Understanding Analogies Literally

~ 4:30 Minute Read.

In Mean­ing The Same Words I was crit­i­cis­ing the reusing of words or ex­pand­ing their mean­ing when they al­ready have a clear def­i­ni­tion.

In my ex­am­ple I ref­ered to a use of the word “light” to mean not “phys­i­cal light” but rather “emo­tion­al light”, or bet­ter: emo­tion­al en­er­gy. En­er­gy works bet­ter, be­cause we al­ready know dif­fer­ent types of en­er­gy— elec­tri­cal en­er­gy vs the en­er­gy we have in our body or don’t when we’re tired, for ex­am­ple.

The orig­i­nal ti­tle of this post was about metaphors un­til I re­al­ized this is less of a metaphor, which is

a fig­ure of speech in which a word or phrase is ap­plied to an ob­ject or ac­tion to which it is not lit­er­al­ly ap­pli­ca­ble. Source

in­stead it is more of an anal­o­gy, which is

a com­par­i­son be­tween one thing and an­oth­er, typ­i­cal­ly for the pur­pose of ex­pla­na­tion or clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Source

Analo­gies can be used to ex­plain high­ly ab­stract con­cepts in an un­der­standible way. There are things that I mere­ly “feel” how they are, with­out ev­er try­ing to put the ab­stract con­cepts be­hind them in­to words.

With the above light anal­o­gy the idea was that ev­ery hu­man sends out this emo­tion­al en­er­gy in some way and miss­ing en­er­gy is vi­su­al­ized as a “hole” that you can “see” and use as a sig­nal for the per­son miss­ing some­thing or need­ing help. This “hole” man­i­fests as bad be­hav­iour to­wards oth­ers, bad tem­per or mood.

See, the un­der­ly­ing idea is like­ly that a per­son who is be­ing what you could judge as “an ass­hole” to you ac­tu­al­ly prob­a­bly just had a bad day (or worse). Yes, the idea is good, but if you now start run­ning around telling peo­ple that peo­ple have holes in their body, you took the anal­o­gy lit­er­al­ly.

Re­cent­ly, I had a very in­ter­set­ing ran­dom con­ver­sa­tion with a la­dy about her be­liefs—what­ev­er re­li­gion is not im­por­tant here. It ap­pears that of­ten the main books of a re­li­gion pack many ac­tu­al­ly use­ful con­cepts and life rec­om­men­da­tions in­to analo­gies. Like that la­dy, many peo­ple start run­ning around telling peo­ple about the anal­o­gy in a lit­er­al sense rather than fo­cus­ing on the ab­stract con­cept that lies be­hind it. In her spe­cif­ic case, though, it al­so gave her a great sta­bil­i­ty and foot­ing in her life.

That’s just an idea, I have no clue with what in­ten­tion these books were writ­ten, try­ing to give peo­ple a guide for liv­ing, maybe some­how con­vey­ing the wis­dom of some re­al­iza­tions of old­er gen­er­a­tions, is just one ran­dom one. Maybe get­ting a main­stream com­pat­i­ble way of liv­ing with each oth­er in­to so­ci­ety to cre­ate a good com­mon stan­dard that im­proves ev­ery­body’s life is an­oth­er—prob­a­bly pret­ty far fetched—one.

I’m not a re­li­gious per­son, though, and while I am all for analo­gies, I don’t pre­fer them not to stick around once I ex­tract­ed the un­der­ly­ing ab­stract con­cept. Analo­gies of­ten seem to be ei­ther re­strict­ing to the con­cept or to ex­ten­sive, rarely it fits so per­fect­ly that it match­es 1:1.

Have an ex­am­ple: I ex­plain a pear to you us­ing an ap­ple. That’s great, it grows in a sim­i­lar way, has sim­i­lar con­sis­ten­cy, maybe com­pa­ra­ble ap­pear­ance, pret­ty dif­fer­ent taste and is gen­er­al­ly not the same thing. You can clear­ly see where the anal­o­gy starts drift­ing away from the analo­gized con­cept. With ab­stract con­cepts, it is less clear, though, and you may be tempt­ed to ac­ci­den­tal­ly in­fer false prop­er­ties from the anal­o­gy.

Writ­ten in 40 min­utes, ed­it­ed in 10 min­utes.