Explanations

By Richard Conan-Davies

What does it mean to explain something? what is an explanation? In the broadest sense it is little more than a story about the cause and effect of a phenomena. 

There are several kinds of questions people ask when wanting an explanation. Why does or doesn't x happen? or How does x happen? it might also include something like What is x ? Many explanations rely on some kind of framework or frame of reference. This might be a social framework, a mathematical framework or just a logical framework. 

Even apparently simple kinds of ‘What’ questions can be explained in various ways.  For example "what are fish?” could be explained in number of ways from it’s physical dimensions, it’s texture, it’s shape etc to it’s symbolic or cultural references.

Explanation can be in different forms or styles. For example a graphical explanation a poetic explanation, for different audiences ages or experiences or from different perspectives.  The website reddit is famous for collating a group called ELI5 - explain like I’m five (years old). 

Some explanations need to be ‘translated’ from technical jargon to things that are more familiar in everyday language.