It is important to share a remarkable book, “Surfaces
and Essences: Analogy as the fuel and fire of thinking,”
by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, Basic
Why is it important? Because I believe if we knew how
important Analogies are and how they can be used, it
can help us make better decisions, be more creative
and solve different problems we face. Going out on
a limb? Try it, for I believe Hofstadter and Sanders
have something for each of us to learn in their many-paged,
but well worded, exploration of the human brains’ and
human communications’ use of analogy.
“Without lifting a finger, we can be touched by a kind
gesture” or “without perking up one’s ears whatsoever, one
can declare that an idea sounds on target” are common
verbal analogies. In fact, the authors claim analogies
are not only verbal, but also underlie all major decisions.
Rather than doing a logical sorting and numerical
weighting of factors, what we all likely do is draw on one
or more analogies in our memory in finally making an
When one needs to decide on a job offer, one thinks it
over comparing similar personal situations. If no situations
come to mind, one more often than not asks the
perspectives of someone we trust.
Often things are observed and not quite well understood.
Further examination and thinking finds conceptual dilemmas
which contradicts or is not predicted by current understanding.
In mathematics, geometrical visualization helps, in physics
physical models and new dimensions help, in chemistry
creating representations like 3-d structures helps. These are
all analogies, both verbal and visual or representative.
Much of the last couple hundred pages is taken up with how
Einstein perceived the world around him as full of hidden
analogies– particles as waves, light as particles and
the interconversion of mass and energy. See also 3 .
Amazing things, we have come to learn, result when we do
out-of-the-box thinking…analogies. The very essence of an
analogy is that it maps some mental structure on to another
mental structure. Even verbalizing a problem in different terms
can jump start novel thinking to solve a problem. The authors
refer to “frame blending” [blending of situations], explanatory
analogies, and interesting translation and transculturalization
approaches that open up new approaches that work better.
The authors also point out that analogy making is one
reason humans still have an advantage over computers,
despite the computer’s speed and precision on known