The Oxford Protocol : Modules

Good Explanation

Towards the close of the seventeenth century a certain pattern of thinking, and of interacting with other thinkers, began to have a powerful effect on the civilisation of Western Europe, especially England. Let me call this pattern the Enlightenment. (Prevailing terminology is awful here: the term Enlightenment is also used for the opposing movement, which would be better called Romanticism.)

An entire political, moral, economic and intellectual culture grew around the values entailed by that pattern of thinking. Though it had roots in antiquity, this was the first time in human history that a society’s major institutions incorporated and protected distrust of their own authority, rejection of dogmatism, tolerance of dissent, openness to change, and the aspiration to progress both by individuals and for the society as a whole. Thus it became the first Enlightenment society, which in turn has become the core of an Enlightenment civilisation (known as ‘the West’) – the only civilisation in history that has ever achieved sustained and accelerating knowledge creation over more than a couple of generations.

I have argued that the pattern of thinking that caused, and has sustained, all this is the quest for good explanations – that is,

assertions about reality that are hard to vary while still
accounting for what they purport to account for.

All progress, theoretical and practical, scientific, moral and artistic, has resulted from a single human activity: this quest for good explanations. Though it is uniquely human, the effectiveness of this quest is also a
fundamental fact about reality at the most impersonal, cosmic level – namely that it conforms to universal laws of nature that are indeed good explanations. This simple relationship between the cosmic and the human is a
hint of a central role of people in the cosmic scheme of things.

The propensity to seek good explanations is itself a form of knowledge. And since all we have, and can have in the future, depends on it, it is the most valuable thing we have. It is infinitely valuable, literally.

And yet it is not yet dominant in every part of our civilisation. In some respects it is even losing a little ground – to:

It is in reversing the third of these that I place most hope.

Oxford Group, January 2014: Academy Turned Inside Out | Apotheosis | Core Technology | The Dedisciplinary Environment | Explanatory/Descriptive? | Fiction | Good Explanation | Mediation | Platform | Polemic | Portal | Problems | Protocol | Protocol (II) | Search*/Know* | Sciences/Humanities | Stuckness | Threshold Effects | Topology | Touchstones