Currents 028: Simon DeDeo on Explaining Explanation

Jim & Simon DeDeo on his recent paper, “From Probability to Consilience: How Explanatory Values Implement Bayesian Reasoning“…

In this currents episode, Jim talks to Simon DeDeo about his recently co-authored (with Zachary Wojtowicz) paper, “From Probability to Consilience: How Explanatory Values Implement Bayesian Reasoning“. They cover its connection to AI & human development, description vs power in explanation, the value & challenge of using multiple conceptual lenses, the difference between powerful & unifying explanations, co-explanation, the Aristotelian aspect of this work, conspiracies, the value & complexity of simplicity, choosing explanation approaches, understanding their vices, and more.

Simon DeDeo is an Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He is also affiliated with the Cognitive Science program at Indiana University, where he runs the Laboratory for Social Minds. For three years, from 2010 to 2013, he was an Omidyar Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. He and his collaborators study how people use words and signals, and the ideas they represent, to create a world. They have studied a diverse set of systems that includes the French Revolution, the courtrooms of Victorian London, the research strategies of Charles Darwin, the insurgency of modern-day Afghanistan, the emergent bureaucracy of Wikipedia, the creation of power hierarchies among the social animals, and the collusions and conspiracies of petrol stations in the American Midwest. They combine data from the contemporary world, archives from the deep past, statistical tools from cosmology, and models of human cognition from Bayesian reasoning and information theory to understand how cultures grow, flourish, innovate, and evolve.