Is our “explanation world” how the “natural world” works by itself?

I commented yesterday on a Brian Lehrer radio show with Francis Fukuyama, discussing his recent book on The origins of political order.  You may recall Fukuyama’s previous book from 2006,”The end of History”, which caused some stir. though history continued in any case.


Francis Fukuyama seems to do a good job of tracing the implications of modern social science theory back toward the origins of society.  He represents the natural process of human cultural evolution as a cultural historian naturally might, in terms of the history of cultural explanations.

That describes the evolution of “the explanatory world” of our attempts to represent history in terms of our cultural values.  It doesn’t seem to reflect any consideration how the “the natural world” would have evolved to create the features we then attempt to explain.

One can think of “the natural world” as working by itself, whether the circumstance lets you see how or not.  That would make it the subject of “the explanatory world”.

Explaining things is then seen as the effort we make to connect our terminology with the working processes of the physical world, that are naturally occurring within and around us.   It seems certain, then, that the working parts of nature would at least NOT coming from our explanations.

All that could be actually following our explanations to operate would be “the explanatory world” we construct to do so, and how we interact with the natural world and its different way of making connections would need to be through our use of its physical processes.

It would NOT be by explaining things to nature, anyway. Seems reasonable, right? Our language of explanations, though, mostly overlooks that.

What this is useful for is things like finding a more satisfying answer for why people needed to see Gods as a “universal connector” to fill in pervasive gaps in out explanations that we were unable to fill. People mostly can’t explain how nature connects all kinds of things.

That makes it hard to do without and reasonable to hypothesize Gods to do that. They serve as the connectors of the things of nature we can’t explain, which is quite a lot.

As science finds out how to connect more things it also seems what is unknown and unknowable may be expanding too… is one of the interesting things.

In the evolution of science to date most of science has been trying to construct explanatory worlds, postulating that nature follows rules from a distance, leaving much to be explained. What’s now happening, though, is that theoretical biology and systems sciences are very slowly inching forward toward becoming able to identify natural mechanisms of organization (how nature connects things) to replace the idea of “rules at a distance” in nature.

One basic leaping off point is realizing that to study a natural world, that works by itself using internal processes instead of by following external rules, it must be a study of uncontrolled systems. That gives you a way to draw a line between our world of explanations and the natural world that works by itself, that our thinking so imperfectly explains.

I have a collection of work on the physics of open systems at, and two papers in Cosmos & History on some general aspects of how to observe and discuss natural processes of organization that work by themselves, (2010) Models Learning Change & (2008) Life’s Hidden Resources for Learning.


I also have two new papers about to be published on important applications.  One shows how whole system accounting results in far more accurate measures of energy use impacts (2011) Systems Energy Assessment (SEA).  The other is on how identifying behaviors of the whole economy exposes when our trusted rules for it are unexpectedly changing (2011) A decisive moment for Investing in Sustainability


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