Analogy Machine Example #2

With infinite possibilities, seemingly bothersome restrictions may not make any difference.. it may even demoralize to loosen restrictions or “burn family pictures to keep the house warm” when one could deem them absolutely inflammable and magically manage to find other fuel.

In episode 7, season 12 of South Park “Super Fun Time”, we see Butters adamantly refusing to let go of Cartman’s hand (it violates his very nature to break rules!) and the cast of the historic reenactment village adamantly refusing to break character. Despite refusing to budge on these seemingly petty issues, they triumphed anyway. Is the notion that restrictions could make the otherwise possible impossible may be very unlikely.

Here’s the real world scenario – torture

Forgetting for a second the heinousness of using torture, is adding it as an alternative likely to make impossible things possible? Will some disaster occur that could have been averted if only we allowed torture? Unlikely, though the uncreative mind would disagree. Notice that Cartman and Butters don’t even mention the possibility of letting go to get on the truck but go with the more elaborate swinging around. Cartman plays along with Butters’ more, just as Stan reluctantly does with that of the reenactors.

Imagine the hollow victory that would have been won if the cast broke their years-long (hey, they had a reputation that even the 911 operator knew of!) vow of in-character in this circumstance. It would then be excusable in any number of circumstances to break character. How sad that would be.

Analogy Machine Example

Start with Categories, end with Nuanced Vision

General Description:

In a vacuum of knowledge about the underlying causes of phenomena one sees, the first thing one can do to understand the phenomenon is to categorize the phenomena themselves. When a scientist groups phenomenon into categories, he may be leading himself astray – the categories may or may not have anything to do with the underlying causes. Nonetheless, the sharper and more precise the categories, the closer they may become to reflecting causes.

When these categories are in error, they are discarded outright when a sharper view of the science emerges. When these categories have merit, they still tend to take the sideline when they lose their importance. In either case, they mysteriously still get taught in elementary school.


Taxonomy (categorization of the phenomenon of biodiversity) vs. phylogeny (the evolutionary origins of biodiversity). Biologists in near pre-evolutionary times were already quite good at categorizing species based on their physiology. By the time Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published, they have long since discarded classification systems such as flying, land, sea or useful, dangerous, harmless or other such nonsense in favor of Linnaean Taxonomy, which reflected the best of their knowledge of the day.

Some of Linnaeus’ categories did represent true evolutionary relationships. This is because he was so careful to categorize based on morphological similarities. Some things were, of course, wrong, too. Cases of convergent evolution naturally created false positives for category matches. Paleontology did much to correct the taxonomy since Linnaeus’ time, and molecular data, more still. Now, the system itself still suffers from not correctly reflecting the underlying causes of biodiversity – there are still many paraphyletic clades (unless you want to deem birds reptiles, for example). And, the classifications highlight the sections of biodiversity we were most familiar with before the invention of the microscope, and that is but a tiny representation of one of the major clades!

So, even though Linnaean taxonomy is at the verge of being discarded outright for strict cladistics, the taxonomy itself proved quite useful in telling us where to look. Why do mammals all have such similar limbs? Such similar embryology? These questions lead to the biology we have today, and a frustrated purist who would reject early attempts at classification as simply imposing a librarian’s order on a chaotic universe would have done nothing to help a fledgling science. Oh, and the “kingdoms” are quite easy for school children to grasp.

Some More Examples:

  • Schizophrenias are still numerous (you may recognize some – paranoid, disorganized, delusional, hey, that sounds like half of my friends! just kidding, friends!), and there’s no agreement what the types are, if there really are types, or if the different types even represent the same disease. Surely the most difficult thing for the human mind to grasp is the human mind.
  • Speaking of phylogeny and genes, a good start for understanding physical anthropology was races. When the categorization was based on skull shape, not other things like skin color, it was closest to representing human history, since skull characteristics are among the least affected by natural selection. Some of the categorizations back in the 1800s were close to right, but molecular data has relegated “race” to a very minor role, if any, in describing populations.
  • Quantum theory describes a good number of quantum particles. We only know how these particles act. It very well could be that none of these exist as distinct types of particles, as some attempts at quantum field theory might suggest.


An ambitious scientist would be half-right be be suspicious of a young science’s obsession with categorization. But he should be cautiously optimistic about more and more detailed classification (read: observation) while striving for something that points to a fundamental cause. Oh, but scientists already know about all this. What can you, the non-scientist glean from this? One day, you are telling your friend over a drink “there are X types of people in this world…” and proceeding to bitch about your X, and the next, you develop a Mark Twain-esque understanding of human nature.

Be satisfied with solid observation at first, and even indulge yourself with your atavistic desire to categorize if you must. But from there, learn the underlying causes, the essential nature of things, the ways in which the categories are an illusion, or at least but a small puzzle piece.

How to Discover the true Political Parties

When you listen to people talk about their political opinions, one thing that becomes immediately apparent is that they don’t fit neatly with the two major political parties (here in America). That’s to be expected, but is it reasonable to expect that, on average, people’s political values will cluster around these parties? I’m not so sure.

Furthermore, I see the important kernel of political value to be what one sees as important, relative to other things, not so much what one sees as the best solution to these problems. I see people’s jobs as voting in their own best interest. People’s ideas about how best to achieve whatever their value goals are (economic stability, social justice, etc.) are quite often wrong – most people don’t understand economics or sociology or whatever. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to separate ideology from implementation so that political activists don’t get caught up with a pet solution when what really matters is their problem, regardless of solution. This is (in theory!) what politicians are for – to be experts.

So, given that political parties should be based on political values and based on what the political values of the people really are, I propose polling people on a series of questions, allowing them to rank what they see as most important. Then, use mathematical techniques to find loci (not too much unlike those used to distinguish populations, etc.) and let these be the true political parties! This data can be used to discover the right type of voting for our nation and further to justify something other than our current system!

Is anyone aware of someone having tried this before? Anyone who could point me in the right direction for what statistical techniques to use? I’m sure I couldn’t be the first person to have come up with this idea, yet it may well be quite important in determining the future of our country. It may well stem the tide of people voting against their own interests, but then again, in the wise words of ‘tater salad, “you can’t fix stupid.”

My Idea – The Analogy Machine

Generic ideas. Idea templates. Not out of the box complete ideas, but rather generic concepts, taken from a wide variety of fields such as philosophy, the sciences, business, etc, stripped of specifics (though a book on this would give them as a history of the idea), so that it can easily be applied to different fields. This is similar to templates in C++ and other object oriented languages. Much of what makes many ideas great are in the logic structure. If an “idea” only applies to just one field, it may well be an observation, not an idea.

My machine will automate what polymaths of old (yes, they don’t exist anymore, though technology has made an unprecedented number of people think they are) did with their artful analogies. Much “innovation” is doing nothing more than this and I, myself, am good at tricking people into thinking I’m smart by, e.g., turning a joke from South Park into an insight into computer science. So take this as a warning, you people who think you’re smart – use your noggin, or I will replace you with a perl script.

Example forthcoming. Watch this space.