Encyclopedia of Science Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Richard Gunstone


  • Peter Machamer
  • Thomas V. Cunningham
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6165-0_263-2


Cognitive science; Explanations; Learning progressions; Models

A common and successful strategy for explaining something scientifically is to describe the mechanism that produces it. Mechanisms are composed of entities and activities that are, in various senses, in the world. Entities are things that behave or engage in activities. Activities are ways of working that produce phenomena. Succinctly put, “mechanisms are entities and activities organized such that they are productive of regular changes from start or set-up to finish or termination conditions” (Machamer et al. 2000, p. 3). Mechanistic explanations are representations (often verbal descriptions) of mechanisms.

Mechanisms may be described in varying detail. Mechanisms can never be completely described, since, given any context, there will always be more to be said about what is involved in producing a given phenomenon. Since no system is ever completely causally closed, there will always be additional entities or...


Internal Combustion Engine Mechanistic Explanation Learn Progression Mechanism Schema Ongoing Scientific Research 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cathedral of LearningUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.University of Arkansas for Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA