Application XVIII: Explanation (BFPS)

Explanation is both process and product. Explanation is something more than defining and definition, something more than predicting and prediction. Explanation is very much a need. Explanation needs a lot of explaining. So do we. We need to be explained to. We need to be explained (“Know thyself”).

We need explanation as a capability. We need the products of that capability – including an explanation of explanation. What BFPS offers here are some contributions toward meeting those needs. Heeding the advice of the Vermont farmer, we shall be careful about where we start from.

Let’s start with some questions: What’s wrong with the “-ion” suffix? How does that bear on capability and need? Like many words ending in “-ion,” explanation globs and glosses over many conditions of consequence. Such terms allude both to process and product, means and ends. But even with respect to process or means we are still removed from the behavioral specificity with which we could conduct more fruitful analysis and enable more productive composition – the behavioral molecules which are as much part of the picture of the Nature of Things (III) as the (molecular) entities who make and take them and/or which are made by them.

We have seen in App. X that too much of functionality – what developing behavioral capability in response to need and then exercising it is all about – is obscured by terms like process and means. Three phases of functionality were identified: 1/ needed functionality; 2/ capability development; and 3/ exercised capability. For each there is some appropriate assessment of consequentiality, potential or actual. For example, the emphasis/value ratios of the Dynamic Profile Analysis (App. XVII): 1/ need/want; 2/ strength/power; and 3/ effectiveness/efficiency. (Appropriate but largely potential. A technology for explanatory minding could, of course, include such assessments.)

Explanation as need can be seen in the familiar condition in which what is being said (even with definitional attempts – and some successes) does not reveal what is being talked about. Most dramatically we see it in the avid, sometimes desperate grasp of a story (e.g., cultural myth) that offers a solution of sorts to the behavioral problem (:Pbeh), attendant to some situational problem or most compellingly to that problem In and of itself (e.g., “Who am I? Where did I come from? What am I to do?) The need also manifests itself in the before-the-fact condition, when the next step for a multi-step behavioral entity is not to simply repeat a previous step – where possibility can and must be entertained. (The “good and bad news” of the Nature of Things’ partial order as a general persisting condition.) Explanatory capability should enhance what we can do with possibility – with the steps forward we take in the frontier of history (, ).

Explanation qua capability is a minding, hence behavioral capability. We shall have to inquire into the workings of behavior and minding (Topics VII-XI; App. III) if we are going to improve on our under-developed explanatory capability. We need to work our way past barriers such as that thrown up by the “-ion” suffix. We can invent and re-invent appropriate technology with a better understanding of behavior’s own molecular structure and the parts played therein by what “communication,” “cognition” and “composition” (ouch: there’s “-ion” again!) are talking about (but not well enough).

Explanation as an exercised capability is all too familiar, and sadly so, in the activity consequent to failed definition, but more generally in failed communication (e.g., the so-called “communication problem”) … and in the frustration which ensues, as noted in “words fail us.”

Explanation as product or end is something else – a Read or Tell, although still very much a behavioral matter. Consider: An explanation is an observation. An observation is a special kind of step outcome (in which the step’s moving is communicative rather than, say, a whole body move, and in which the step’s minding is often significantly cognitive). An explanation qua observation, then, is a very cognitive and communicative kind of observational product. Implicit here is all that is implied, such as the investment in future steps made now while further whole body movement is suspended (e.g., “stop to think”). Functional need is very much in the picture. And capability exercised now yields capacity (e.g., verbal memory) that can contribute to later capability development. (See capability x capacity: their balance and interdependence: , .)

As Reads or Tells, explanations qua product are very much tertiary). A lot is being said about what is being talked about – and what is being talked about often expands beyond the initial focus of attention, and beyond providing identification or location, to include other conditions with which that focal point is consequentially related (thereby to strengthen our grasp), so much so that our word-language technology (W-L Tech) and/or its users are overwhelmed. Some points ABOUT serve only to make points AT, but points ABOUT may have more to tell.

What’s wrong with definition? And why is “problem definition” such an inadequate notion? Should we see explanation as simply what else in addition to definition that we need in order to make out what words are telling us – to accommodate all the needs of primary and tertiary reads and tells within a secondary R&T technology?

No. Explanation’s utility comprises that, to be sure. There comes a time when interpretation via context (other words and language syntax) is not enough. There comes a time when our understanding and our W-L Tech both fall short of grasping what we are attending to and talking about.

No, the terrible thing that is wrong about definition is that it poses two very burdensome problems: It derives from a solution (:Ps) that was and is not a satisfactory solution for the problem to which it was addressed as a solution. And it also constitutes a continuing problem. It is then an O:Sp type problem in addition to being a O:Ps type problem. Continual in consequence of the W-L Tech that has been produced to serve our minding capability. This technology is inadequate in many ways, some recounted in previous Applications and Comments. Still, the main point here must be that we have failed to fully grasp the problem that this technology has been developed to help solve.

