despite its meaning when applied to our current lifestyle off the water and power grids, the word appears somewhat negative in this explanation. I’m not so sure how I feel about that evaluation. To display, honestly, the value I have perceived in Merrium-Webster definition I offer the example provided:

“Her parsimony was so extreme that she’d walk five miles to the store to save a few cents on gas.”

In simple terms, how is this action to save money extreme? Five miles is a long way, yes, but walking is extremely healthful and if you live in a beautiful area, it may also be healing. At that, depending on her car, those few cents equate to about $0.65 by today’s standards ($3.50/gallon at  25mpg). Perhaps those five miles are to the grocery story, a walk which occurs ~3x each week. That’s adds up to 30 miles/week, which would cost about $13 a month (the cost of a movie) and $156/year. That $156 saved essentially pays for the cost of groceries over three trips.

Yay, free groceries!

Maybe you still consider that extreme, but I can’t afford a car, so it makes sense to me.

I don’t see the use in the dictionary taking an opinionated stance, but perhaps it was intended for ‘parsimony’ to always appear in the extreme. Either way, the more I look into the word the less I am inclined to see it’s nature as mostly extreme.

It sounds so nice.
Am I biased by the sound?

The word came to me the other day when I thought the definition was closer to “the occurrence of two things appearing closely in parallel, as if in an almost magical form.” Don’t ask me why I was thinking about this word, it simply came to mind and I ran with it.

Parsimony is related to something called “Occam’s razor.” In fact, “Occam’s razor” is the ‘law of parsimony.’

This law states that when looking for explanations the most likely is probably the most simple. Only when a complex explanation holds more explanatory power (which means, it can answer more or provides exact evidence) should simple explanations be put aside in favor of the complex.

It seems the idea came about partially in relation to nature. It was observed that nature was simple, using simple paths to many solutions. The panda’s thumb and the panda’s dependence on bamboo, for example, was the way in which nature challenged the creature to defend it’s purpose on Earth. The problem was as follows:

Pandas eat only bamboo
Bamboo meat is protected by a thick outer flesh.
Bamboo is not easily consumed or held.

A hand like ours would have worked, but that’s complicated, so instead the panda got a nub and space between that nub and its fingers just large enough to grab bamboo. Its thumb does almost nothing else, but the panda can eat bamboo with it.

For many animals, bamboo is too tough to open and thus they eat other food. Not so for the panda. For them, it is bamboo meat or death. As a result, those pandas with ugly thumbs, more beneficial for the consumption of bamboo, survived. The others, with prettier but completely useless thumbs, died.

So it goes.

Forests also work like this. If drought becomes common, trees that need a lot of water don’t survive. Trees that can survive with less water and more sun will begin to dominate. If drought-resistant trees (and their seeds) are not available or the drought-resistant trees are not strong enough, then the forest dies, is consumed by insects, or burns (or all three + other possibilities).

Trees on fire

Dead trees

Anyhow, I understand where I could go with this concept (parsimony), in religion and philosophy, but I’m a lover of nature and aesthetics, so I will take parsimony only there, leaving the rest to comment (if any readers so desire) and to Jeremy, where he is much better equipped.

I conclude by bringing us full circle, by focusing on where I began. Moving back to my observation about the Merrium-Webster definition where I felt parsimony was placed in the extreme and, perhaps, the negative. Such a value speaks little to me when seeking definition. I go to definitions for simple explanations and a value-laden definition does not appear simple to me.

What ,then, am I to do in this instance where I disagree with the dictionary?

Perhaps, I am stubborn. Perhaps, the dictionary – a long held tool of reason I have used when I could not find grasp of a social reality – has failed me. Perhaps, the dictionary is written by people too and is then naturally at risk of supporting subjective observations. We are only human, after all, imperfect as we are born. No matter the answer, the guiding moral may be;

Even things that may draw or lead us to an understanding or love of simplicity become complicated when given a name.

Nuance, pfft.

PS: A video is still coming!
Our internet has been down because of low light
and the video stabilization software on my computer uses a lot of energy.


Please share your thoughts, all are welcome and will receive a thoughtful response.

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