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Record Type: Review   ID: 220

Mental Leaps: Analogy in Creative Thought

Holyoak, Keith J., & Thagard, Paul

This work composed jointly by a cognitive psychologist (Holyoak) and a philosopher (Thagard) attempts to present an integrated view of analogical thinking across several domains, citing a broad list of cases of analogy. It is not a review of research in general. Rather, they try to show how their theory "can provide a unified explanation of the diverse operations and applications of analogy" (p. x). They point out that when "confronted with unfamiliar or surprising situations that do not readily fit into known patterns...we become aware of a conscious struggle to see the world as something we can understand" (p. 2). From childhood on we attempt to make sense of our experience by thinking of the unknown by way of drawing analogies with the known. This points to the relevance of this book to exceptional human experience: an exceptional (anomalous) experience by definition cannot be understood by using rational categories. We therefore tend to use analogies not so much to explain the EE as to make it possible to live with it. To assimilate it. But there is danger here. To assimilate an EE is simply to see it in terms of the status quo. The great value of EHEs, however, is that they can enlarge our identities and worldviews if we will honor them and let them teach us to incorporate and integrate new analogies and metaphors. And this is what EEs do best—provide us with new wine for which we must fashion new bottles, but the EHE process does just that, with the EEs themselves leading the way. An exceptional experience demands a "mental leap."

The authors conceive of the analogic as bounded by three constraints into similarity, consistent structural parallels, and the goal of the person who is using the analogy. They contend that both proposing an analogy and understanding one require a mental leap. "Like a spark that jumps across a gap, an idea from the source analog is carried over to the target" (p. 7). What initially may have appeared to be unrelated is now connected by the analogy. They point out that analogies are not always true and must be judged by their fruits. The same could be said for an EE. The aim of the book is to increase our understanding of how humans use analogy in their thinking so that we can learn more about the creative process and how we can be both informed and fooled by analogy. They link human analogizing to "the evolutionary development of the capacity for explicit, systematic thinking" (p. 16). They review many cases of analogies, including those involving the nature of the human mind and of the divine. They also have a chapter on how analogy and metaphor are related. In the 10th and final chapter they describe how computers may provide analogies and discuss their potential usefulness to humans.

Mental Leaps is an interesting rational approach to the use of analogy in rational thinking. Exceptional experiences may have something to add to the human condition. They may play a large part in developing our feeling capacity as fully as we have developed our thinking capacity. Many are experiences of connectedness to self, others, world, universe, and beyond. One could say "it was as if I were one with the universe." But that is the thinking way. Those who experience being one with the universe are...one with the universe. From that base, who knows what analogies might result?

Publisher Information:Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995. xiii + 320p. Bibl: 293-311; Chapnotes: 267-292; 25 figs; 5 graphs; 2 illus; Ind: 313-320; 2 tables
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