The Role of Analogy is to Aid Understanding Rather Than to Provide Justification

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As members of society, we each learn at different paces and at different levels. However, we can’t learn something from nothing. We learn everything we know by comparing it to something we do know to understand it. Sometimes, our assumptions of how we think something new will work are wrong. Therefore, to the claim that “The role of analogy is to aid understanding rather than to provide justification,” I would say that I find the claim to be verifiable. The reasoning for agreeing with the statement is because we learn from what we know. We learn vicariously but also through observation. Vicarious learning has more to do with the fear of punishment and want for reward, while observational learning occurs through watching a model, someone more experienced in a certain task than us. When we do this, we are using something, or in these cases, someone we know to learn. An analogy is quite literally the comparison of two different things in order to clarify an unknown. Specifically, what leads to me agreeing with the statement, is that we are not always correct in our assumptions we make, like a hypothesis in science. A hypothesis is made up of what one predicts to happen when doing an experiment based on previous science, but often a hypothesis is shown to be incorrect. Therefore, an analogy can be used to understand why occurrences happen, but it can’t justify them happening, because justification is based on vindication on an occurrence, and understanding is based more on perception and comprehension. Therefore regarding the statement that analogy is used for understanding more so than for justification, I happen to agree; In both History and the Natural Sciences, an analogy is used in relation to memory to build understanding through vicarious and observational learning, hypothesis, and reflection.

The Area of the Natural Sciences focuses essentially on learning and understanding. The focus is specifically on understanding the world that surrounds us and discovering how our world works. New discoveries and understanding of the world are brought about essentially by experimenting on unknowns. In the process of doing so, a hypothesis is made and brought about by doing research on existing experiments that have already been done in similar applications. The hypothesis represents the expected outcome, but a hypothesis can be made based on experience and memory as well. For example: If you drop a ball from a certain height, you’ll notice that it falls at a certain time. Therefore, you may assume that because of its weight, the ball is falling. If you didn’t know about gravity, you would test this scenario and figure out that your assumption was correct. Your assumption about the weight of the ball causing it to fall would be your hypothesis. In this case, you would be using previous knowledge of dropping the ball and comparing that to your hypothesis. By doing so, you gain an understanding of what you would expect to happen because of analogy, but it’s not justified until you test it.

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Yet, at times analogy in the Area of the Natural Sciences may also provide seeming justification for an event. Using the same example as above, hypotheses can be correct, and so they do justify the occurrence tested. The ball did fall due to gravity, an act that occurs due to the weight of the ball. Therefore, the hypothesis is correct and is the justification of the event. In other cases, observational learning holds us back. We have five senses and are limited to what we observe. Because of this, sometimes what we experience is incorrect. Sometimes, a lack of preexisting knowledge or contrasting knowledge causes paradoxes that we can’t truly understand or justify. An example would be Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox. In the Paradox, knowledge of life and death is used along with the unknown: If a cat was placed in a box without food and water, but the box was closed, would the cat be dead or alive? Automatically, one would assume the cat would be dead. But how could you justify this without opening the box? The paradox challenges both understanding and justification.

Furthermore, the Area of History explores the past. It deals specifically with human affairs and interactions of the past. The focus of History is to understand past events and strengthen identity. Essentially, learning from past experiences, we use analogy to reflect upon ourselves. We compare who we are to who the people of the past are. An example of this would be the phrase George Santayana had originated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” though the phrase is now known as “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”. The phrase itself is an analogy, one with a message that dictates that the failure to have knowledge of the past leads to repeating the actions that had occurred in the past. It’s similar to teaching a child wrong and right, if the child is never punished for wrongdoings and never rewarded for what they do right, they may never learn morals. History is similar to the Natural Sciences, we build an understanding of ourselves and the world around us through analogy to something we have experienced. Yet we can’t justify that knowing or not knowing historical occurrences can impact repeating past actions unless it’s tested.

On the contrary, the Area of History doesn’t always enable understanding. The knowledge of History we have is limited to the evidence we have of historical events. Often, evidence is lost to time, natural disasters, or other factors. Without all of the evidence, the understanding we build on the past could be completely false. Along with this, many primary sources in history are based around perception and opinion. Understanding the evidence requires understanding the context, and without all of the evidence, this is often unachievable. Take Axelrod’s article A Century Later: The Treaty Of Versailles And Its Rejection Of Racial Equality, which examines the contradictions present in the Treaty of Versailles and how they impact our perception of racial equality today. He mentioned the Japanese Incarceration camps and how they have lead to our current racial perceptions. As Axelrod points out, a view of the past has affected our understanding and new research is showing how our lack of knowledge has affected understanding. Along with this, memory is flawed, events that we truly believe occured can be made up in our minds, altering our memories. Christopher F. Chabris at Harvard conducted an experiment where people had to found the amount of times a basketball was dribbled in a 60-second period of time, during this time, a man dressed as a gorilla came into line of sight, facing the audience, and yet 50% of people didn’t notice the gorilla. This is an example how some events occur, but we fail to recount them in our memories. Therefore, incorrect perception leading to incorrect memory can affect our self identity in regard to understanding.

In my experience, I have practiced using analogy in Science Research, an activity I am part of. In Science Research, we make projects that reflect on the scientific process. We make projects that aim towards discovery and understanding, and when making these projects we must choose something that is either new, or is a new approach to something. After we identify a project, we have to make a Research Question, rationales, methods, identify variables, and make a hypothesis. As I’ve previously mentioned, a hypothesis is an analogy that utilizes past knowledge and predicted outcomes. By using past research, we connect similar topics to our own, relating the methods and the results to what we predict to be the outcomes of our own experiments. Regardless of if the hypothesis is correct or not, the hypothesis is still an analogy and doesn’t justify the research done. The justification comes when the experiment is complete and tested. Reflecting on this process with Science Research reminds me of how I put this statement regularly into practice, almost daily. It’s not the only scenario either, everyday when I’m in IB Biology and IB History of the Americas, I’m reminded of how I used events of the past, my experiences and memories, to learn new information. To trust this information, I want to experience it. If in IB Biology, we do a study of gravity, I want to do something hands on to justify it. While analogy can provide understanding for why something may occur, the justification comes from actually doing it.

Curiosity and the thirst for knowledge are common traits of humankind. We all want to understand the unknown. We come to understand new information by experiences and by observing, but both require trust and prior knowledge. We learn to talk because we hear certain words repeatedly spoken. We learn a new math formula because we are shown how it works based on common operations we have been taught. We use prior knowledge and logic from our memory to learn new information, an analogy. By doing so, we gain an understanding for the world around us. But analogy can’t provide justification unless we experiment and discover the answers for ourselves.

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The Role of Analogy is to Aid Understanding Rather Than to Provide Justification. (2021, Nov 24). Retrieved from

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