Sunday, March 17, 2013

Presidential Lectures: Douglas R. Hofstadter: Extras

Once upon a time, I was invited to speak at an analogy workshop in the legendary city of Sofia in the far-off land of Bulgaria. Having accepted but wavering as to what to say, I finally chose to eschew technicalities and instead to convey a personal perspective on the importance and centrality of analogy-making in cognition. One way I could suggest this perspective is to rechant a refrain that I’ve chanted quite oft in the past, to wit:
P5080125-1.jpg "Analogy"
P5080125-1.jpg "Analogy" (Photo credit: spootonium)
One should not think of analogy-making as a special variety of reasoning (as in the dull and uninspiring phrase “analogical reasoning and problem-solving,” a long-standing cliché in the cognitive-science world), for that is to do analogy a terrible disservice. After all, reasoning and problem-solving have (at least I dearly hope!) been at long last recognized as lying far indeed from the core of human thought. If analogy were merely a special variety of something that in itself lies way out on the peripheries, then it would be but an itty-bitty blip in the broad blue sky of cognition. To me, however, analogy is anything but a bitty blip — rather, it’s the very blue that fills the whole sky of cognition — analogy is everything, or very nearly so, in my view.
End of oft-chanted refrain. If you don’t like it, you won’t like what follows.
The thrust of my chapter is to persuade readers of this unorthodox viewpoint, or failing that, at least to give them a strong whiff of it. In that sense, then, my article shares with Richard Dawkins’s eye-opening book The Selfish Gene (Dawkins 1976) the quality of trying to make a scientific contribution mostly by suggesting to readers a shift of viewpoint — a new take on familiar phenomena.
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