I love analogies. For most of my life, I have just accepted this fact. But recently, I, by chance, heard a succession of particularly superb analogies within the span of a few days that got me thinking: Why are analogies so important to the way we communicate?
We are people of association. Our brains are incredible, constantly making connections from one thing to another, comparing and contrasting, sometimes too quickly for us even to keep up with, to even register. Often, we can become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of thoughts flying through our minds at once.
Life is complex and complicated, and there is a constant magnitude of information to take in about all aspects of it. What we crave, especially in our most overwhelming moments, is simplicity and perspective, something to help us summarize a situation or piece of information, a comparison that can anchor us in what we are feeling and experiencing in any given moment, a way of describing the indescribable.
Analogies create pictures for us. As a visual learner, I especially appreciate this, and I often find myself creating analogies for things I already understand as a reinforcement or backup to the concept. Is it a cop out to use analogies in such a way? Some might argue that analogies water-down information, leaving out important, rich details and giving only the vague, bare minimum material needed for the most basic understanding.
In some ways, this is true. Analogies can only get us so far. There is always more to be discovered and understood beyond the analogy, for it is rare, I would venture to say nearly impossible, to find a perfect analogy that appropriately describes all aspects of any given idea or situation. Yet, we continue to gravitate toward analogies because they are doorways into greater understanding. They will not explain everything for us, but they help us take those first, crucial steps toward a more meaningful comprehension.
Yet, all in all, I am inclined to think this just goes back to an overarching, human desire to understand and be understood. Our individual thoughts, ideas and beliefs are important to us because they represent a part of who we are and how we want to express ourselves to others in a clear light. The world we live in remains largely shrouded in many mysteries and phenomena, often causing wonder and befuddlement from even the most brilliant minds. Analogies bridge the gap into complex concepts we want to explain to others. Once that initial understanding has been obtained, we can then continue to further what we have been doing all along: learning.