Priming in analogical reasoning

Thinking about analogical reasoning.

I recently came across some old-ish work in analogical reasoning that tickled my brain about priming during experiments. What concerns me is the quality of conclusions reached by the research and how we might improve our experimental methods in studying analogical reasoning, especially as it pertains to design. References are at the end of this post.

Bear with me; we need to set things up first.

In a 1945 paper, Duncker offered the following scenario.

Suppose you are a doctor faced with a patient who has a malignant tumor in his stomach. It is impossible to operate on the patient, but unless the tumor is destroyed, the patient will die. There is a kind of ray that can be used to destroy the tumor. If the rays reach the tumor all at once at a sufficiently high intensity, the tumor will be destroyed. Unfortunately, at this intensity, the healthy tissue that the rays pass through on the way to the tumor will also be destroyed. At lower intensities, the rays are harmless to healthy tissue, but they will not affect the tumor either. What type of procedure might be used to destroy the tumor with the rays and at the same time avoid destroying the healthy tissue?

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Technology, analogy, evolution, and Don Norman

an old and a new Mini.
Technology drives analogy & evolution in design.

According to Don Norman, technology comes before identification of need. That is, you can only recognize a need if you already know about the technology that can be used to address it. ┬áIt’s not a conventional idea, and it can rub some people the wrong way, but – as I’ve written before – I think he’s right.

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Technology, needs, and analogy in design

T-shirt reading "life is like an analogy"
Analogies can be very useful.

I’ve been thinking about Don Norman‘s notion of technology driving needs ever since I read and wrote about it some months ago. I’m still trying to understand the implications of it, and how it fits into my own views. One thing I’ve realized is that a design is constrained by the designer’s ability to recognize analogies between needs and existent technology, and that, as an educator, I have to urge my students to remain current about available technologies and to understand them as deeply as possible, because knowledge of those technologies and their impact on people will inform their designerly acts as much as their knowledge of process and method.

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