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Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power.  Danger, disquiet and anxiety attend the unknown — the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states and the first principle is that any explanation is better than none…, what drives this addiction and excitement is the feeling of fear…”

John Mauldin in his Thoughts from the Front Line[3], points out that behavioral psychologists say the process of explaining actually releases chemicals in the brain that make us feel good.  We literally become addicted to the simple explanation.  The fact that our explanations may be irrelevant or even wrong is not important for the chemical release.  Jonathan Lewis Smith observed that, “most people, when faced with uncertainty, need the ‘fix’ of their already adopted explanation to feel secure.”  So, we eagerly look for more explanations in order to feel good.  The imagery of a junky blindly following his ‘feel good’ could easily be linked to the stubbornness we see in politics, among other things.

A colleague invented a new way to stop terrorist explosive devices (IEDs) from killing people in Iraq.  Over several years of review, the government would not buy it, nor would their researchers acknowledge its validity.  The awful truth was that they could not explain it.  It worked.  It saved lives.  Explanation addiction won.  People died.

Explanation addiction prevents innovation.  In a corporate workshop on innovation in China, an executive had been charged with inventing a new kind of delicious cookie.  Her bosses rejected every new idea that did not look like an existing cookie or fit in an existing box.  Their explanation was that none of what was presented was a cookie.  Explanation addiction won, and set the limits of possible futures to that which was allowed by the explanation.

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