Analogy as the Core of Cognition

5 comments on this post.
  1. Charles Cameron:

    That was a fantastic talk by Doug Hofstadter, Zen. I’ve probably given as much thought to analogy as he has across the years, but almost everything he said on the topic was fresh to me: plausible, not surprising, but new.
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    He spoke (at around the 1 hr mark) of a "competition in my head" and said "every word has a subterranean fight going on inside it" – giving as an example the conflation of the word "poised" with the phrase "posed on the banister". I don’t want to disagree with him, but I do think it worth mentioning that the arts draw on such "competitions" between words. I write poetry. I don’t post it here, because I have no wish to dilute the willingness of your various audiences to read here, and poetry is at best an acquired taste. But we are discussing analogy and creativity today, so perhaps you’ll allow me to give an example – not necessarily my best poem, nor my worst, but one I wrote over the last twenty-four hours.
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    I watch a fair number of crime and spy thrillers of an evening to unwind, and recently I’ve been noting some of the motifs or cliches of these genres, and seeing if I can’t find in me a poem that explains the "essence" (in Hofstedter’s sense) in each case. And yesterday, my attention was caught by one of those boards or walls on which the detective pins up images and texts relevant to the case at hand, tying them together with colored string… The image interests me, because it’s a graph, a node-and-edge graph not unlike one of my HipBone game boards, an analytic device for prodding the unconscious to "connect the dots" until the "larger picture" comes into focus. As I was writing the poem, various of Hofstadter’s "subterranean fights" go on inside me: but I don’t treat them as fights (duels, with a winner) but as gifts (duets, with the blessings of polyphony).
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    On watching too many police procedurals 
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    Evidence: they say it comes in shreds, shards.
    Photos, typed words on snippets of paper, dates,
    addresses, with the threads that link them,
    tie them together, swatches of blood, of blouse,
    all spots, dots to be connected in that unique
    pattern that reveals cause, bound by the cords
    of tight inevitability to effect, blood spooling,
    spilling across the floor, pooling a crimson lake…
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    And we feel grief. On that old procedural board
    familiar from so very many movies, the nodes,
    the links create the bigger picture: at first puzzle,
    then answer — a guilty party, prosecutor’s tale,
    the family, a chunk gouged out of them; last,
    the passing of hurt, hard hearts down the decades.

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    The most obvious example here is "blood spooling, spilling across the floor, pooling…" The blood spills, it pools on the floor, but it also spools, at the intersection of spilling and pooling, becoming the colored ribbon that ties the details together.Which connects the dots, spots – the blood spatter, splatter. We talk about there being "not a shred of evidence" against us, but the shreds, shards gather there on the board until we reach – certainty, conviction. And where Hofstadter might have found a subterranean fight, I perceived a gift in the raw pain and its suppression within the victim’s family, to be offered to readers of the poem in the closing line: hurt, hard hearts

  2. onparkstreet:

    So, are you all familiar with the whole "short-short" story world? Six word, fifty word, 250 word stories? Lots of online sites dedicated to short "slam" fiction, perfect for the world of mobile phones and the like.
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    Anyway, what I am getting at is: is an analogy just the shortest short story?
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    Haven’t listened to the talk but will mark it to listen later! Thanks zen! Always enjoy your blog whether on "hiatus" or not. Plus, there’s Charles Cameron’s posts which are awesome. More poetry, please.
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    – Madhu

  3. onparkstreet:

    You see what I did there?
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    (I really do belong in the nuttier, more arty end of the blogosphere, don’t I? I have no mental discipline 🙂 )
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    – Madhu

  4. zen:

    " is an analogy just the shortest short story?"
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    If it is a good analogy 🙂
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    Charles – there’s a large portion of visual imagery in the passage you cite: do you think the incorporation of imagery ( thus activating a powerful region of the brain) enhances or distorts the underlying conceptual connection in an analogical construction?

  5. Charles Cameron:

    Madhu:
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    I will happily supply more poetry from time to time — thank you!\
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    Mark:
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    That’s a big question, and I’m prepping a decent answer to it, which I’ll make a separate post of shortly.