Analogies and learning

Analogies are great explanation aides.

When you’re trying to explain something to a person, analogies work great. That’s because they help transfer an understood frame of reference. It’s like applying a semi-transparent layer from your memory onto the new thing you’re trying to learn about. This overlay lets you build up an insight into how this new thing should be working.

They are in essence, tiny stories. As Naval says, stories map onto existing archetypes. That's probably because we can more readily process notions whose structures we already understand.

You can be taught about something new if your teacher explains a new concept as analogous to something you already understand. This is how analogies help you bootstrap understanding of any new concepts you’re learning about.

But our own thoughts are complex. They seem easy to us because as ourselves, we have the mental state required to understand these thoughts. We already possess the mental state we’d require to have in order to correctly process these thoughts. That's because they're our thoughts! Other people don’t get this state for free.

To get there, other people might need a lot of additional context to completely understand what you're trying to explain. Usually they need a lot more than what you estimate before you start doing any explaining.

Analogies help us talk about one thing by proxy of another thing. But they're are lossy and some necessary context will always be lost.

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