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.
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DOI 10.1080/09515080903238948
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