Against Analogy

An unpopular position in these popular times: Pop-science has existed for some time and seems to have become a well-defined feature of public education since the atomic age.  It’s rarely been done right and most often written so poorly, that much of it deserves that withering label of “not even wrong.”  With the rise of YouTube we’ve witnessed the rise of YouTube scholars, technology allows for scale and dilettantes are abound.  Many people now bandy about the trappings of a scientist and wear the markings of that caste.  The presentation of this information lends itself more to an image of understanding than understanding and an image of curiosity than curiosity.  Explanations often satiate and questions are more a matter of clarification(to seem insightful), than a pointed argument to break the teaching presented(any theory breaks down if you ask the right questions).  So we wear science as a sophistication of our image, the intellectual as a social type.  And once man has a well fed and gratified image, he needs very little else to satisfy him.

Man’s greatest ability in this material world is to a create a mind, it’s unfortunate that most choose to barely create one.  In reality a plurality of views are attainable and can be well developed simultaneously.  There is a familiarity with the ‘legal mind’ or a medical one—a variety of intuition that arises from knowing ten thousand forgotten and unnamed things to know one.  There are also scientific views(minds) and many are born and die without reaching the atrophied state of ‘field.’  There are quite necessary fields like plasma physics which are aging and dying off, as the more senior faculty retire faster than post-docs and funding can replace them.  During the heyday of imaging, many groups were formed, perhaps only a few dozen scientists in each, and developed a view collectively, separate from the activities of another group across the world.  Popular presentation does not foster a view or even suggest that one might exist, it offers an image, a shell outside the mind, somewhere in the social world.   There is a great joy as a teacher to feel the student has ‘understood.’  And no didactic tool helps a student ‘understand’ as easily or certainly as analogy.  What’s exchanged between student and teacher is less like knowledge or more like validation.  The poor way we teach this understanding is information presented multiple times in degrees of correctness.  That first layer is skimmed for appearances and packaged by public intellectuals.  Learning a process to take an integral and some cute quirks to check your answer might grant the student a fantastic ability to pass an exam, but they won’t remember that process two years hence, much less in the twilight of their lives.  What is needed is an intimate familiarity with concepts, rumination on the images implied by the material until they alter and color your thoughts.  The drive for an intimacy with all conceptual forms was the original motivation behind my eclecticism.

The world is complex, but it is understandable up to some context, you are not at the edge of knowledge and the topology of knowledge is not contiguous.

Featured Image: Bubble Chamber


2 thoughts on “Against Analogy

    1. I intend to write more on this later, there will several posts to this effect in weeks to come. Analogy is one contributing factor to the propagation of what I would call received information. Often a person will speak about situation as being caused or related to “genetics,” but these people rarely know the difference between a base pair and allele. The rational is only one view and it governs much of the way our descriptions of the observed world are formed, but it is a view. That view is not transmitted effectively by analogy or other forms of pop-communication, therein becoming received information. When ‘understanding’ is at the level of received information it acts a story element… and I can tell you any story I want with it. In the same way the world is complex, but understandable*(insert a long list of philosophical and spiritual caveats here). Whether we are discussing the world as a social nature or a physical one we are dealing with our descriptions, our narratives of systems view(as a result of this linear externalization). Those social narratives are also brought to the level of received information… and I can tell you any story I want with them. There is so little exposure to what a comprehension of those systems*(descriptions) are in people’s lives, and their only fiducial is what is they see in media, that healthism(eggs are good, eggs are bad, elevated heart activity for 30 minutes a day…) and scientism more generally are how people ascertain the world. And they are quite confident in their ability to do so… this leads to a group chatting over brunch about GMOs or vaccines and occasionally this chatter becomes policy… or at least alters society. There might be some way in which the world IS a text, but this one is a more deleterious variety. A narrative is a projection of systems view, from another place the stars looks different, the parallax alters the context. A constellation can guide a man across the sea, but not the stars.

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