The Explanatory Value of Mathematical Information in Everyday Explanations

AbstractWith two experiments, we begin an inquiry into the perceived explanatory value of mathematical entities in everyday explanations. This work is motivated by a philosophical debate about the role mathematical entities play in explanation. Simply put, are the mathematical entities themselves explanatory, or is mathematical talk elliptical or shorthand for talk about the physical entities we are concerned with? Across the two experiments, we found clear evidence that situational factors affected how the mathematical entities were considered. However, when those situational factors are accounted for, participants tended to see more explanatory value for mathematical entities that point to other objects involved in the explanation as opposed to mathematical entities that assume the explanatory role themselves.

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