Science and Analogies

In the book The Private Eye : “5X” Looking/Thinking by Analogy – A Guide to Developing the Interdisciplinary Mind, the author says that the most important mental tools for thinking about science are:
Close observation
Thanking by Analogy
changing scale

The more actively you process information, the more actively you retain it.- David Perkins, Project Zero, co-director of Cognitive psych-research.

In an article titled scientists as poets, the author says:

The ancient Greeks used water waves to suggest the nature of the modern wave theory of sound. A millennia and a half later, the same analogical abstraction yielded the wave theory of light.

In fact, in many ways scientific inquiry is driven by analogy, sometimes more explicit than others. For example, if I want to understand what a new protein does and how it does it, the first place I’m going to look is at analogous proteins. If I’m designing a new method, I’m going to take existing methods and tailor them to the new system based on how this system differs from the previous one.

[…]Charles Darwin formed his evolutionary theory of natural selection by drawing a parallel to the artificial selection performed by breeders, an analogy he cited in his 1859 classic The Origin of Species.[…]

Velcro, invented in 1948 by Georges de Mestral, is an example of technological design based on visual analogy — Mestral recalled how the tiny hooks of burrs stuck to his dog’s fur. Velcro later became a “source” for further analogical designs with “targets” in medicine, biology, and chemistry. According to Mental Leaps, these new domains for analogical transfer include abdominal closure in surgery, epidermal structure, molecular bonding, antigen recognition, and hydrogen bonding.

Physicists currently find themselves toying with analogies in trying to unravel the puzzle of string theory, which holds promise as a grand unified theory of everything in the universe. Here the tool of analogy is useful in various contexts — not only in the discovery, development, and evaluation of an idea, but also in the exposition of esoteric hypotheses, in communicating them both among physicists and to the layperson.

Brian Greene, a Columbia University professor cum pop-culture physicist, has successfully translated the foreign realm of string theory for the general public with his best-selling book The Elegant Universe (1999) and an accompanying NOVA documentary, both replete with analogies to garden hoses, string symphonies, and sliced loaves of bread. As one profile of Greene observed, “analogies roll off his tongue with the effortless precision of a Michael Jordan lay-up.”


2006 article by Siobhan Roberts

To encourage your students to think by analogy ask questions designed to draw out analogies and connections- questions such as:
What does this look like?
What else does it look like?
What does this remind you of?
What else?

How are these two things alike?

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is supposed to have defined beauty as unity in variety.
“Science,” says Bronowski in the book Science and Human Values, “is nothing else than the search to discover unity in the wild variety of nature,—or, more exactly, in the variety of our experience. Poetry, painting, the arts are the same search, in Coleridge’s phrase, for unity in variety.”

These analogies, metaphors, similes, these images

“…are tools of creative thought, as coherent and as exact as the conceptual images with shich science works: as time and space, or as the proton and the neutron.”The discoveries of science, the works of art are explorations- more, are explosions of a hidden likeness.”

Education, as Miss Mason said, is the science of relations.  Often these relations are made in quite unlikely circumstances.

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