Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Everything you always wanted to know about writing an essay

Everything you always wanted to know about writing an essay

was not the object of the seach, though quite useful even if you have spent your whole life writing the things. Just to have it to hand would be a useful reminder. Meant for your high school student (by a high school student - or teacher?), but we are not proud. All bloggers who tend to think of themselves as essayist might benefit from what amounts to a checklist.


Stimulated by a comment to a post in, Famous for 15 megapixels, I was looking for an academic paper which discussed analogy in relation to empathy. It is on paper somewhere but last resort: Google 'analogy' brought it back to life pretty high up the listing, even though it was published in 1997. The 'analogy' google listing from which it came is quite useful too.

This is what started it off: Minority Report says
While I am a Dawkins atheist, my favourite difficult case animal is the giraffe.

If the giraffe has the right length neck now, why did it not die out when it had evolved to only half the height and couldn't reach the right leaves? If it didn't have long enough legs, it would fall over. So it must have evolved a neck and legs at the same rate. How did it survive through this process? Where are the short giraffe ancestors?

Frankly its easier to believe in God given design. The designer was just heavily into variation. 5 million different insect species at last count - maybe a designer with attention deficit syndrome?

Principled attack on Darwinism has not been helped by literal Christian rejection. Not many people want to stand shoulder to shoulder with these guys. However, scientists are too keen to repeat that life started in deepest Africa - they know how that titilates. The theory of evolution is exactly that, a theory. Its doing well; but probably needs another century to mature.

There is no reason for Darwinism to effect religious faith whatsoever - Darwin was of course god fearing. When religious texts are taken as factual reports, then faith becomes more entrenched.

It would appear that survival of the fittest is a horrible moral code. So humanity needs religious faith to enshrine superior moral doctrines. But then science never did care about the consequences. Thats for others to work out.

It was not a desire to start discussing evolutionary theory again, which occasionally comes into norfolkskies, but a recollection that in an academic paper there was a mention Darwin employed analogical thinking to help him explain his theory. Anyone who has read Origin of Species, or about it, will know he relied on examples of domestic animal breeding to put over his case. Interestingly, too, the Victorians were, unlike like us, very familiar with the whole gamut of the selective breeding of animals : farming was still a full part of their lives. Hence easy for them to understand his analogical correspondences.

Although the paper is about empathy and analogy, in the section 'analogy as a cognitive process' the authors use Darwin's analogy between natural selection and artificial selection to examine the concept of analogy.

This is not the end of my story. I had learn somewhere, way back, that model, metaphor and analogy were the only ways something could be explained, and have believed it ever since, though without having any proof it was true. It just seems like a neat idea and one which on can play with. Probably came from Jacob bronowski or someone like that. Once stated this explanatory triun to a good friend, but coming rapidly unstuck because I couldn't find simple analogies for model. Analaogy and metaphor are common currency in english courses. The concept that gets people who are scientifically untutored is model. I started with what I had originally though was a simple model: a cork tied to a piece of string. My friend looked dubious. He probably thought I had taken leave of my senses from his expression, but humoured me. He's an engineer but not a scientist. My idea for a fool proof explanation collapsed as I desperately tried to remember what I had written down a few weeks before, which all mafde perfect sense to me, about the concept of model explained by analogy to a cork on a string!

This all started one day when I heard some bright spark suggesting tying a cork on a length of string at the back of the garage a good and simple way to keep the car bumper off the back wall.
I recognised this as a device. Even if there was no car around to hint at what it was for, it would not be too difficut to see why someone might have tied a cork there. Soon as you see the string move, break. But then I thought, "Cut it down and throw in on the floor". Was it now a device? Now it was no longer a device but a model (I conjectured). But of what? Attached to something it could be a pendulum. We've seen that at school. We've done the experiments. Remember? Extending the length of the string and ending up with a nice graph. Remind yourself. The other idea for 'cork on string on ground' : a way not to lose a cork. Perhaps it has been tied up but fell down. But this is more in the direction of the sort of thinking a detective enggaes in. That is not where I'm going.

The unattached cork on a string was a model, I convinced myself, and the free standing attached string with a cork another. Easier to see it was a device than a model. As soon as you pick up the unattached cork on a string and tie it on the ceiling, it turns from one device (and model) to another. Well, that's what I began to think. I had convinced myself this was a way to explain 'model' to someone who hadn't a clue. It was no use in explaining the concept of model in sentances, or attempting to fashion a definition.

One very simple model analogy, visualisation, which avoided resorting to definitions which had to use other concepts such as parameter, was to see a sphere with various holes in it of different shapes. The holes represented something of how the model worked. It would be possible to say "If you took out one of the holes, say a square, but left the cone and the elipse, then the model had been changed.

Would it be easier to give a definition, and then work back to examples? The point of all this is that when you get down to it (I deliberately didn't go into this with the cork and the sting, whether actually a model of something) there are different types of model. wiki : model shows what I was suggesting is a far from the complete story, for one reason: which type of model had I been referring to? Was it the first category, 'abstract model', or was it 'mental model'?

The one thing I haven't introduced in this explanation is metaphors. Or have I? I thought I was using analogies. If you google 'metaphor' it lists 22 million sites! I wonder how many model would give. 584 milion. Analogy? nearly 23 million. That tells you something. But what exactly? Interestingly there is a site called metaphor.org, though as usual wiki: metaphor is of great help.

Following this through there is this person writing that people use metaphor whe they mean analogy

This has interesting questions (and answers) about what a model:

Abstraction, Analogy, Example, Icon, Metaphor, Model, Morphism, Paradigm, Prototype, Simulation

Don't forget the diagram comparing world, model, theory which even for the unsicentific or logico-philosophical trained is a good starting point because it is simple and has visualisation.


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