on 29 June 2013
This book is outstanding in quality. It is also unique in being written simultaneously in English and French, with consequent excellent style and striking examples. The basic thesis, presented and developed in 530 pages of text, is that the mind thinks in terms of analogies, on mundane daily matters as well as the most abstract theories. Thus, in striking pages (451ff.) the authors explain how Einstein arrived in their view at his world-shaking understandings thanks to very creative analogous thinking.
An important point made by the authors is that thinking in terms of analogues is the same as thinking in terms of concepts, because seeing reality with the help of concepts and forming of new concepts are only possible by analogues. Still, this functional equivalence does not annihilate the difference between the concepts of "concepts" and of "analogues," nor some unique uses of concepts such as in pure type models. This seems not to be adequately recognized by the authors.
More serious a lacunae is lack of discussion of more basic levels of "thinking," whether conscious or not, such as values, worldviews, mental propensities and more. These are critical, also for the selection of metaphors which are accepted as most appropriate. The authors recognize apropos such deeper factors. Thus, they mention "keen intelligence" (p. 126), "great gift of ...exceptional individuals" (p. 131), "deeply creative" (p. 131), "nearly inexplicable intuition" (p. 487), and Einstein's "instinct for cosmic unity" (p. 495). But these are not discussed, leaving a very serious lacuna in the understanding of thinking.
A low point of the book is their discussion of the role of analogues in political judgment, especially decisions on war and peace (pp. 333ff.) On the basis of just one book, the authors explain very complex choices as if they resulted from simplistic thinking in terms of analogues-metaphors. Clearly the author lack experience-near knowledge of high level political judgment and never spent time in policy-making sanctums. If at least they had read more of the large relevant literature, such as on the Cuban Missile Crises, they would have avoided such superficial understanding of political judgment. Metaphors do play an important role in statecraft discourse, but values and worldviews are critical, as is creativity together with complex consideration of contradictory analogues.
A crucial point of the book is that in facing new situations all we have are analogues from the past. As they put it "Thanks to categorization through analogy-making, we have the ability to spot similarities in order to deal with the new and strange (p. 20); or "the past we have lived through is all we have for thinking about the future" (p. 331).
I am not quite sure if indeed all imagination depends on past-based analogies, or whether some other mental processes may occasionally produce "creative sparks." Thus, it seems very difficult and probably impossible to explain the Axial Age (the period between 800 to 200 BCE during which a new similar human self-understanding emerged in Persia, India, China and the Occident) in terms of readily available analogues. But, all-in-all, surely most of our thinking on the future depends on the past, as emphasized in the book.
This le ads to a crucial problem throughout history, but increasingly fateful, namely how to understand and cope with radically novel possibilities, such as "human enhancement," which cannot be adequately comprehended by analogues based on the past. It would be interesting to have the authors discuss this dangerous limitation of human thinking and what to do about it, but they ignore this crucial problematic.
Despite such lacunae this is an outstanding book providing many insights. Thus, to mention just one example out of many, their discussion of the difficulties of translations (pp. 372 ff.), which should be "transculturation" (p. 379) is eye-opening. Therefore, after some hesitations, I rank it with five starts despite some serious problems. All who wish to try and understand thinking as far as possible should read this book carefully, but with a large grain of salt.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem