Is there one central mechanism upon which all human thinking rests? Cognitive scientists Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander argue that there is. At this core is our incessant proclivity to take what we perceive, to abstract it, and to find resemblances to prior experiences—in other words, our ability to make analogies.
In The Essence of Thought, Hofstadter and Sander show how analogy-making pervades our thought at all levels—indeed, that we make analogies not once a day or once an hour, but many times per second. Thus, analogy is the mechanism that, silently and hidden, chooses our words and phrases for us when we speak, frames how we understand the most banal everyday situation, guides us in unfamiliar situations, and gives rise to great acts of imagination.
We categorize because of analogies that range from simple to subtle, and thus our categories, throughout our lives, expand and grow ever more fluid. Through examples galore and lively prose peppered, needless to say, with analogies large and small, Hofstadter and Sander offer us a new way of thinking about thinking.
Not cold reason but a profusion of metaphorical similarities let us understand the world, according to this distended, unfocused treatise on conceptual thought. Cognitive scientists Hofstadter (G del, Escher, Bach) and Sander explore the interesting though not startling idea that people rely on analogies drawn from past experience in words, conversation, cultural assumptions, and ideologies to make sense of novel situations and discover hidden, abstract commonalities. The authors apply this idea to everything from a child s generalization from Mommy to motherhood to the falling-dominoes analogy drawn during the Vietnam War. They develop some fascinating insights on, for example, the simple analogies underlying Einstein s theories of relativity, but, unfortunately, the authors lack the good analogist s nose for concision. More natural history than rigorous scientific analysis, their argument proceeds by cataloging countless analogical specimens and dissecting their meanings at luxuriant length. Never content with a single pithy example where 20 repetitive ones will do, they bludgeon readers with belabored erudition, tiresome overexplication five pages on the phrase, Me, too! and ponderous rhetorical japes, including a 27-page Socratic dialogue. ( Good grief, Anna, are you implying that categorization and analogy-making are exactly the same thing? ) The result is an annoyingly high ratio of gratuitous surface detail to essential information. 10 b&w illus.