General Question

Rarebear's avatar

What is the difference between the inexplicable and the merely unexplained and is one person's "inexplicable" another person's unexplained?

Asked by Rarebear (25154points) June 16th, 2010

Inspired by @fyrius

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31 Answers

CMaz's avatar


reverie's avatar

Maybe there is a level to your question that I am totally missing, but I always understood inexplicable to mean “not possible to explain” and unexplained as “not currently explained”. They are two different things in the sense that inexplicable things will never be explained, and unexplained things may one day be explained. Thus, all things that are inexplicable are, by their very nature, unexplained, but all things that are unexplained are not necessarily inexplicable. To say something is “inexplicable” when it hasn’t been verified that it is technically impossible to find a explanation, to me, seems incorrect.

It’s quite a tongue-twister! :D

Rarebear's avatar

@reverie Can you give me an example of something that you feel is inexplicable, and not just unexplained?

gasman's avatar

Mere semantics. “Unexplained” means “lacking an explanation” while “inexplicable” means “unable to be explained.” If a freight train derails, the cause may be unexplained, but presumably a diligent analysis will/would reveal a satisfactory physical explanation—perhaps corrosion of a rail connector that’s not apparent by casual inspection. The fact that eating citrus fruit during long sea voyages prevents sailors from contracting scurvy may once have been inexplicable—until the discovery of Vitamin C and its role in cross-linking of collagen, etc.

There are many unexplained things. Some of these seem inexplicable. None, however, are fundamentally consigned to remain that way forever.

poofandmook's avatar

something unexplained: How the crop circles got there. Something inexplicable: Are aliens real?

Mariah's avatar

Maybe I’m just an idealist, but I like to think that nothing is inexplicable, that is, we’ll find answers for everything someday. But that’s just because I want to know everything. :P

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Poetry is inexplicable to my dog.

reverie's avatar

@Rarebear Sure, although I would definitely admit that it is really challenging to think of things that you can verify as genuinely inexplicable! I think such things are really rather rare, and I believe that the vast majority of things are unexplained, rather than inexplicable.

One example that springs to mind of something that might be inexplicable is trying to explain the mental state and motivations of someone who is no longer alive. Let’s say this dead person previously committed an unusual act with no clear or obvious motivational purpose, and then dies. Those left behind can offer suggestions and potentially correct explanations for that act, but as those explanations can never be verified as a result of the individual’s death, I would therefore say that it’s fair to define that behaviour as “inexplicable”, since said explanations can never be verified.

Of course, this example can get quite muddy, if you start to consider the extent to which individuals can accurately explain their own behaviours and mental states, and the extent to which we engage in post-hoc reasoning for our actions. Or, I suppose, you could argue that in the future, we may develop means to bring people back to life and therefore, the behaviour may cease to be inexplicable!

Rarebear's avatar

@poofandmook Well, crop circles are easily explained without the need for aliens.

@reverie I see your point, and it’s a good one. You could hypothesize that you could get into the frame of mind of the individual by looking at writings, but you could never know exactly what they were thinking. My question was more along the lines of crop circles like @poofandmook or something truly unexplained as yet such as abiogenesis or what came before the Big Bang.

downtide's avatar

I’m not fully understanding but the way I see it is this –
Inexplicable = something for which there can never be an explanation.
Unexplained = there isn’t an explanation yet, but there could be. Or there is one but you just don’t know what it is yet.

Rarebear's avatar

@downtide Can you give an explanation of a phenomenon that is inexplicable as opposed to not yet explained?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Again, poetry is inexplicable to my dog. There is a mental barrier which prevents the explanation from being communicated. The notion is capable of being explained, but it is incapable of being understood.

It’s not so dissimilar to the notion of infinity. We can explain the concept all we wish, but I highly doubt that finite humans are genuinely capable of ever comprehending the full essence of what it means to be infinite.

downtide's avatar

@Rarebear without being able to accurately predict the future, no. But I’d hazard a guess at a couple – proof of the existance of god, and what happens when you die.

mattbrowne's avatar

Unexplained = Explanation expected (soon)
Inexplicable = Can (probably) never be explained

Ron_C's avatar

I would think that an “unexplained event” is one that has not been sufficiently studied either because it is not significant to enough people, or it is just not interesting enough.

An unexplainable event is only temporary. Everything can be explained if you get enough information. For instance miracles are almost always untested or immediately attributed to the supernatural. Lightening is a good example of this. So are the alleged cures at Fatima. Whenever I hear about miracle cures I ask, if the cures are so miraculous, why don’t you see amputees cured?

When I see people growing replacement limbs because they prayed to some deity, maybe I’ll believe in miracles. Until then, the “unexplainable” will be just subjects that were not sufficiently examined.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ron_C – Everything? How do we explain the explanation of the explanation? The ultimate explanation?

Ron_C's avatar

@mattbrowne of course the answer to life, the universe, and everything is “42”.

