Monster Analogies

  • Robert R. Hoffman


Analogy has a rich history in Western civilization. Over the centuries, it has become reified in that analogical reasoning has sometimes been regarded as a fundamental cognitive process. In addition, it has become identified with a particular expressive format. The limitations of the modern view are illustrated by monster analogies, which show that analogy need not be regarded as something having a single form, format, or semantics. Analogy clearly does depend on the human ability to create and use well-defined or analytic formats for laying out propositions that express or imply meanings and perceptions. Beyond this dependence, research in cognitive science suggests that analogy relies on a number of genuinely fundamental cognitive capabilities, including semantic flexibility, the perception of resemblances and of distinctions, imagination, and metaphor. Extant symbolic models of analogical reasoning have various sorts of limitation, yet each model presents some important insights and plausible mechanisms. I argue that future efforts could be aimed at integration. This aim would include the incorporation of contextual information, the construction of semantic bases that are dynamic and knowledge rich, and the incorporation of multiple approaches to the problems of inference constraint.