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"Analogy-making: A fallible but fertile necessity", Emmanuel Sander (University of Geneva, Psychology and Educational Sciences)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020, 01:00pm - 02:30pm

Busch Campus, Psych 105

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Abstract: Analogy-making might appear as a specific reasoning tool drawn on only under special circumstances. Building on our co-authored book with Douglas Hofstadter (Hofstadter & Sander, 2013), we will argue at this conference that analogy is rather the machinery that allows us to use our past fluidly to orient ourselves in the present. We, human beings, are constantly faced with a swirling and intermingling multitude of ill-defined situations. Our brain’s job is to try to make sense of this unpredictable, swarming chaos of stimuli. How does it do so? The ceaseless hail of inputs trigger analogies, helping us to pinpoint the essence of what is going on. Often they can be the spontaneous evocation of words, sometimes idioms, sometimes the triggering of nameless, long-ago buried memories. Why did two-year-old Camille proudly exclaim, “I undressed the orange!”? Why do people who hear a story often blurt out “Exactly the same thing happened to me!” when it was a completely different event? What in a friend’s remark triggers the offhand reply, “That’s just sour grapes”? What did Albert Einstein see that made him suspect that light consists of particles when a century of research had driven the final nail in the coffin of that long-dead idea? Through multitudes of analogies over our lives, we build a great number of robust, flexible categories; through analogies we retrieve apt categories based on subtle cues that reveal what counts in a situation and what doesn't. In this way we survive in the world, understand the world and enjoy the world. Although analogical thought is not deductive, analogies constantly provide us with insightful inferences, leading us to make hypotheses about new situations on the basis of experience with situations in our past. By focusing on the constantly churning cognitive mechanisms normally hidden from view, involving langage, memory, reasoning, decision-making, conceptual development, learning, and by discovering in them one invariant core—the incessant, unconscious quest for strong analogical links to past experiences—this conference will put forth a new vision about the act of thinking. 


Recommended Reading:

Hofstadter, D., & Sander, E. (2013). Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the fuel and fire of thinking. New York, Basic Books

Gros, H., Thibaut, J. P., & Sander, E. (in press). Semantic congruence in arithmetic: A new model for word problem solving. Educational Psychologist.

Gvozdic, K., & Sander, E. (2020). Learning to be an opportunistic word problem solver: Going beyond informal solving strategies. ZDM Mathematics Education. Advance online publication

Raynal, L., Clément, E., & Sander, E. (2020). Are superficially dissimilar analogs better retrieved than superficially similar disanalogs? Acta Psychologica. Advance online publication