Exploring analogies: living abroad, maths and Sherlock Holmes

Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass

Recently, with much delight, I’ve been watching BBC’s Sherlock television series (2010) that brought us a contemporary view of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s universe. Having grown up with my eyes glued to the original books and Jeremy Brett portraying the famous detective (1984) – I was initially quite suspicious of the modern interpretation. Old trick, one would say, to re-wrap the family heirloom, cherished on the shelf for ages, into a shiny new paper – and call it innovation. In this case, it worked, at least for me. I was impressed and amused. All the well-known features, so dear to my heart, were translated and empowered in a parallel world of 21st-century London with taste, elegance and surprise vignettes. Mobile phones and Internet technologies instead of letters, nicotine patches instead of a pipe, blogging instead of writing for newspapers… just to illustrate.

Then I thought more about the smart use of analogy and my relationship with this creativity technique.

I realized that I was unknowingly exposed to it from a very early age. Namely, maths was always my favorite subject in school because I almost never needed to learn anything by heart (I guess that’s why I later went on to study it at university). For most of my childhood, I spent Saturdays in classes for gifted children, solving mathematical puzzles, and I loved it. All I had to do is to recognize categories of problems and apply a trick-of-the-trade I learned fighting similar quests. The battle was never the same, but I could win it if I recognized the enemy’s disguise, by reflecting on my previous fighting history.

Another factor that I believe contributed greatly to my love of analogy is the experience of living abroad. I come from Serbia, but have spent a certain amount of time living in Austria, Germany, Italy and now, England. My experience tells me that when one moves abroad, as an isolated entity, one has to intensely search for analogical items to fulfil this universe that is new and unknown. Trains: Zeleznice Srbije – OBB – DeutscheBahn – Trenitalia – National Railways. Television: RTS – ORF – ZDF – RAI – BBC. Sounds uneventful, but it is actually a challenge to simultaneously find equivalents of grocery items, favourite cafes, home, transport… and everything else that has been making the previous world. Now imagine doing that in a country whose language you don’t speak. That’s the advanced level of the game.

I would say that when one is once used to do mappings all the time, it is easier to switch domains and even go out and invent parallel worlds, in case of a creative need. I read somewhere, “logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere”.

The fun part is when all the equivalents are found, and you start to discover in that parallel world categories of things and interactions that are completely unknown to you, but yet relevant. The ones that lack a mapping, and bring the glitter in. “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards“, says Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’.


About Anja Sisarica
Since October 2011, Anja is studying towards a PhD in Software Systems Engineering at City University London and its Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice, supervised by Prof. Neil Maiden from School of Informatics, and Prof. Julienne Meyer from School of Health Sciences. She is exploring links between creativity, serious games and dementia care, supported by MIRROR project.

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