Analogy as the Core of Cognition

Since writing the post on creativity I have been trying to make some connections of my own. Something that would explain the mechanics behind creativity and perhaps the nature of the thinker too. And then it struck me, the connections that Steve Jobs was referring to as the origin of creativity is very similar to the processes that Douglas Hofstadter talks about in a lecture called Analogy as the Core of Cognition.

Douglas takes an even more hardcore stand. He considers this ability to see patterns, this analogical mode of perception, as the very basis of cognition. That is to say the foundation of thinking.

If you are sort of missing the point here, let me illustrate.

Ability to see connections –> Creativity

Ability to see analogies –> Cognition

Do you see the parallels now? Good..So seen from that perspective, one could say that the very act of thinking, or just cognizing, is a creative act. And perhaps creativity is just an exalted mode of thinking, something that extends it in ways we are unable to nail properly but still built on the same foundation of thinking. Which is not bad at all and very egalitarian too.

I think, therefore I am, could very well have a corollary(or should I say analogy? Eeks this is getting recursive!) saying I analogize, therefore I think.

Damn, as I wrote the above lines I see possibilities that my feeble mind cannot comprehend fully. Am entering philosophical territory here. I shall come back to this another day!

On Creativity – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs on Creativity, via Autocatalyst / Wired.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

That just about nails it, as far as my understanding of creativity goes.

To be focused on a specific domain provides depth but starves the mind of raw material it needs to go beyond the algorithmic mode of thinking. Perceiving connections or parallels between multiple disparate topics leads to uncovering possibilities and opportunities to fuse attributes that would not be feasible if one had considered a topic in isolation. Am sure there is more to it but we could go with this definition.

If that did not make sense let us consider a few examples.

Timeless way of Building by Christopher Alexander, a book on design principles involved in architecture of buildings provided inspiration for the software Design Patterns, authored by the Gang of Four and has fundamentally changed our views on constructing software.

Star Wars was created by George Lucas after being inspired The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, who studied world mythology and the archetypes that influence them.

Steve Jobs aimed for perfect typography on the Mac after being exposed many years before to the beauty of calligraphy. Check the commencement speech here where he speaks about the incident and how it influenced his thinking.

Anyway, do you think these examples qualify? Would like to hear your views either way. Or even better share your examples below in the comments or drop me a line.

Elevating the Mundane by Design


Walking meditation is one of the techniques to center one’s attention and consciously deepen awareness of the self. The idea is to walk with complete awareness of all the bodily sensations that are enjoined during the act of walking. Its quite popular with those who owe allegiance to the dharma of the Buddha.

Amongst practitioners of this technique, the location does not typically matter. As long as there are no disturbances during the initial stages.

With that as context I could not help but smile at the level of ingenuity in designing as space for performing this simple act. I came across this via FactCoDesign blog. Have quoted a portion the post below.

For instance, from 4 a.m. to noon, an east wall offers shade during morning chants and the daily meal. From noon until 8 p.m., a roof protects the monk from harsh midday sun. And during the final period, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., evening chants take place in an exposed area of the circle with a hanging mosquito net to sleep under.

Even the mundane can be elevated by design. All it needs is for us to pay attention to the forces that envelope and shape the mundane.

Ideation and Execution

Better to execute one idea than to continuously ideate. There is no better litmus test for an idea than bringing it to reality.

Design vs Engineer = Apple vs Microsoft

I have always wondered why Apple apps, especially on the iPhone, all had beautiful UI. Boy Genius completely nailed the reason in a recent blog post reviewing the Google Android. The relevant quote is below.

Here’s another issue on why for the foreseeable future Android won’t be anything like what Apple or another company can offer: coders aren’t designers….That’s why Apple’s entire developer ecosystem is different, because believe it or not, Apple’s developers are amazing designers that make beautiful things, and they happen to know how to code. That’s entirely different from someone who’s the best coder in the world and trying to create something that looks, works, and feels great.

And herein lies the tale, as they say.

If you are still not convinced, hear Jonathan Ive, Chief Designer at Apple, talk about the design philosophy he lives by.

To justify the title, this is what distinguishes Apple from Microsoft. The latter builds and caters for engineers, while the former focuses on the intangibles of taste and design, but somehow magically ends up out engineering Microsoft in the process.

All said, the inspiration for folks like us in how we could emulate this rigor in building our products or services.

The attention to detail, the passion for excellence and the honesty in being able to question fundamental assumptions, all are basic traits that will influence what we stand for.