Analogies I

Now the main purpose of those slips (of paper) was not to help him remember anything. It was to help him forget it. That sounded contradictory but the purpose was to deep his head empty, to put all his ideas of the past four years on the pilot berth where he didn't have to think of them. That was what he wanted.

There's the old analogy to a cup of tea. If you want to drink new tea you have to get rid of the old tea that's in your cup, otherwise your cup just overflows and you get a wet mess. Your head is like that cup. It has a limited capacity and if you want to learn something about the world you should keep your head empty in order to learn it. It's very easy to spend your whole life swishing old tea around in your cup thinking it's great stuff because you never really tried anything new, because you could never get it in, because the old stuff prevented its entry because you were so sure the old stuff was so good, because you never really tried anything new. . .on and on in an endless circular pattern.

[From Lila, by Robert Pirsig, pp. 22-23]

Two concepts of genetic mechanisms have persisted side by side throughout the growth of modern genetics, but the emphasis has been very strongly in favour of one of these. . . The first of these we will designate as the "Master Molecule" concept. . .This is in essence the Theory of the Gene, interpreted to suggest a totalitarian government. . .The second concept we will designate as the "Steady State" concept. By this term, we envision a dynamic self-perpetuating organization of a variety of molecular species which owes its specific properties not to the characteristic of any one kind of molecule, but to the functional interrelationships of these molecular species.

Evelyn Fox-Keller



Analogies and Metaphors Used For Explanation


What are the benefits and limitations of each of these metaphors or analogies?

The human mind is like:

  • a cup of tea (Pirsig's analogy, above)
  • computer hardware
  • the mind of God
  • the mind of a chimpanzee
  • computer software
  • a storehouse
  • the manifestation of society's goals and wishes
  • the thin veneer over conflicting passions, urges, and desires deeper in the human psyche.
  • a ghost in a machine

Can you think of any other analogies to describe the human mind? What are the benefits and limitations of these analogies?