The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox

What is The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox?

The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox occurs when we try to explain something fully. Imagine you have to explain how a clock works. You might start by describing the hands and numbers, but to explain everything, you might end up talking about how gears work, the history of timekeeping, and even the physics of time itself! If you go too deep, the person you’re explaining to might get lost. The paradox is this: the more you try to include every little detail in your explanation, the harder it is for someone to understand it completely.

A simpler way to think about this paradox is like a recipe that’s way too complicated. If someone gave you a recipe for a cake that explained every single chemical reaction that happens in the baking process, it might be the most detailed recipe ever. But would you be able to bake the cake easily? Probably not, because the recipe is too hard to understand. So, the problem is finding a way to give an explanation that’s clear and easy enough to make sense, but still tells you what you need to know.


Even though we don’t know exactly who first talked about this paradox, it’s part of a bigger group of puzzles in philosophy called epistemological paradoxes. These puzzles make us question what we know and how we explain it. The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox reminds us of old, tough questions about whether humans can ever really know everything if searching for complete knowledge makes things too complicated.

Simple Definitions

First Definition:
Think of an endless series of dolls nested within one another. If you explain each doll by opening up the next one, you end up with an infinite number of dolls to explain. That’s like trying to make an explanation that includes everything. You think you need to open all the dolls to be clear, but the person you’re explaining it to can’t follow along after a certain point. So as you try to be clearer, you actually end up making things more confusing.

Second Definition:
Let’s say there’s a giant puzzle with a million pieces. If you were to describe how to put the puzzle together, piece by piece, that explanation would be so detailed, it might become impossible for you or anyone else to use. It’s super specific, yes, but it’s also not very practical. The paradox is the struggle between wanting to give all the details and needing to keep the explanation simple enough to be useful.

Key Arguments

  • Packing an explanation with all the relevant details can make it needlessly complex.
  • An explanation that becomes too complicated doesn’t serve its purpose because it’s not easy to understand.
  • If no one can understand an explanation, it’s not really explaining anything.
  • There’s a big question: is an incomprehensible explanation really accurate, or is it just made more confusing?
  • Finding the right balance between how complex and how clear an explanation is, is key to making sure people understand it.

Answer or Resolution

To deal with The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox, we’ve got to accept that sometimes it’s better to explain things in a way that’s clear and straight to the point, even if it means leaving some details out. The best explanations give just the right amount of information without being too complicated. They are also made to fit what the person listening or reading can understand. We need to remember that everyone’s ability to understand complex things has its limits, so we have to find the line between giving enough detail and keeping things simple.

Major Criticism

Some people who think about this paradox say it’s not a real problem. They argue that good explanations don’t have to cover everything. They also say you can zoom in and out of explanations, like starting with a summary and then getting into the nitty-gritty if someone asks. So, they believe the paradox is more about how people think explanations should work, rather than something that actually makes explaining things hard.

Practical Applications

The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox is something people deal with in things like teaching, talking to others, and laying out information. If you understand this paradox, you can make lesson plans that don’t confuse students with too much detail. It also reminds us to think about who we’re talking to and adjust what we say accordingly. In designing information, it means creating ways for people to find what they need easily without getting lost in too much detail.


  • Science Textbooks: These books often begin with simple concepts and then introduce more complex ideas. This is an example of the paradox because the books try to give a complete understanding without confusing students with too much detail too soon.

  • User Manuals: A quick setup guide is included to help people start using a product right away. This addresses the paradox by offering a basic explanation first. More in-depth instructions are there for those who want to learn more.

  • Software Interfaces: They usually show the most important buttons and menus first. This helps avoid the paradox by not overwhelming users with too many options at once, making it easier for people to use the software without getting confused.

Why is it Important?

Understanding The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox is crucial because it affects how we share information with each other. In our daily lives, whether we’re trying to explain how a smartphone works to a friend or teach a group of people a new skill, we need to be clear but also correct. By knowing about this paradox, we can try to give explanations that are easy to understand but also fairly complete. This helps everyone learn better and makes sure we can use and share knowledge without getting mixed up by too much complexity.

Related Topics

  • Cognitive Load Theory: This is about how much information our minds can handle at one time. Just like a computer can only run so many programs at once, our brains can only deal with so much detail before things get too confusing.

  • Information Anxiety: This happens when we have too much information—it can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s connected to the paradox because when an explanation is incomprehensible, it can add to this feeling of information overload.

  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: In communication, this ratio compares the amount of useful information to the useless stuff. An explanation with a high ratio means it’s mostly clear and valuable, without a lot of confusing filler. A low ratio could be part of what makes the paradox happen, because it means there’s too much that isn’t helpful.


The Incomprehensible Explanation Paradox offers a valuable lesson on the importance of balancing detail and clarity in our explanations. While the paradox doesn’t have a single, fix-all solution, being mindful of its principles—the need for simplicity, understanding our limits when it comes to complex information, and adjusting our communication to our audience—allows us to share and understand knowledge more effectively. It’s not about solving the paradox; it’s about using what we know about it to reduce confusion and promote better understanding in every aspect of learning and communication.