04barberReader, do you seek answers to the Great Mysteries of life? Are you on the road to find out like Cat Stevens once was? Allow me to point out the modern location of the Delphic Oracle who has the answers to all your questions.

Most of the wisdom generated in the real world originates in barber shops. If you want to find out what is really going on, go to a barber shop and sit for a while. I don’t visit the barber very often due to inheriting my grandfather’s hair line. When I do go for sentimental reasons, I always go to the Haymount Barber Shop, which is presided over by Donnie Barefoot, the Philosopher Barber King. I have been going there since 1978 when I had hair.

Entering the Haymount Barber shop is stepping back in time into the late 1950s. Donnie has seen more stuff in Haymount than anyone else. He has the answers to your inquiries. If he doesn’t know the answer, he knows someone who does know the answer.

Once upon a time, I asked him once why he charged me, a follicle challenged American, the same amount that he charged someone with a full head of hair. He did not miss a beat responding, “I have to charge a finder’s fee.” I never asked again and have been cheerfully paying full price ever since.

As I child I went to the Suburban Barber shop on Raeford Road, where the Culbreth brothers held sway. They had a stuffed large-mouth bass on their wall and checkerboard black and white tiles covering the floor under a thick layer of someone’s hair. My friends and I always asked for GI haircuts back then because that was what you did.

Thinking about barber shops got me to pondering the patron saint of all Barber Philosophers, the esteemed William of Ockham. William analyzed the mysteries of life in the early 14th century. He came up with the theory now known as Occam’s Razor.

I assume he was a barber because back then barbers used razors to give haircuts and shaves and perform surgeries large and small. The cureall for what ailed you in the medieval period was bloodletting. Barbers began bloodletting in 1163 after Pope Alexander III stopped priests from doing it. In medieval times, most people couldn’t read, so barbers used the red and white barber pole as advertising for their business. European barber poles have red stripes to represent blood and white stripes to represent bandages used to bind up wounds after the barber had performed surgery. American barber poles also have a blue stripe, which either represents the veins which were opened for bloodletting or just as a patriotic tip of the hat to Old Glory.

Back to Occam and his razor. Occam came up with a theory about problem-solving, which says if you have several possible answers to a problem, choose the solution that makes the fewest assumptions. I will spare you the Latin version of Occam’s razor because I don’t understand Latin, but one version of his theory is “Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity.”

The reason Occam’s theory is called a razor is not because Gillette has anything to do with it. The razor reference means if you have two or more possible answers, shave away the ones that have the most assumptions. Choose the simpler of the answers and you may be correct. Occam’s Razor holds that “It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.”

If you want to get deep into the philosophical weeds, consider a version of Occam’s Razor called “ontological parsimony.” This has nothing to do with parsley – that useless, green, leafy material that blocks access to your dinner. Ontological parsimony in a barber shop means the rule of simplicity. If a simple answer is available, don’t choose the answer that requires the most complex series of events to occur. Simple is good.

My favorite explanation of how Occam’s Razor works is the Zebra version used in medicine. According to our friends in Wikipedia Land (who may or may not be Russian trolls), in making a medical diagnosis, doctors should refrain from coming up with a really “exotic disease diagnosis” when a more common disease is likely. A fellow named Theodore Woodward came up with the Zebra medical explanation. “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.”

The hoofbeats could be coming from a herd of zebras. However, if you are in Texas, it is much more likely that the hoofbeats are from horses.

So, what have we learned today? Barbers are wise but shouldn’t do surgery. Occam and his razor believe the simplest answer is usually the correct one. The sound of a herd of zebras resembles that of a herd of horses but betting it’s horses instead of zebras will make you more money.

Johnny Mercer channeled Occam when he wrote the lyrics “You’ve got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ And latch on to the affirmative/ Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.”

Finally, as Roger Miller once sang, “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd/ But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to.”

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