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We propose Information Lattice Learning (ILL) as a general framework to learn rules of a signal (e.g., an image or a probability distribution). In our definition, a rule is a coarsened signal used to help us gain one interpretable insight about the original signal. To make full sense of what might govern the signal’s intrinsic structure, we seek multiple disentangled rules arranged in a hierarchy, called a lattice. Compared to representation/rule-learning models optimized for a specific task (e.g., classification), ILL focuses on explainability: it is designed to mimic human experiential learning and discover rules akin to those humans can distill and comprehend. This paper details the math and algorithms of ILL, and illustrates how it addresses the fundamental question “what makes X an X” by creating rule-based explanations designed to help humans understand. Our focus is on explaining X rather than (re)generating it. We present applications in knowledge discovery, using ILL to distill music theory from scores and chemical laws from molecules and further revealing connections between them. We show ILL’s efficacy and interpretability on benchmarks and assessments, as well as a demonstration of ILL-enhanced classifiers achieving human-level digit recognition using only one or a few MNIST training examples (1–10 per class).