If we are going to do better as we reinvent this technology we shall need to have a good grasp of the antecedent problems. We shall have to improve our explanatory capability in order to solve this problem. (“Problem definition” is too situational. In use it tends to call for description of Psit. But Pbeh screams for explanation. (Sometimes screams of anguish: See primary reads and tells.) As we have seen, problem itself needs explanation: that there is a behavioral problem, independent of and interdependent with, situational problems [, , , ]. And this behavioral problem too derives from an antecedent problem – i.e., that the Nature of Things has the general persisting condition of partial order, with attendant persisting conditions of consequentiality and discontinuity [of behavioral entities], with collisions to be expected [ergo: problems], whether to be avoided or arranged.)


What if we were to read our troubles with explanation as a stop-start signal, seeing it as a sign to start over, from a different place, with our technological efforts developed to better serve our minding needs? We can reasonably expect two payoffs from this effort. First, technological improvement based on attention to the antecedent problem could reduce the work of definition that is the price of our W-L Tech. Second, and most importantly, attention to the antecedent problem could contribute to reducing the work (some ill-advised, in amount and/or type) of other approaches to behavioral functioning and dysfunction. (See the short-comings – lack of emphasis; , ] — in education [e.g., student differences/student changes > 1], in mental health [e.g., diagnostic categories: dysfunctional/functional > 1], in polity [e.g., decision making/problem solving > 1] and in science [e.g., after the fact/before the fact >1].)

Based on BFPS, how might we better picture the problem to which the W-L Tech is making a limited contribution, a problem epitomized by the process and product of explanation? (And a problem we characterized earlier as a case of said about/talked about > 1.)

What if we were to put more systematic effort into developing a message technology keyed to needed behavioral, especially minding, functionality? The premise here is that, behaviorally, the W-L Tech was/is in consequence of the need to communicate, to self and others. So let’s consider going back and starting over. Let’s relieve some of the work of solve-to-see that the W-L Tech imposes on us as we try to get all the points of message as communicative act and content, as behavioral process and product: Points FOR, points AT, points TO, points ABOUT, points OF … etc. Let’s cover the whole spectrum of needed pointing. (The message is the message. Messages, actually: Between act and content, many points of many kinds are being made in and by the behavioral molecules we term “messages.”)

Many times, not just in our early years, we encounter messages for which definition is not an adequate tool. We need more than that, something explanatory, not just to clarify what is being talked about, but also to make clear what is being said. (Hence the popularity of stories?) It may help us, then, to see definition and explanation as independent, interdependent and complementary (XI). That is, explanation is not just more than definition. They need to work together (complementarity) and they need to help each other (“theoretical definition”—and specificity of explanation).

With messages there is a presumption of relevance: the point OF the communicative act. But what all is relevant? Relevant to who (point FOR)? Relevant to what is being talked about (point AT)? Relevant to what is being said about the focus of attention (point ABOUT)? There’s a lot to messages – including points not in the message, even to silence as a message. Ideally, a message technology would cue applicable points to be found within, so that we know what to look for.

But instead we work at tells and reads. “Good with people” notwithstanding, we struggle with primary reads. For example, we speak metaphorically of a language of emotions. We coin tells such as “: )” — which Microsoft Word helpfully converts to “” if we do not separate the “:” and the “)”. (Such coinage emerges in consequence of other technological developments [e.g., cell phone, Internet].)

Even if we find the point(s) ABOUT in a message … tertiary reads are a continuing headache. It’s no easier for the message source. We simply lack an explanatory capability and the technology to help exercise it. We develop supplementary languages like math and logic, whose limited applicability (e.g., explanation as prediction; function as in “y=f[x]“) permits precise definition within its scope (see). That helps when we limit explanation to the order of things ….

But what of the Nature of Things and its consequences, especially of behavioral necessity – to which we want to key capability development for messages, which is to say to make the most of cognition, communication, composition and community capabilities for work in the frontier of history?

A composition, after all, is a message – a question we can ask given adequately developed cognitive and communicative technology… a message, both a read and tell, that speaks to our having an explanation. As much a conjecture about consequentiality before the fact as a prediction after the fact.

Our W-L Tech, like we ourselves, lacks CEM-readiness (, , , ). We find ourselves at the front of a history (characteristically of contingent emergent materiality) enabled by compositional efforts, a history of compositional consequentiality (we can see its threads now), but a history more episodic than systematic in its ascendance. We are not well prepared to work in CEM’s frontier, where cognition, communication, composition and community are of so much consequence, where behavior is more varied and consequential. We see evidence of weakness in each of our social institutions. We see it in the individual and community capabilities that we need but still don’t have. We see it in the weakness of the order of things’ simplistic notion (cause-effect) of consequentiality.

(Somewhat ironically our compositional capability has even been employed to fashion an ahistorical story about the order of things, looking back along the CEM-history fabric of behavioral entities [App. XVII: diagram] – to where behavior and entity are interchangeable, and not looking forward toward needed capability – and compositional possibility.)

