Non-Explanations (was Moraic codes)
|From:||Jim Grossmann <steven@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, July 17, 2001, 4:56|
Perhaps I can elucidate. Consider Yehudi, the spirit who turns the light
on and off when you open and close the refrigerator door.
Now suppose that Yehudi is invoked to explain, not just refrigerator
lighting, but everything else.
How does language change? Well, Yehudi goes into everyone's brain and
changes the dialects in a way that reflects the separation of peoples in
time, space, and society. He's a spirit; he can do that kind of thing.
How did life begin? Yehudi started it. How did he do this? Well, he's
a spirit; he can work miracles.
How did the universe begin? Well, Yehudi made it. He's a spirit; he
make anything by sheer act of will.
In Yehudi, we have an extreme example of a concept that purports to explain
everything, but in reality explains nothing. There is no theory of how
Yehudi does his magic; no scientific or rational explication of his
In discussions of theories of the mind, this kind of non-explanatory
explanation is more subtle and difficult to detect, because we can't yet map
specific neuronal activity onto specific thoughts. For example, we don't
have a 3-D cyto-electro-chemical map of the thought "I don't like the way
people cut poodles' hair." Our current descriptions of the physical basis
of specific thoughts are inadequate.
So we are left with questions like these: Is there really an Ego and an
Id, or are these just slightly more specialized versions of our friend,
Yehudi? Does the Language Acquisition Device suffice as an explanatory
construct that might reflect something real in the brain?
I think such questions deserve some discussion, and I think that the saying
"X explains nothing if it explains everything" represents something less
myserious than a Western koan.
> Is this a Gallic-style apophthegm that sounds profound but means
> nothing, or could it really be that there exists some sense in which
> what you say is true? Me, I'd like to have a theory that explains
> everything. I find it hard enough to build decent theories that
> explain *anything*; explaining everything seems infinitely too
> much to pray for.