To this point, our explanations have been the results of simple investigations. In this section, we make further distinctions to help guide and improve our Best Explanation skills, and we develop strategies for framing and answering Lead Questions. Also, we introduce two additional possible results to investigations: patterns and principles.
Investigations result in explanations, patterns, or principles. In the case of explanation, the results of an investigation take the form “this happened because X .” In the case of a pattern, the results of an investigation take the form “this happens because X .” When an investigation results in a principle, the conclusion takes the form “I will not let this happen because X ” or on a positive spin, “I will do this because X .”
When we want to find reasons why something happened (when we investigate causes) or who did something (when we investigate motives and opportunities), we explain an event or effect. When we look for patterns, we want to know what happens under some circumstances.
This helps us distinguish explanation from prediction. The distinction between the past case and the future case can be subtle. We will continue to explore this distinction later, when we talk about a species of recommendation called “Request for Prediction”. Patterns underwrite prediction. Though patterns are not precisely the same as explanations, they are closely related. In brief: series of similar explanations of similar effects can establish patterns. But no single effect must ever repeat; treating patterns and explanations separately, then, will help us understand the deeper significance of each category.
We look for explanations when we want to know what happened.
We look for patterns when we want to know what happens.