Re: Difficult Explanations

From: Steve Davies (
Date: Tue May 15 2001 - 08:29:33 MDT

-----Original Message-----
From: Adrian Tymes <>
To: <>
Date: 14 May 2001 22:54
Subject: Re: Difficult Explanations

Adrian Said

>True. But if one practices explaining it to oneself as one would
>explain it to a novice, or a child (if that metaphor is clearer), then
>one can find ways to explain it to others easier...and, not
>infrequently, come to understand it better oneself. At least, I have
>used this technique myself when faced with confusing collections of
>facts, and I feel that I understand those things better as a result,
>though I am not certain how I could objectively test this. I have
>found that for even the most difficult problems, repeating this
>technique has allowed me to eventually boil anything I have tried it on
>down to layman's terms. This happens most often through a combination
>of finding commonly-used terms that adequately describe a concept, of
>finding commonly known concepts with a small and clearly describable
>set of differences from the concept being explained, and of determining
>what large sections of complexity can be reduced to a few statements
>while hiding the details from the basic explanation (with the
>understanding that, if those details are desired, they can be requested
>after the basics are digested).

Isn't it a bit more complicated? The big problem with explaining something
IMO is 1. what prior knowledge you assume on the part of the explainee 2.
what vocabulary is avaiable for you to explain it in simple terms (what
building blocks you have) The two clearly interact. One of my worst ever
experiences was trying to explain to an American what a "googly" is. Took me
an entire afternoon, much drawing of diagrams and an exposition of the
entire laws and basis of the game of cricket. The simple explanation "It's
an offbreak bowled with a legbreak action" wouldn't do! That case also
reveals another problem, misleading or irrelevant knowledge on the part of
the explainee - it's more difficult to explain cricket to an American
because they have misleading notions derived from baseball (exactly the same
in reverse by the way).

Steve Davies

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