Sunday, November 09, 2008

Post festum analogies

In recent work I have been looking into analogies that arise in authoritative and dialogic discourse-- the former being those analogies generated, primarily, by teachers and curricula for the acquisition of scientific concepts, the latter being generated by participants in a discussion trying to make meaning and share their ideas to understand phenomena. This arose from a dissatisfaction with Structure Mapping models of analogy -- it struck me as too propositional, too wedded to language-as-unambiguous, and depicting thinking as information processing-- and yet too correct (its implications verified experimentally) to be out-and-out wrong. So rather than providing an alternative to Structure Mapping (my first stab at understanding analogy), I'm carving out a space (dialogic discourse) that might better be served by looking at analogies through another lens.

Today I came across a paper that notes a similar distinction-- "post festum" analogies (analogies that arise after one understands the target concept) and heuristic analogies (the analogies that guide and shape understanding of a topic). From Wilbers and Duit, 2006:
Currently employed theoretical approaches emphasize the role of propositionally based knowledge in analogical reasoning. The above considerations suggest that propositionally based knowledge is solely employed in the construction of post-festum analogies. The rule-based inferences of the post-festum analogy operate on propositional structures. In accordance with various other authors we expect non-propositional knowledge based on visual imagery to be of the essence in the heuristic use of analogies. Zeitoun (1984) underlines the significance of visual imagery for analogical reasoning and mental images, so mental models seem to be of the essence. Clement (1993) takes regard of abstract imagery that he calls intuitive schemata. Sfard (1994) shares the view that image schemata are crucial for analogy use while Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and Johnson (1987) arrive at equivalent terms with respect to metaphors using the notion of embodied schemata. Taking a cognitive point of view, analogy hinges on pictorial rather than on propositional elements of cognition, such as intuitive schemata, mental images, mental models, etc.
While I wouldn't characterize dialogic analogies as necessarily heuristic (they may even be post-festum, or "after the fact"), their attention to, and critique of, the propositional nature of structure mapping is useful, as is the recognition that a post-hoc analogy serves different conceptual goals and may arise from a different cognitive mechanism than analogies that students use to guide their thinking.

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