The W-L Tech as it stands now is not well suited for CEM-readiness. As CEM advances, consequentiality differs and changes. Compositional consequentiality thrives, in degree and variety, fueled by the symbiotic cognitive and communicative capabilities (, , ). Humans continue to change the nature of consequentiality as they themselves change – i.e., as they develop their compositional capability.

Consequentiality is thus no longer accommodated by simple “cause-effect” language. Consequentiality per se and not just the particulars of consequence come into play via the Nature of Things. So consequentiality in its particulars, of both process and product, expands — like physics’ “universe.” Cause-effects’s confounding of relationship with relation does not do justice to compositional process, to say nothing of its neglected grounding, as needed functionality, given the NoT’s.

When we speak blithely of cause and effect, it is as if we took the entire cube of “all that it takes” and crushed it down to one unit: of circumstances … homogenizing all the rest of ATIT’s help, support, tools, procedures, ingredients, imagination, configuring and agency (the last of these with six needed capabilities to respond to behavioral necessity’s requisites and imperatives). We may sense that effectiveness is no simple matter of circumstances, but without a better messaging technology we are essentially engaged in backward talk. For many purposes how we address what lies behind us can be arbitrarily agreed to, as we seem to do in our all-too-frequent acceptance of cause-effect. But not for talking about, for composing the future, not for optimizing possibility.

Points ABOUT, the heart of needed tertiary Read and Tell messaging capabilities for explanation, need technological development in accord with the full spectrum of consequentiality. What this calls for is expanding the before-after relation (: Ideational mechanics, Diagram 2), as we saw in the “all that it takes” correction (, ). The very limited sense of consequentiality afforded by cause-effect, in the mind-binding context of an order-of-things working hypothesis, is replaced by the more open – and demanding – sense of consequentiality, in the context of the NoT’s. There’s just a lot more relating, and use of relations, in compositional change that cause-effect’s “relation = relationship” globs and glosses over.

The prospective forward thrust of history’s contingent emergent materiality is forfeit if we are not better prepared to message, to make the best use of cognition, communication, composition and community. Even while community is still no more than our messaging then and now: our reading now of the telling then, and the telling now with message technology little changed.


Whereas definition becomes a problem after the fact of W-L tech usage (a communicative outcome) and prediction may become a problem after the fact of a previous outcome (e.g., predicting the next hurricane), explanation is a huge problem before the fact as well – i.e., for producing an outcome, an outcome that is the solution to a problem.

And what problem? Big questions vex us. How are we to do? What should we do? What might we do? Are we free to do? And what about the behavioral problem, which is always there and always before the fact – forcefully so? What is our metastrategy …

Do we set aside, in effect, the implication of bigness – settling perhaps for a view that all this is a matter of particular situations to which contingencies inevitably attach? Take things as they come? For which only actuarial principles and normative principles will apply – and have limited applicability, sometimes barely beating chance?

Or do we need and want more: explanation as process and product that applies before as well as after the fact, with general principles of unlimited applicability? An explanation whose tell might be the book of maps handed to us on our way out of the photography studio after our picture was taken with our pioneer forbearers.

(c) 2013 R.F. Carter

  1. C-18. Lost: the Vermont farmer
  2. App. X: The Psychlotron Protocol
  3. App. XVII: Policy determination and budgeting
  4. Topic I: Two problems, two solutions
  5. App. XI: History: Contingent emergent materiality
  6. App. XVI: At work in the frontier
  7. Topic V: Behavioral Manifold
  8. App. III: Communication and Cognition
  9. Topic IV: Impediments
  10. Topic X: Construction Imperative
  11. Topic XI: Balance Requisite
  12. C-71. Balance requisite extended
  13. C-8. Tertiary reads and tells
  14. Topics: Introduction - Quality of Life
  15. Topic I: Two problems, two solutions
  16. C-1. The wandering behavioral problem
  17. C-41. Another fundamental force: Pbeh
  18. C-71. Balance requisite extended
  19. C-80. (Not just) Enough already!
  20. App. XVII: Policy determination and budgeting
  21. C-71. Balance requisite extended
  22. C-80. (Not just) Enough already!
  23. App. XVI: At work in the frontier
  24. C-81. Theoretical definition
  25. C-81. Theoretical definition
  26. Topic III: The Nature of Things
  27. App. III: Communication and Cognition
  28. App. XI: History: Contingent emergent materiality
  29. C-47. The composed, composing self
  30. C-52. Preparedness
  31. C-74. Embrace Life!
  32. App. XVII: Policy determination and budgeting
  33. Topic II: All That It Takes (ATIT)
  34. Topic II: All That It Takes (ATIT)
  35. App. III: Communication and Cognition
  36. C-60. Three (maybe four) signal behavioral events
  37. Topic III: The Nature of Things
  38. Topic II: All That It Takes (ATIT)
  39. Topic X: Construction Imperative
  40. Topic II: All That It Takes (ATIT)
  41. Topic X: Construction Imperative
  42. C-82. Unbalanced balancing
  43. C-41. Another fundamental force: Pbeh
  44. App. XVI: At work in the frontier