Part One: Groundwork
Introduction: The introduction will summarize what the volume is about, introduce the two competing perspectives, and provide a brief glimpse into the methodology employed to build a narrative reconciling the two. It will also describe the two year project of which the volume itself is the end product.
Chapter One: Literature review. There are roughly 50 books dealing with explanation which have been written and cited by others during the past three decades. Nearly all have been monographs focused on one perspective or one academic discipline. The literature review will summarize the respective contributions of these works and locate them in the respective worldviews.
Chapter Two: Alicia Juarrero on History. Alicia Juarrero, a former member of the National Endowment for the Humanities, writes of the history of the concept of explanation from the ancients to the early twentieth century. Her chapter compliments the literature review by illustrating the deep roots of many of these questions.
Part Two: The Two Perspectives
Chapter Three: Three Case Studies
• The Creationism/Evolution debate
• The financial crisis/housing bubble in the United States from 2003 to present
• The PRISM/NSA cyber-intelligence projects as brought to public awareness by Edward Snowden
Chapter Four: Common Sense Scientific Realism on the Cases
Chapter Five: Common Sense Pragmatic Constructivism on the Cases
Part Three: Scientific Realism Inspired Approaches
Chapter Six: Kevin Kelly notes “I am mainly interested in how scientific method could possibly lead us to true generalizations about Nature,.” He then explains how Ockham’s Razor can help with this question – at least within the bounds of realism.
Chapter Seven: Stan Salthe, working with a form of one of Hempel's two modes of explanation - the subsumption of phenomena under a covering law, writes that a mode of 'epi-thinking' leads to productively exploring vagueness and finality.
Chapter Eight: William Wimsatt's four dimensions of explanation (mechanism vs. function, levels of organization, perspective, and time scale) are our tools for recognizing the causes of our divergence and integrating the richness of our different means of accessing the phenomena. We do not have a God's eye view of everything. Instead, we have a partial view of the world influenced by our peers, tools and methods for approaching it, accidents of our particular knowledge, and our interests.
Part Four: Reaching Across the Divide
Chapter Nine: Nancy Nersessian shares her work regarding the creation of scientific and computational models from nature, or bio-simulation to “[produce] understanding to reveal, show, provide insight, get a grip, a gut feeling and to predict.” She shows how her neuro-engineering research has created computational simulations of understanding, explanation, and various mechanisms of learning including neural networks and a robotic artist that “learned to draw within the lines.”
Chapter Ten: Paul Thagard develops cognitive perspectives on the nature of explanation, mental models, theory choice, and resistance to scientific change and shows how discoveries of new theories and explanations lead to conceptual change and can integrate descriptive and normative concerns.
Chapter Eleven: Sandra Mitchell argues, based on case studies from the special sciences, that “there are multiple modes of explanation that are tuned to the kinds of phenomena that populate our world, that part of what’s generating the change in our understanding of explanation is that the more we understand about nature, the more different kinds of things we discover, and our accounts of explanation and the modes of explanation need to accommodate that kind of variety that generates a type of pluralism in explanatory styles.”
Part Five: Narrative: the Pragmatic Constructivist Tool
Chapter Twelve: Rukmini Nair asks why human beings across the world are such compulsive and inventive storytellers. Extending current research in cognitive science and narratology, she argues that we seem to have a genetic drive to fabricate stories as a way of gaining the competitive advantages such fictions give us. She suggests that stories are a means of fusing causal and logical explanations of ‘real’ events with emotional recognition, so that the lessons taught to us as children, and then throughout our lives via stories, lay the cornerstones of our most crucial beliefs. Nair concludes that “our stories really do make us up, just as much as we make up our stories.”
Chapter Thirteen: Timothy Allen uses the concept of “Holons,” and writes of using narratives and ecological hierarchies. “ With emergence, contexts change, and so observers must change their decisions as to the structures they assert. Models are not the point of it all, but narratives improved by challenges from models are. I take a post-modern view, where it is the intrinsic process of science that lends quality. Truth is beside the point, in a complex world perceived in infinity of ways.”
Chapter Fourteen: David Snowden writes of Cynefin (a Welsh word that signifies “habitat,” and the “multiple factors in our environment and our experience that influence us in ways we can never understand”) and of his development of narrative as a research method. Hugo Letiche on the other hand writes of “Zombie Complexity,” noting that “Zombies” are a concept popular in South Africa in which rich women are said to be making their money by employing the disinterred dead at night. He asks” Is social complexity theory a politically and philosophically mindless (Zombie) or a mindful theory?”
Part Six: Where to From Here?
Chapter 15: Steven Wallis and Jonathan Waskan each suggest that our understanding of the very concept “explanation” is in need of analysis if we are going to gain better understanding. Waskan writes: “It is essential to understand what explanations are and what role they play if we are to understand how science works and what makes it such an exemplary epistemic exercise. It may be that, once we have a deeper grasp of the reality, we may wish to prescribe modifications to the terminology that we use to describe it.” To which Wallis notes: “By understanding conceptual systems as systems, and analyzing them with the same kind of rigor as we apply to study other world systems, we gain a new platform.”
Chapter 16: Beckett Sterner argues that generating explanations begins with posing a problem for prediction. We avail ourselves of some existing techniques in the field and construct a procedure to make the predictions. Let’s also assume this procedure works exceedingly well: it gets all or nearly all the predictions correct. Here is where we can begin to search for explanations: we must work to establish an interpretation of the procedure as a model. The interpretation asserts that some structural features of the model responsible for its predictive success in fact correspond to attributes of the natural process that explain its behavior. We can then test this assertion by further observation or experiment. If it holds true, we have generated part or all of an explanation for the process’s output states using the procedure’s predictive success.
Explanations are a form of narrative (despite the best efforts of proponents of the deductive-nomological model to shift that understanding). Explanations have a teller (with a purpose) and an audience. When the teller and audience share a foundational understanding of both world view and context, explanations in the form of category assignment (labels, names etc.) are an effective shorthand. When such a foundational understanding is not shared, then only explanations in the form of mechanism seem to be powerful enough to overcome the hurdles offered by the lack of shared understanding. When other types of explanation are offered in such a scenario, the participants often resort to explorations of context, declarations of the meanings of words, or outright conflict rather than finding a common acceptance. This observation is critical to the success of the offered explanation which is presumably the teller’s goal. We end with a series of tools which can be deployed to both help guide the questioning which will reveal the presence (or absence) of that shared foundational understanding and to further the probing of context which can generate the same.
In the words of David Snowden : “Keeping
parallel independent observers and comparing
results is key, there is a significant
difference between developing a theory and
validating a theory, two steps not one that case
based and purely inductive techniques miss out
on, objectification of abductive
plausibilities is going to be key, context is
everything, it enables you to understand
constraints, avoid interpretative conflict and
generally move forwards, it is never about the
view of one observer, it is about the
independently formed views of multiple observers
in many contexts, weak signal detection needs to
focus at the liminal, at boundary crossings and
boundary approaches to understand when context
is shifting and limitations may be being