LINGUIST List 15.701

Thu Feb 26 2004

Review: Philo of Lang/Cog Sci: Shelley (2003)

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  • Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy

    Message 1: Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy

    Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2004 19:59:39 -0500 (EST)
    From: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira <>
    Subject: Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy

    AUTHOR: Shelley, Cameron TITLE: Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy SERIES: Human Cognitive Processing 11 PUBLISHER: John Benjamins YEAR: 2003

    Announced at

    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, National University of Singapore


    This book, derived from Shelley's doctoral dissertation, proposes a first unified account of analogy by means of a formally constrained model that treats single analogy as a special case of multiple analogy.

    Chapter 1, ''The problem of multiple analogies'', gives a preliminary layout of the theoretical framework from within which the analysis of analogy will be approached, including purpose, methodology, and reasons for the choice to focus on uses of analogy taken from biology, archaeology and philosophy. The use of key terms is clarified, e.g., the terms ''analog'', which refers to both the source and the target of an analogy, and ''multiple analogy'', an analogy in which ''_more than one source analog_ is used to reason about a target analog'' (pp.3-4). Analogy, taken as a structured comparison between specific items, is distinguished from induction, which involves generalisations from observation of specific items. This importance of this distinction lies in that taking multiple analogy as several single analogies is erroneous, because it assumes that ''all analogies are inductions'' (p.6), a view that has been found untenable in recent research. Analogies are ''based on comparisons between causal relationships in which the items in an analogy participate'' (p.6), making causality, not universal generalisation, centrally relevant to analogical reasoning.

    The chapter also introduces discussion of modern theories of analogy, which can be labelled ''shared-structure theories'' in that they focus on the mappings, or ''alignment of corresponding parts'' (p.7), of hierarchical causal relationships shared between source and target analog. The rules and constraints of the mapping procedure are explained.

    Chapter 2, ''Multiple analogies and 'old fourlegs''', presents the chosen analytical framework, the Multiconstraint theory of analogy (MT), one version of shared-structure theory. Being a constrained theory that allows application to both single and multiple analogies, the MT appears as ideally suited to our understanding of the undeniably vital contribution of analogy to scientific thinking. In the MT, analogy involves alignment of conceptual structures ''in a table of predicates of increasing abstractness'' (p.17). The horizontal alignment of predicates with their arguments gives the relationship between source and target analog, whereas the vertical dimension accounts for a (causal) explanation that legitimises the analogy.

    The chapter discusses the application of the MT first to single analogies, and then its extension to multiple analogies. Examples are taken mostly from evolutionary biology, particularly the claims surrounding the Coelacanth 'living fossil', with a view to systematising the rationale behind legitimate mappings between source and target analog, as well as the criteria for analytical coherence.

    The next three chapters, ''Multiple analogies from the Mesozoic'', ''Multiple analogies in archaeology'', ''Multiple analogies in Plato's _Republic_'', discuss the uses of analogy in specific areas of biology, archaeology and philosophy, respectively. These areas are chosen precisely because analogy has played a major role in the development of knowledge pertaining to each. A generalised account of multiple analogies is progressively outlined, with rich discussion of particular emblematic examples in each area, all illustrated with tables detailing the horizontal and vertical steps and correspondences that establish the analogy.

    Chapter 6, ''Modelling multiple analogies'', presents Shelley's proposed model, building on observations and conclusions gleaned from the preceding, more expository chapters. Shelly discusses ''criteria that a _general_ theory of analogy should satisfy'' (p.113), and argues for a model which ''places much emphasis on purpose and planning for the generation and understanding of multiple analogies'' (p.119). The planning involved in the construction of an analogy naturally serves the purpose of that analogy. The model incorporates a visual and a verbal buffer, accounting for the central role played by visual/graphical imagery (''imagery augmented with a pencil and paper'', p.50) and by language, particularly narrative modes (one way of coding ''mental movies'', p.121), in the cognitive process of analogical inference. The chapter's concluding remarks provide a concise summary of the whole book.

    An Appendix, ''Historical review'', gives a brief presentation of treatments of analogy among Western thinkers, from Plato to contemporary theorisation, with Aristotle's and J.S. Mill's accounts described as the first examples of a model of analogy, and of an explicitly constrained model of analogy, respectively. Shelley's discussion groups analogy theories into three types, shared-abstraction, shared-attribute and shared-structure, and focuses on the theoretical treatment of multiple analogy.


