I was on to Something in my Last Post

Chapter 2 is entitled “Analogy in Science.”  It looks like Gross doesn’t actually think that analogy doesn’t belong in science, he was simply stating what many scientists believe.

As I started reading, I realized that I have encountered a lot of analogies in my research.  The one that sticks out to me most clearly is when Simon Baron-Cohen is responding to Beatrice de Gelder’s criticism of the 1985 study’s conclusion.  De Gelder claims that because the autistic children were able to answer some questions correctly (i.e. where did Sally put the marble, where is the marble actually?), that showed that they had a theory of mind.  In other words, “Without a theory of mind one cannot participate in a conversation.”

Baron-Cohen gives an example to point out that de Gelder was wrong in his response.  Just before he gives this example, he asks the question, “The issue here is whether the ability to answer questions per se constitutes participating in a conversation.”  His example says that a computer can correctly answer the basic question, “What is in disc-drive A?” But that does not mean it has a theory of mind.  Like this, the autistic children were able to correctly answer “where did Sally put the marble?” and “Where is the marble actually?” but, just like a computer cannot answer the question, “Where will my colleague look for x?” neither can the autistic child.

So, here we have 1) dehumanizing rhetoric that compares autistic people to computers and 2) an analogy.  This is science people, this is science and this is an argument between de Gelder and Baron-Cohen.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like de Gelder ever responded to this because I would have been interested in how she responded to it.  Did she respond to it by being convinced?

If so, Baron-Cohen used good rhetorical moves (for a bad purpose, but rhetoric, according to Aristotle, is amoral in that it has no morals so it can be twisted for good or evil/bad).  Even if she wasn’t convinced, Baron-Cohen’s rhetorical moves are still amazing because analogies are a very powerful tool.  But the problem with them is that they create a relationship and say that there is a relationship between autistic people and computers, and thus it immediately dehumanizes them.

Hm, interesting idea for something to write about more in depth: Analogy as a Potentially Dehumanizing Rhetoric.

De Gelder, Beatrice. “On Not Having a Theory of Mind.” Cognition 27 (1987): 285-290.

Baron-Cohen, Simon. “Without a Theory of Mind one Cannot Participate in a Conversation.” Cognition 29 (1988): 83-84.


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