Actually, neither Douglas Adams, nor I believe that there is just one answer for everything. I am just saying that one man’s magic is another man’s science. There was a quote from someone that “any sufficiently advanced technology is the equivalent to magic to a less advanced civilization” Therefore questions that cannot be answered today will be answerable in the future.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ron_C – Another example:

The purpose and meaning of the universe is inexplicable by science. The tools of scientific method simply cannot be applied.

So not everything can be explained even if you get enough information.

Ron_C's avatar

@mattbrowne isn’t the purpose to understand the mechanics of the universe? From that they will come to understand the purpose, if there is one. It is just possible, no, likely that the only purpose of the universe is to exist. Why should there be more than that?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ron_C – Yes, maybe that’s the purpose. Being able to understand the mechanics of the universe and asking questions about purpose requires intelligent beings. I think our universe is bursting with evolutionary possibilities and I find it amazing that carbon is chemically very flexible and also far more abundant than the simpler atoms lithium, beryllium and boron. These rare and fragile light nuclei are not generated in the normal course of stellar nucleosynthesis. Truly awesome. Yeah, yeah, a multiverse might not have a choice but to produce a universe like ours. But such a universe-generating mechanism would still truly awesome.

Ron_C's avatar

@mattbrowne My feelings exactly. With all the possibilities and mysteries to explain, why would anyone waste their time studying religion. The real universe is much more strange and diverse than anything thought up around a campfire.

Jabe73's avatar

Would this mean that if something is inexplicable than it would come down to your own hypothesis? How do we determine with absolute certainty what is inexplicable and unexplainable to begin with since science is always discovering new things about physics, quantum mechanics, biology and many other fields? You actually answered your own question when you said “is another person’s inexplicable another person’s unexplained” it seems.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ron_C – Studying religion and practicing religions are two different things. The latter can help people stay healthy and find meaning in their lives.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Jabe73 – There is probably no absolute certainty about what exactly is inexplicable and unexplained. Most current mysteries are unexplained and will be explained soon, like abiogenesis, dark matter, dark energy and so forth. Is a level 4 multiverse inexplicable? I don’t know.

Jabe73's avatar

@mattbrowne What may seem “inexplicable” at this current time may have their own scientific theories hundreds or even thousands of years into the future, assuming we are still around.

I believe UFO’s really do visit here, however even moving at the speed of light the distances between stars are still to great. Considering these beings, if they exist would most likely be at least hundreds, thousands or even millions of years ahead of us in technical knowledge they might have figured out how to use interdimensional travel to make up for these large distances, or maybe these beings are closer to us then we think and they come from these other dimensions.

What I just said may be considered “unbelievable” and very inexplicable at this current point in time because our civilization is not that advanced at this time. The possible idea of a multiverse has been gaining more attention from scientists that once laughed at it.

JustmeAman's avatar

I think ALL things are explainable given enough time. Again I do not believe in miracles because there is a law and principle that governs that act and in time we will all know it. We live in a 3 dimensional world and cannot, even through science discover anything beyond that. There is an exception to that but in time again we shall know. I believe there are dimensions where distance and time is not a factor and is not a limitation. Just with that one thought in mind think how different our views would be if we were not limited by time and distance.

Ron_C's avatar

@mattbrowne I have and continue to study religion. In fact, I probably read more religious texts and histories since I decided to become or maybe I should say drifted into atheism.

I like to cover my bets and, if possible, insure that I made the right decision. The more I read, the more I convinced that all of the organized religions are either wrong or scams. The scam religions or cults are easier to discern and the established religions have the greatest number of apologists. I think that if a philosophy needs an apologist to explain it, the errors must outweigh the truths.

mattbrowne's avatar

All of the organized religions are either wrong or scams? I cannot agree.

Ron_C's avatar

@mattbrowne (by the way, I’m reading “The Future Happens Twice” and notice that the kids were not indoctrinated into a religion)

The Pope claims to be a direct descendant of Peter and is infallible when he talks about religion.
The Prophet of the Mormon church claims direct inspiration from God.
Individual Imams claim the right to interpret the Koran even to the point of sentencing non-Muslims to death for disrespecting Islam.
Baptists claim that the “unsaved” are going straight to hell and still maintain separate churches for blacks and whites.

Which of these religions are correct? Which does not seek to enrich their particular congregation? How is it that none of their predictions are ever fulfilled except in the context of their particular interpretation of events.

I expect that Wicca is the only “pure” religion I’ve seen mostly because they acknowledge that their stories are myths. Of course, I’m not a Wiccan either.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ron_C – That’s great. Please tell me what you think! And no. I am against indoctrination. No one ever indoctrinated me. All your examples are related to very conservative or even fundamentalist forms of religion. I reject the Pope’s claim but even the Pope acknowledges that Genesis is a myth and that the big bang and evolution is true. All moderate or liberal forms of religions reject the claim that only one religion is “correct”.

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