    Analogy is central to everyday reasoning about everyday happenings, as well as to our attempts at interpreting and often predicting the latter. Being a comfortable part of our household cognitive skills, we hardly realise the extent to which it shapes our thought. It is by analogy with last week's schedule that we plan next week's diary entries, as it is by analogy with our human ways of being and thinking that we conceive of life and intelligence beyond our species and our planet. Analogy is a stepping- stone to approaching puzzles and making them ours, by bringing them to a level that makes us understand them. In this role of providing a bridge from a source analog (what is known to us) to a target analog (what we want to know), analogy is a product of our reluctance to live with unexplained phenomena, and ''clearly valuable in scientific thinking'' (p.12). Often there is no other way to interpret evidence, particularly in research areas that involve reconstruction of the past, whether in archaeology or linguistics. Given that providing reliable explanations for puzzling observations is the domain of science and of philosophy, and given the thought processes that are common to both, the scene is set for the analysis of knowledge garnered by means of analogy.

    Shelley takes apart several well-established analogies and puts back together, into one unified model, what makes these analogies legitimate, or persuasive. By providing insight of this kind into the workings of our mind, and into what exactly we select, along the reasoning process, to make an analogy gain the sense we want it to make, the topic of this book will appeal to a broad readership, not only among biologists, archaeologists, philosophers and scientists in general, but to anyone interested in the cognitive mechanisms of acquiring knowledge.

    Predictably, chapter 6 is the densest in the book, in that modelling is a complex task both in the accuracy of the proposed representation and in the fecundity of its workings. The task is of course not made easier by the fact that a model is, arguably, itself an analogy. Nevertheless, the text is overall clear and fluent, and Shelley's claims are convincingly argued. The text is also clearly signposted. All chapters begin with a preview of their contents, close with a summary, and contain several tables spelling out the mechanisms involved in particular analogies that are detailed in the text. The style manages to combine precision with appeal, and the book at times reads like an entertaining mystery novel. One example is the report on the reasoning that led to the interpretation of the function of clay figurine legs found in prehistoric Greek sites, given in chapter 4.

    The book's appeal to the non-initiated suggests a comment about its index, that could be put to better use in future reprints or editions. As it stands, the purpose of the index, which includes subjects and authors, is unclear. For some reason (modesty?) Shelley's own name is absent from it, though quoted _passim_ in the text. The page numbers given for several technical terms do not always list all occurrences of these terms, nor their first or major occurrence -- if 'major' is indeed a criterion for index entry, its rationale should be given. Other terms, that are central to the discussion and whose indexing would therefore facilitate navigation of the text, include 'causality', 'predicate', 'argument', 'narrative', and 'false analogy'. The latter, for example, refers to p.82, where its mention in turn simply directs the reader to one of Shelley's own work's that presumably provides definition and/or discussion of the term.

    Shelley's model of analogy is formal, matching current trends in cognitive science and related research areas that assume their objects as formal objects, and therefore amenable to formalisation. Formal models typically need primitives, from where inquiry into their objects can proceed. But the model also encompasses the purpose and the planning that presides over the use of analogies. Shelley's discussion makes it clear that the purpose of analogies is that of resolving the issue that made resource to them necessary in the first place, whereas planning involves a series of measures whose collective use satisfies that purpose. In other words, the primitives of the analogy itself will vary according to purpose, be it explaining a chain of events, or the function of a physical feature.

    By highlighting that form cannot be independent from whoever is doing the formalising, Shelley's model effectively (and sensibly) incorporates the human factor in it. This point recurs along the book, particularly concerning the ''different ways in which multiple analogies may serve _cognitive goals_'' (p.32, emphasis added, MCF). Analogies, like assumptions, are inevitably bound by the historical, geographical, social and other factors that make up a scientific paradigm, in Kuhn's (1970) sense of this term. They provide a way of reading knowledge in order to gain more knowledge, both drawing on the paradigm and in turn feeding it. This is so because analogies do not just help provide plausible explanations, they must conform to a body of acquired knowledge. For example, it is _plausible_ to conclude, on the basis of anatomical analogy, that having two arms is consistent with the hypothesis that human beings once could fly. But such a hypothesis contradicts what we _know_ about flight, that appears to have evolved from terrestrial gait, not preceded it.

