Advertisement

Minds and Machines

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 101–118 | Cite as

Explanation as Orgasm*

  • Alison Gopnik
Article

Abstract

I argue that explanation should be thought of as the phenomenological mark of the operation of a particular kind of cognitive system, the theory-formation system. The theory-formation system operates most clearly in children and scientists but is also part of our everyday cognition. The system is devoted to uncovering the underlying causal structure of the world. Since this process often involves active intervention in the world, in the case of systematic experiment in scientists, and play in children, the cognitive system is accompanied by a ‘theory drive’, a motivational system that impels us to interpret new evidence in terms of existing theories and change our theories in the light of new evidence. What we usually think of as explanation is the phenomenological state that accompanies the satisfaction of this drive. However, the relation between the phenomenology and the cognitive system is contingent, as in similar cases of sexual and visual phenomenology. Distinctive explanatory phenomenology may also help us to identify when the theory-formation system is operating.

cognitive development explanation phenomenology science theories 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Baillargeon, R. (1993), The object concept revisited: New directions in the investigation of infants' physical knowledge. In C. Granrud (ed.), Visual perception and cognition in infancy Carnegie Mellon symposia on cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  2. Bartsch, K. and Wellman, H. M. (1995), Children Talk About the Mind. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bowlby, J. (1969), Attachment and loss. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  4. Bromberger, S. (1965), An approach to explanation. In R.J. Butler (Ed.), Analytic philosophy (pp. 72–105). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  5. Carey, S. (1985), Conceptual Change in Childhood. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cartwright, N. (1989), Nature's capacities and their measurement. Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Ekman, P. (1992), An argument for basic emotions, Cognition and Emotion 6(3/4), 169–200.Google Scholar
  8. Gelman, S. A. and Wellman, H. M. (1991), ‘Insides and Essence: Early Understandings of the Non-obvious’. Cognition, 38(3), 213–244.Google Scholar
  9. Gopnik, A. (1988), ‘Conceptual and Semantic Development as Theory Change’. Mind and Language. 3, pp. 163–179.Google Scholar
  10. Gopnik, A. and Wellman, H. M. (1994), ‘The theory theory’, in L. Hirschfield and S. Gelman (eds), Mapping the Mind: Domain Specificity in Cognition and Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 257–293. xiv, 516Google Scholar
  11. Gopnik, A. and Meltzoff, A. N. (1996), Words, Thoughts and Theories. Cambridge, MA: Bradford, MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Keil, F. C. (1987), ‘Conceptual Development and Category Structure’. in U. Neisser (ed), Concepts and Conceptual Development: Ecological and Intellectual Factors in Categorization. Emory Symposia in Cognition 1 New York: Cambridge University Press:pp. 175–200. x, 317.Google Scholar
  13. Leslie, A.M. (1987), Pretense and representation: The origins of “theory of mind”, Psychological Review, 94(4), 412–426.Google Scholar
  14. Leslie, A.M. and Keeble, S. (1987), Do six-month-old infants perceive causality? Cognition 25(3), 265–288.Google Scholar
  15. Oakes, L.M. and Cohen, L.B. (1994), Infant causal perception. In C. Rovee-Collier, & L.P. Lipsitt (Eds), Advances in infancy research, Vol. 9 Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  16. Piaget, J. (1962), Play, dreams, and imitation in childhood (Norton library), New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  17. Salmon, W. (1984), Scientific explanation and the causal structure of the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Schult, C. and Wellman, H. (in press), Explaining human movements and actions: Children's understanding of the limits of psycyological explanation. Cognition.Google Scholar
  19. Slaughter, V. and Gopnik, A. (1996), Conceptual coherence in the child's theory of mind. Child Development 67(6), 2967–2989.Google Scholar
  20. Spelke, E.S., Breinlinger, K., Macomber, J. and Jacobsen, K. (1992), Origins of knowledge. Psychological Review 99(4), 605–632.Google Scholar
  21. Van Frassen, B. (1980), The scientific image. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Wellman, H., Hickling, A., and Schult, C. (In press). Young children's explanations: Psychological, physical and biological reasoning. In H. Wellman, & K. Inagaki (Eds.), Children's theories. San Francisco: Joosey-Bass.Google Scholar
  23. Wellman, H. (1990), The Child's Theory of Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Gopnik
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California at BerkeleyBerkeley

Personalised recommendations