Saturday, May 28, 2016

What constitutes an explanation?

What should an artificial intelligence like A.s.a. be able to offer us in support of its conclusions or recommendations?  What can I offer students struggling to understand difficult subject matter? (Like quantum mechanics and relativity) What should we expect from Asa, what can students expect from us?

Explanations come in various kinds and at different levels of detail. There are formal-logical, ontological, pragmatic explanations, and explanations in terms of inheritance.

Formal-logical explanations might be in the form of covering-laws, be statistical, or unificationist in nature. For example, a logically valid deductive chain of propositions starting from a set of initial conditions may lead to (explain) a conclusion.

Ontological explanations may have an event explained by another event.  A fire may be the explanation for the presence of  a cloud of smoke.

A pragmatic explanation might explain a plane crash in terms of pilot error or a fist fight in terms of drunkenness.

Property inheritance may serve to explain something.  Socrates died because all human beings die and Socrates was a human being.

Level of detail is important.  We would explain a decline in the stock market in terms of recent national news events but not in terms of the interaction of quarks and gluons. We might be satisfied to know that smoking caused a case of lung cancer or we might want the detailed biochemical mechanisms involved.

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