Looking down, around, and up: Mechanistic explanation in psychology

Philosophical Psychology 22 (5):543-564 (2009)
Accounts of mechanistic explanation have emphasized the importance of looking down—decomposing a mechanism into its parts and operations. Using research on visual processing as an exemplar, I illustrate how productive such research has been. But once multiple components of a mechanism have been identified, researchers also need to figure out how it is organized—they must look around and determine how to recompose the mechanism. Although researchers often begin by trying to recompose the mechanism in terms of sequential operations, they frequently find that the components of a mechanism interact in complex ways involving positive and negative feedback and that the organization often exhibits highly interactive local networks linked by a few long-range connections (small-worlds organization) and power law distributions of connections. The mechanisms are themselves active systems that are perturbed by inputs but not set in motion by them. Researchers also need to look up —situate a mechanism in its context, which may be a larger mechanism that modulates its behavior. When looking down is combined with looking around and up, mechanistic research results in an integrated, multi-level perspective
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 12,705
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
William Bechtel (2005). Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.

View all 19 references

Citations of this work BETA

View all 8 citations

Similar books and articles
Daniel J. Nicholson (2012). The Concept of Mechanism in Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (1):152-163.
Carl Craver (2007). Constitutive Explanatory Relevance. Journal of Philosophical Research 32:3-20.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

46 ( #41,748 of 1,413,268 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

5 ( #42,184 of 1,413,268 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.