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The journey from explanation to prediction

The world is a complicated place. There is far more information available to our senses at any moment than we could take in and make sense of. To deal with this complexity, our cognitive systems are very good at simplifying, to make the world at least seem like a predictable place is what the associate professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, John Coley, feels. His research focuses on how we mentally organise our knowledge of the world and how we use it to make a prediction. He opined why humans have a deep-seated need for explanations.

He took the example of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, in response to which the world responded with an outpouring of attention and curiosity. The Malaysian officials do publicly announce that the plane was likely to be crashed as the satellites’ claim of getting credible evidence of potential debris. However, the clouds of uncertainty haven’t cleared the path in the minds of the curious and anxious public. When asked why the human brain yearns for explanations, John Coley asserted that people seek answers to feed their brains with the power of making predictions. A good and sound description makes it quite easy for the brain to analyse and form an image around the situation and predict its fate.

Indeed, the cognitive scientist, Alison Gopnik, famously compared explanation to orgasm because we are highly motivated to seek out reasons and feel deeply satisfied when we find them. He thinks that the need for explanations is ubiquitous as it opens the mind about favorable and unfavorable outcomes. However, this need of account with the condition that people prefer simple explanations to complex ones is probably most pronounced in areas in which we are more personally invested, such as jobs, personal relationships, or health.

Harminder Singh