Analogies at the edge of reason

Petter Holme

Making analogies is the engine of human intelligence, but for humanity as a whole, and our collective-intelligence enterprise called science, it is an obstacle. I’ll try to expand on that in this, maybe not the sharpest of posts.


In science and life alike, we use analogies as shortcuts to form hypotheses. Any other strategy—experimenting, making observations, statistical inference, etc.—is more expensive and time-consuming. It’s like a dude excited about how different his new girlfriend is from his ex, but cheers her up with fresh flowers because it worked in the past. … hmm, did that analogy bring my point home? Maybe not entirely, and that is the point. Whatever picture analogies put in our minds are biased approximations at best, often setting us off in the wrong direction.

When network science became popular among physicists about 20 years ago, the research questions and assumptions were, with few exceptions, straight…

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