The physicist Paul Dirac believed that “it seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty.” Not only that, he even believed that beauty was more reliable a measure than experimental evidence. He claimed “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.”
It seems that an explanation is one kind of thing, given that all explanations share a name. The popular approach to scientific explanation is to treat all successful explanation as giving information about the relevant cause or causes of the phenomenon to be explained. But if we look to the natural and social sciences, we find explanations that look quite different. What scientists call “explanations” differ with respect to the form and structure of the explanation and with respect to the information given. Given that in many sciences there are explanations that refer explicitly to the function of a phenomenon and not its cause, we should ask: are functional explanations just another way of giving causal information, or are they noncausal?
What causes feelings of alienation? How do we resolve them? Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century discussions of alienation focused on society’s role in alienating the individual. The story goes: Your society delineates the routes of your world; its possibilities and lifestyles. The routes aren’t well-worn paths made from natural behavior, but instead, drawn lines, burdening and concealing the person’s true self. The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan understands the root of alienation differently. He finds it in normal psychological development.