The Process of Explanation: Digital Event September 2017

What is an explanation? How do people explain things? What is the underlying cognition of explanations? Anyone who has ever tried to explain anything to another person knows that those questions are far from trivial. How would you explain a car differential to someone? Or how your toilet flush works?

This digital event focused on the psychology of explanations. The event was based on the recognition that explanations are crucial to our cognitive lives because they inform our understanding of the world, structure our concepts, and guide our actions.

The digital event coincided with the publication of a special issue of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review dedicated to the processes of explanation. The issue was guest edited by Andrei Cimpian (New York University) and Frank Keil (Yale University).

The following posts, listed in the order of their publication, contributed to this digital event:

  • Stephan Lewandowsky introduced the digital event and provided some historical context about the human “drive for knowledge”.
  • Andrei Cimpian and Frank Keil provided an overview of the articles in the special issue of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
  • Bob Rehder examined the impressive progress made by the field.
  • Barbara Koslowski picked up the issue of simplicity, and examined whether simple explanations are always preferred.
  • Ulrike Hahn considered our understanding of real-world explanations.
  • Sangeet Khemlani explained why it is so difficult to build an artificial “explanation machine”, even for simple things such as windshield wipers.