    Scientists, like all human beings, are nurtured by family, friends and fellow scientists in their set of beliefs. It is this set of beliefs that defines what can constitute a _finding_ that furthers our knowledge within particular areas of research. As Shelley puts it, the fecundity of a scientific practice is gauged by ''its ability to lead to large numbers of _true beliefs_ for many practitioners'' (p.60, emphasis added, MCF), and must therefore depend on nurturing. Since a nurtured paradigm identifies what can be asked about a puzzle but, more importantly, what cannot or need not be asked for a given purpose, questions about the puzzle that might provide alternative explanations are left unanswered and unanswerable, because they are irrelevant for that particular purpose. For example, the accepted construal of the split Greek figurine legs as two-part pledges, by analogy with eg, the tearing in two of pieces of textile or paper as proof of an economic transaction to be kept by each party (pp.71ff.), satisfies the question about their function, but says nothing about their form: why legs, and why women's legs? The analogical focus directed at function that _explains away_ the figurine legs as split tokens also means focus diverted from the form of the object, barring the search for whatever significance might be attached to it.

    Analogy ultimately depends on interpretation and argumentation, i.e., on what we humans think the observable can teach us about the unobservable. Since cognition is necessarily an individual process, and since individuals themselves obviously have preferences in their ways of approaching knowledge, Shelley's model can be interpreted not so much as a model of analogy as a model of analogical 'reasonings' (with this word deliberately pluralized, MCF), that contemplates a multidimensional view of cognition.

    The quantification inherent in the workings of multiple analogies point to a view of cognitive qualification, or categorisation, as an additive property of analogy, where the only limit seems to be one of ''cognitive fatigue'' (p.54). Shelley argues that quantity does not increase confidence in the analogy, nor therefore in the acceptance of its authors' choice to use it. Legitimate source analogs are independent from one another, and do their work on their own, due to a source rejection specification such that ''the acceptance of one analog would tend to suppress any consideration of its close relatives'' (p.116). That is, similar sources cannot do the same type of analogical work. On the other hand, a constraint on Shelley's proposed model allows the mapping of predicate arguments according to the similarity of their roles, not of their form. This is true of analogical causality, in that predicates like ''in-order- that'' and ''because'' are equivalent: though the order of their arguments is reversed, they both relate an antecedent to a consequent. An analogy that correlates the two is deemed ''completely acceptable'' (p.17). That is, different predicates can be made to do the same type of analogical work. This apparent contradiction is the result of modifying one constraint of the model, by generalising its formulation. This legitimises the analysis by making it flawless, a condition to which formal thinking aspires. The issue is discussed by Shelley, who concludes that problems such as these belong with the MT itself, not with the specific analogies used by scientists.

    The interplay of what is (dis)allowed in analogising, in terms of legitimate equivalence, is what gives a measure of analogical coherence, in which causality plays a central role. Coherence lies not only in how well the analogy satisfies internal consistency, i.e., the constraints of analogical reasoning, but is also ''a holistic property of the context in which the analogy occurs'' (p.18), judged by its good match to ''other things that are known or believed by the analogizer'' (p.19). This is true of the good matches provided by causality predicates. In addition, the role of analogical causality is not so much that of establishing relationships among conceptual constructs, and thereby organising thought, as that ''its mere presence serves to increase likelihood'' (p.150). The cumulative interplay among source analogs appears indeed to result in the equating of the 'is like' of analogical comparison with the 'is' of identity, in fact removing the distancing comparative connector: the source 'is' a token of a particular type, and so 'is' the target.

    Given that analogies themselves, and even metaphors, can serve as source analogs (p.26), the one-time target analog is now in turn ready to be used as a source, regardless of any fragility in its own construal as a target. Is it in this sense that knowledge is _transmitted_. Wright Mills (1967:405) noted the point, stating that we ''live in second-hand worlds'' and arguing that ''experience itself is selected by stereotyped meanings and shaped by ready-made interpretations''. Transmission of knowledge proceeds by means of intellectual ''memes'' (Dawkins' 1976 term), that are offered as ready-made products, with no questions asked about their own sources. Other individuals drink from the new source, and build knowledge upon the results of the inferences that it may afford.

