IdeaEcos Message Board › Summary: Analogizing Skill on Feb 20, 2014
Making a connection between two concepts is the fundamental technique of creative thinking. Analogy is the process of using many connections at multiple levels to form a rich integrated whole out of the two concepts fusing them into a new idea.
Analogies have long been a staple in the creative problem solving arena. As early as the 1950s Synectics was a creative thinking program based on analogy. William J. Gordon, an executive of the consulting firm, Arthur D. Little, Inc., recorded creative thinking sessions in order to see how the ideas emerged. He observed that as ideas were developed, each was expressed in terms of an analogy with a similar problem found in nature or elsewhere in life. Further research into some of history's most notable discoveries confirmed his conclusion. A case in point is the discovery of microorganisms by Louis Pasteur. Scientists of his day believed infections were caused by internal gases. Pasteur observed that grapes would ferment only when the skin was broken and the analogy led to his discovery.
In these cases analogy is a tool for active idea finding much in the manner as any thinking tool such as outlining in preparation to write a report. It is a tool you take up and use when you need it and then set it aside when finished.
However, in the past 30 years Dr Douglas Hofstadter has been researching analogy as the basic mental activity that in combination with categorization forms the basis of human thought. The process is one of finding yourself in a new situation. Your brain will be actively searching past experiences to see if any elements from previous experiences apply to the current situation. This is a rapid scan that occurs so often that we don't realize what is occurring. As elements, relationships, etc. match up, then we start to feel comfortable that we understand what situation we are in. We have used analogy and categorizing the situation to find match(es) with what we have previous experienced.
Based on Hofstadter's work we can say that humans think using analogies all the time.
Research done by Keith Holyoak and Paul Thagard, described in their book, Mental Leaps, shows we map connections between situations on three levels. The first level is recognizing similarities between attributes. For instance consider the kettle drum and the piano. On the outside they are different instruments, but both require a felt-tipped "hammer" to strike something to make a sound. A second level is connecting relationships between elements. Both a professor and an office supervisor have a relationship, to students or subordinates, respectively, of guiding them in performing work. The final layer, known as System Mapping, is recognizing relations between relationships in each of the two situations. An example is the similar structure between a solar system, with planets circling a sun in distinct orbits, and an atom with electrons circling a nucleus in distinct "shells" or orbits.
This is the backdrop of our discussion of analogizing on Feb. 20th. We first looked at simple attribute analogies by using a jeweler's eyepiece to look at a leaf and powdered kitchen spice. Then we looked at verbal analogies such as "he landed the plane on a wing and a prayer" and how wings and prayers are similar in that context.
Curt pointed out the basic process of analogizing from the book, Think Like A Genius by Todd Siler. There are four steps described using the example of Leonardo da Vinci as he was working on canals. He made an analogy between canals and trees.
Step 1: Connection: joining two things. da Vinci saw a likeness between shapes of branches on a tree and canals.
Step 2: Discovery: investigate and experiment. da Vinci made extensive drawings of branches and experimented to find out how nutrients and water flow through a tree.
Step 3: Invention: create new meaning from the connection & discovery. da Vinci invented a number of hydraulic devices, such as the sluice gate.
Step 4: Application: use the invention in new ways and contexts. da Vinci applied the insights to mills powered by wind & water.
Analogies abound in everyday life ranging from religion to TV chefs say "tastes like" all the time. Marilyn pointed out writing frequently uses metaphor to juxtapose an unusual description onto a scene and startle the reader into seeing a new perspective. Elena added crossword puzzle clues as example of analogies - often confusing - to make the puzzle a challenge.
Scherif finds analogies help him in multilingual communications. Emotions need to be described with analogies if you don't have all the descriptive words in both languages.
Analogies are a deep rich source of creativity - and to use another analogy - we only scratched the surface of the topic this evening.
Sparks of Genius by Robert & Michele Root-Bernstein
Mental Leaps by Keith Holyoak & Paul Thagard
Think Like A Genius by Todd Siler
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Surfaces and Essences both by Douglas Hofstader
Private Eye: Looking / Thinking by Analogy