What is an explanation?

What is an explanation? Does an explanation always by definition provide intellectual satisfaction? If so, what is the import of that? Is the emotional aspect of an explanation trivial? Or does it undermine our belief in the truth of the explanation? Is truth a necessary aspect of an explanation? Or does explanation have more to do with narrative? If an explanation doesn’t provide intellectual satisfaction (i.e. when a teacher explains something to a student who doesn’t understand), isn’t that explanation not really an explanation? What guarantee is there that the explainee understands the meaning of the explainer?



  1. the act or process of explaining.
  2. something that explains; a statement made to clarify something and make it understandable; exposition: an explanation of a poem.
  3. a meaning or interpretation: to find an explanation for a mystery.
  4. a mutual declaration of the meaning of words spoken, actions, motives, etc., with a view to adjusting a misunderstanding or reconciling differences: After a long and emotional explanation they were friends again.

In the words of one author:

“To sum up, explaining is an attempt to give understanding to another. It involves identifying the problem to be explained, a process of explaining which uses key statements and a check on understanding. However, it would be wrong to leave the nature of explaining without pointing out that explaining is only usually an intentional activity: one may intend to explain a particular problem but may end up explaining points that one did not intend to explain, and, alas, one may sometimes not explain what one intended to explain.”

A series of really good questions there - none of which I can answer :smiley: .
Like many people I like Wittingstein’s “explanations have to come to an end somewhere” (that mightn’t be it exactly - from Philosophical Investiagtions)

Another great gag was on police squad when some one would demand to know “whats going on here?” and be met with a reply of the order “The Universe began with a huge period of inflation 4 billion years ago known as the big bang” then then then etc.

youtube.com/watch?v=pRva7z8p … re=related

If I’ve a bad tooth ache do I want a detailed neuronal breakdown of my pain or a quick pill to set me right temporarily?

I guess the level of explanation required depends on the context and the type of query.
If I ask you about that pound over there I would probably be content with “its a nice little pound just to your right with some ducks and a shady willow.”
A hydrologist asking the question might want the capacity in litres or some equation for the surface tension, an artist might ask “is it lovely?” A historian - the names it has gone under, a chemist the PH and so on.

Yet we might all say we are just “asking about the pond”

So many, many truths many types and levels of explanation, many people, many contexts

Both words seem to invite potentially endless chains of talk!

Wow there’s a pretty useless answer.

But very good questions anon.


Explanations? What more can they amount to than what gets you through the night? – The “dark night of the soul” (John of the Cross), the night of endings in the deaths of friends and lovers, the night of dreams deferrered or denied, the night of motives in which profit trumps pity, the night of being unable to express your creative self without being seen as an enemy of the state or a weakling, the night of lost empathy, compassion, real caring for each other.

Where explanations fail or do not serve, there is always poetry.

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes

Such depends entirely on whether you are a feminine or masculine thinker. 8-[

Go ahead, dare to ask me for an EXPLANATION. :sunglasses:

Woke up feeling a bit confrontational today, did we? lol


Yep, I was thinking of Hughes when I wrote that. In my personal experience severe depression usually ends with a poem; but that’s an after effect. Poems are not flashlights for when you are in the dark. Maybe they can en"light"en someone else, but they seldom save us from ourselves.
SJS’s masculine, feminine divide is much too divisive for me to comment on.

Thanks krossie, that was fun to read - and even funner to watch! :slight_smile:

Ierrellus and jonquil,

But what about explanations that seem to work perfectly well?

Is your explanation dangerous somehow? Will somebody die from it? If not, go ahead and explain. It’s interesting when people explain themselves.

Work well for whom?

Not at all!
I don’t know if its advanced us much but I did spend another half an hour watching Police Squad on you tube

  • explanation: slow day at the office.

The order to “explain yourself!” is quite a nice one - seems to demand a performance and a stock take - worrying - really throws a person back on themselves

OK James over to you for the dangerous explanation! :banana-dance:


The danger is only to your emotional well being in the moment. :sunglasses:

The distinction between the feminine and masculine mind is that the feminine specializes in broad but shallow awareness and the masculine specializes in deeper purpose driven tunnel vision.

These natural specialties are what allowed the human being (as a pair) to “conquer the jungle” and they are what leads to the variety and contrast in human motivation as reflected throughout all society on every level. The principles involved are truly fundamental to all nature even into basic physics; a metaphysical principle.

Due to that difference, the mind, in its effort to resolve the question “what should I do now?” concludes different distinct motivations and constructs of importance or significance. Due to this divergent perspective of significance, what proceeds as an “explanation” displays this distinction.

The physiological construct that brought about this distinction also causes the well known (although recently cursed) distinction in priorities. The feminine is interested in the “feely-touchy” immediate surroundings, whereas the masculine is more concerned with the long term accomplishment often disregarding the immediate discomfort. Evolution causes the male then to become more brutish so as to not need to worry about the bumps and bruises that might come about as he pursues his target. The female, on the other hand, grows far more alert to the immediate danger with an increased inspiration to react at slight signs of potential danger (hysteria).

Both of these specialties have their strengths and weaknesses. The notion that one is superior to the other is simply a naive perspective. Both are required and more significant is that both must be kept distinct and NOT melded into an mix of a little of each talent. By disallowing the specialty in order to create sameness, the higher potential of teamwork is cutoff. The species becomes inherently weaker.

So what is in an explanation? Well, do you want for the comfort of emotional superficial feel or the foundation (“under-standing”) from which you can strategize a long term solution for your troubles and know your true enemy? Do you desire the poetry or the prosperity?

Explanations can provide either, both, or more often, simply more inspiration to ask more questions (motivation to learn more of either).

Aren’t you really glad you asked for the explanation. :mrgreen:
{{don’t answer that}}

For the explainer and the explainee.

I don’t think I’ve seen any of the Police Squads. I should! Leslie Nielsen never fails to crack me up.

So you’re saying an explanation can seem to work in the short term, but end up proving deficient in the long term. Correct? Is that the essence of your post?

What, do I have to explain AGAIN?!?!??


{{obviously sometimes they don’t “work” at all}} #-o :blush:

You don’t have to, no. But it would be nice. Yes or no works fine for me.

I was attempting to explain that an explanation’s value is dependent on what you want from it, which in turn depends very much on whether you are masculine of mind or feminine of mind and why those are relevant. How an explanation is received reveals such states as well.