Analogies and Maps

Sat, 23 Apr 1994 00:32:18 -0400

>Are analogies all we have to think with, as J. McCreery proposes? I do
>not think so.

For the record, Bob, so do I. But I still think that even when we are using
non-analogical methods, we are still operating within a paradigm which is
an implicit "map" or analogy...
To repeat an old Alan Watts truism, the map is not the territory, and
the menu is not the meal; I think there are better maps for certain
situations. When driving on the road, I want a road map; when I want to go
hiking, I want a terrain map; when I'm a geographer, I want a map with
political boundaries...
Scientists are after certain kinds of terrain, and based on where
they want to "navigate" their disciplines to, they choose certain kinds of

>Analogies help us "get a handle" on new topics; but as
>our understanding advances, the limitations of analogies become more
>apparent, and our need for them decreases.

With this, I will disagree. I would argue that as research paradigms
advance, their paradigms become more entrenched, not less so. Hence the
recent intensification of the Strong AI "brain = computer, mind = software"
Most of science itself still operates within the Mechanistic
Paradigm/Analogy of the 18th century. I would argue that since many
scientists still argue for determinism and mechanistic laws, they are still
operating within a "universe = machine" analogy.
It would be interesting if the Chymical Philosophy of England became
the dominant one in science, rather than the Mechanical Philosophy of La
Mettrie and the Continent. In the Chymical Paradigm, which still survives
in some areas of science, the universe was viewed as a mixture/solution of
miscible substances, rather than a mechanical construction of moving
parts... (needless to say, it was heavily derived from alchemy)...

>The scientific analysis of
>electricity, at a very introductory level, was promoted by comparing it
>to a fluid flow; but science outgrew that analogy, so that electrical
>phenomena now are explained without use of the analogy.

Yes, rather than using the analogy of fluids, we now use the analogy of the
quantum. Electricity and magnetism are now viewed as two aspects of the
same electromagnetic force. It works, but then, so did the fluid analogy,
for its time...

>sociology and anthropology are beginning to outgrow the analogy between
>a society and an organism.

"Outgrow" is not a useful term here. The organismic analogy is useful to a
certain extent, if one wants to pursue the analogy of "society = body,
human beings = cells, and institutions/cultural systems = organs/tissues."
I agree that this analogy can only get you so far... but then, it's only
one map among many. I for one think that it would not be productive to just
declare the organismic analogy dead and just replace it with a mechanistic
analogy, which again has its uses, but doesn't give us all the answers...

>It was a great help at a time when people
>were reluctant even to think of societies as natural phenomena,

Organisms are not natural phenomena? Methinks most naturalists would

>there are some interesting sub-analogies involving growth and
>function-structural differentiation; but the value of the analogy,
>except for introductory pedagogical purposes, has diminished

Yes, people have chosen to use other analogies, but that does not mean its
"value has diminished considerably." They are looking for new territories,
and so they have chosen new maps...

>My view of analogies is that of Carl G. Hempel (*Aspects
>of Scientific Explanation*, 1965).

I read Hempel for my Logic class three years ago. I happen to think his
view of scientific explanation is interesting, but cannot stand on its own
without also considering the views of Popper, Polanyi, Lakatos, Kuhn, or
other philosophers of science...

>(This post is not intended to
>support the arguments advanced by N. Bowles, to which J. McCreery was
>responding.) --Bob Graber

Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
CyberAnthropologist, TechnoCulturalist, Guerilla Ontologist, Chaotician
Matrix Master Control Node #3, Gainesville, Fl.
"I slept with Faith & found a corpse in my arms upon awakening/ I drank and
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