"One good analogy is worth three hours discussion." - Dudley Field Malone
One of the greatest inventions of the human mind is development of languages. The complexity of a language and its power of conveying ideas lucidly, is testimony to the power of the human mind. Every idea or concept, abstract thought, or physical object has a name. Language is a tool for analyzing and understanding concepts. One such powerful tool of cognition, often used to explain the meaning of a concept is an 'analogy'. As Malone has said in the quote above, an analogy can be worth a thousand words. This article explains the meaning of an analogy and makes the idea more clear through some well-chosen examples. We will also explore what exactly is about an analogy that makes it so effective in clarifying concepts.
What is an Analogy?
Out of all the language tools that are used in understanding concepts, analogy is one of the most important. Making an analogy is drawing parallels between any two things, concepts, processes, or relationships. That way, it becomes easier to understand things. Making an analogy is understanding a new idea in terms of concepts that we know from before. It is based on an underlying similarity in things.
Anything new that we learn, is understood by connecting it to what we know already. Known relationships, ideas and concepts can be digested easily when an analogy is used. Analogies may not be exact parallels sometimes.
The features of a good analogy are:
- Based on an exact or similar idea
- Embodies the concept or relationship between things clearly
An analogy is an important tool in problem solving and reasoning. In science, it helps in constructing rough theoretical models, which are not exact, but help in visualizing problems and solving them. An example is Neils Bohr's planetary model of an atom's electronic levels. It drew an analogy between the solar system model and the electrons revolving around the nucleus of an atom. It was not an exactly analogous model, but proved helpful.
Examples of Analogy
Analogies make it easier to grasp the underlying idea behind anything. The pattern of understood things in our minds is like a jigsaw puzzle. Analogies help in filling these pieces to make things clear. Here are some analogy examples that will illustrate what I have said:
- Inside is to outside as upside is to downside.
- Office is to working as kitchen is to cooking.
- Just as the Earth revolves around the Sun, an electron revolves around the nucleus.
- Fish is to water as bird is to air.
- A gang of boys is like a pack of wolves.
- Just as sword is the weapon of a warrior, pen is the weapon of a writer.
- A doctor's diagnostic method is similar to a detective's investigation.
- What a general is to an army, a CEO is to a company.
- What a cobra is to a mongoose, a cat is to a dog.
- Ice floats in water just like wood floats in it.
- What a note is to a singer, a word is to a writer.
- Just as a caterpillar grows out of its cocoon, so must we grow out of our comfort zone.
Hope these examples have given you an idea of the power of an analogy. It is a cognitive tool of reasoning in understanding almost anything.