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  • L'analogie dans les techniques [Analogy in techniques] ed. by Sophie de Beaune et al.
  • Ludovic Duhem (bio)
L'analogie dans les techniques [Analogy in techniques] Edited by Sophie de Beaune, Liliane Hilaire-Perez, and Koen Vermeir. Paris: CNRS Editions, 2017. Pp. 301.

Few collective books succeed in making you think differently about the history of technology using one of the most difficult and changing concepts in human culture: analogy. Behind a classic framework of collected papers lies an invitation to transform customary thoughts about technology, innovation, and their cultural context. This invitation stems from more than the act of bringing together cognitivists and historians analyzing the ontological, epistemological, and operative dimensions of analogy in technologies; the editors in fact aim to "open a space of confrontation and rapprochement between these logics [of analogy], identifying the different visions as well as overlaps and interactions" (p. 9).

To understand how this space is structured, the editors start with a very useful history of the idea of analogy. They explain that "analogy" has a long and polemical history, from the rhetorical and theological meaning of Aristotle's analogia to the Renaissance concepts of "proportion" and "participation," which have both cosmological and technical meanings. They also show that "analogy" is a crucial concept in the history of technical thought, especially for understanding inventions, not only as a rational and positive method of reasoning or a simple and vague resemblance. The history of analogy reveals the complexity of the invention process and more generally technical intelligence. Beyond the technical domain, analogy and its history are very relevant to the arts and sciences, but if techniques are considered a common factor in the arts and sciences, a comparative study across arts and sciences would have been interesting to understand the similarities, the transfers, and the differences.

After this rich introduction, the book is divided into two parts. The first, "Analogy and invention: definitions and methods," focuses on the [End Page 234] cognitivist approach to analogy as a reasoning process. The authors use the concept of analogy to explain reasoning mechanisms, problem-solving methods, and the learning process through "schemas," defined as "abstract knowledge structures already possessed by an individual to organize his or her environment in order to adopt fitting behavior" in a quasi-automatic way (pp. 59–62). They adopt the same perspective to understand reasoning by analogy in computing, more precisely, "case-based reasoning," which consists of "solving a problem by referring to a base of already solved problems, called cases" (p. 83). Compared to Case Based Reasoning (CBR), the TRIZ theory Theoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadatch, or Theory of Inventive Problem Solving seems very similar, but there are some differences and difficulties: CBR looks for a solution close to the known solution, while TRIZ tries to find an entirely new solution. These approaches use different types of reasoning by analogy. The point is that these two methods could damage each other if one dominates the other. Considering them as complementary methods is the best way to optimize their potential for explaining the reasoning involved in the invention process, and even for stimulating invention. This section of the book also demonstrates that analogy is not totally reducible to an objective process allowing for automatization by algorithmic systems. The final article in this section documents this well, showing all the uses of analogy in Leonardo's work in order to explain the origin and development of his technical terminology, drawings of machines, and the complex logic of invention.

The contributions in the second part, "Technological uses of analogy," show that analogy is useful not only for understanding the process of invention but also for classifying technologies and arts based on their fundamental operations, and transferring these operations and tools from one practice to another. The diverse uses of analogy do not diminish understanding but inspire articulation between analogical reasoning and analogical techniques. It is clearly necessary to differentiate between formal analogy, structural analogy, and finally operative analogy, undoubtedly the most important for the history of technology and for the theory of technical intelligence in general, as the conclusion about Simondon highlights effectively.

Ludovic Duhem

Ludovic Duhem Ludovic Duhem is a French artist and...


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pp. 234-235
Launched on MUSE
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