Mechanistic explanations

Suppose Aladdin wants to get into the cave, but the door is sealed.

Someone says, “Say ‘abra-cadabra’.”

Aladdin says, “Why?”

What kinds of answers could that person give?

  • Authority: “Because I said so.”
  • Practical: “Because then the door will open.”
  • Mystical: “That the Universe may hear your prayer and open the door.”
  • Mechanistic: “Because there’s a microphone over there, and it’s connected to an intercom system. On the other end of the intercom is the security guard, who’s listening for the password, which is ‘abra-cadabra’. If he hears you say it he’ll open the door.”

If I were Aladdin, I’d want the mechanistic explanation. The reason is that mechanistic understanding is empowering. If I’m able to accurately model in my mind the parts of the universe that are relevant to my interests, I’m able to creatively, effectively, efficiently find and execute solutions to my problems. Otherwise, I’m just memorizing a list of commands.


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