    But knowledge must also be appropriated, if it is to play any useful role. Like cognition, appropriation is an individual endeavour, and the resulting knowledge can only be served (i.e., propagated) after proper digestion (i.e., assimilation). The assimilation of knowledge is facilitated in different ways, depending on the greater or lesser appeal of the analogy itself. Vision, for example, is a very strong cognitive mediator, and its central role in everyday cognitive processes is duly incorporated as a visual buffer in Shelley's proposed model. Visual substitution, in the form of analogical aids like drawings, not only lies at the core of modelling reality, it besides engages our ability to infer a process from still-image representations. One example from the science of language that comes to mind is the familiar theorisation about language features as processes, or movement, aided by diagrammatic representations of linguistic structure, that draw precisely on the primacy of visual input among our senses.

    The equally pivotal role of language itself in the process of making sense of the world also finds its rightful place in Shelley's modelling of a verbal buffer. Not simply because all human beings have language, but because knowledge is useless if we cannot talk about it. Again, the individual takes central stage, in that there are persuasive users of language, and there are less skilled users.

    Throughout the systematic analysis of different examples of analogy, the book gives a fascinating account of the power of language in shaping knowledge and, ultimately, in shaping thought. We are treated to the _art_ of constructing knowledge, within the ''unended quest'' (Popper 1974/1992) that science itself is. We learn, for example, that the reason why the familiar beast Triceratops has horns is that their use was presumed through analogical correlations with the headgear of modern hoofed mammals. This and other examples show that analogies are ''flesh[ed] out'' (p.37) in various ways, in order to produce the desired results. Ie, the reason is not _known_, but becomes _knowledge_ by means of analogical argumentation. In addition, if several things, not just one, are shown to be like something else by means of multiple analogies, the familiar effect that transforms quantitative information into qualitative knowledge takes place. The features of each source analog need not be mapped onto the target analog according to similar criteria of, say, form or function. The analytical tables that Shelley provides for several examples of multiple analogies show gaps in reasoning as blanks along the vertical dimension of each table. These gaps are filled by implication (e.g., p.100ff.), that results from the cumulative effect of the horizontal mappings of source analogs, regardless of the type and location of their own gaps in reasoning. The parallel interplay of the different sources forces the individual to fill these gaps, completing whatever absent information they may stand for. Put another way, the gaps are effectively disregarded, because their relevance becomes lost among the sheer quantity of source analogs. Disregard is a cognitive process that shares many similarities with cognitive normalisation processes well-known since Bruner and Postman (1949), who showed that an inbuilt property of human cognitive processes forces the perception of incongruous stimuli as well-formed members of expected categories. As in the barring of possible questions, discussed above, the act of disregarding thus stands out as the crucial step in scientific thought that it in fact is. It is in this sense that knowledge is _constructed_ from information.

    Shelley's purpose of modelling analogy is aptly fulfilled. The discussion that supports the proposed model besides raises the interesting question of the extent to which particular analogies, and the knowledge that they serve, are themselves scientific, or a tool of propaganda of ''scientific belief'' (Kuhn 1970:4), a phrase that is oxymoronic only in appearance.

    Being in more than one sense a manipulation, within what is allowed to count as knowledge, analogies form a clever exercise in spin-doctoring that favours the keepers of paradigmatic knowledge. It is then up to the subscribers to alternative paradigms to deconstruct the analogy, and expose the gaps that betray a disanalogy, an inference that lacks coherent foundation. Disanalogies clearly ''serve the purposes of one's professional critics'' (p.31). Given that analogising appears to be a universal trait of human cognition, conflict must arise from the professional (and social) goals to which particular analogies are found more suitable. Choices among these surface in the lack of a unified discourse, or a unified theory, that gives the appearance of disagreement about knowledge, instead of disagreement about the way to talk about knowledge. This is why the physical world, say, can be explained by Newtonian, Einsteinian and quantum theories. This is also why subscribers to different paradigms often perpetuate one another's views as incompatible, in obedience to the ethical dictum ''help your friends and hurt your enemies'' (p.30 & _passim_), instead of part and parcel of the knowledge-gathering process.


    Bruner, J. S. and L. Postman (1949). ''On the perception of incongruity: a paradigm.'' Journal of Personality 18: 206- 223.

    Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

    Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. 2nd edition. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

    Popper, K. (1974/1992). Unended quest. An intellectual autobiography. London, Routledge.

    Wright Mills, C. (1967). The cultural apparatus. In I. L. Horowitz, Ed. Power, politics and people: the collected essays of C. Wright Mills. Oxford, Oxford University Press.


    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira teaches linguistics at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests include prosody, child bilingualism and theory of science.