I saw Douglas Hofstadter give his lecture on "The Pervasive Power of Analogies in the Progress of Physics" (mentioned above by Halo) this evening. This was the first overhead projection of the lecture, given as part of his preface to the topic of the role of analogy in theory formation:
Structure of the Standard Physics Talk:
What I remember: analogy
Everyone laughed, which I took as an indication that this description was astute - my own experience with physics lectures being limited to, um, not many. But for those with a curiosity for content, the main body of the lecture traced Newton's F=MA through iterations born of analogy-based adaptations. I.e., Newton describes force quantitatively by F=MA in 1665; a century later Legendre constructs an analogous description for gravitational potential, Poisson borrows Legendre in 1811 to express his notion of electric potential, and so on (it's pointless for me to try to explain it without the ability to adequately represent the formulae in question and their morphology) leading up to Weyl's adaptation of Poisson brackets to express Heisenberg's noncommuting quantities - as described in his first paper on matrix theory - in the sense that this important move was made possible by Weyl's perception and development of an actionable analogy (as it was in the earlier cases). I got a little jammed up on the correlation of isomorphism and analogy, but attribute that to my misspent youth as an English major. It's entirely possible that my notion of analogy is a flatlandish atavism, but I gamely tried to keep up with Hofstadter anyway. The net result was, for me, ironic - because the analogy about analogy given at the beginning certainly corresponded to my own experience. Mmeh.
My lecture notes have explody-head pictures in the margins and lots of slashy question marks. Anyone who msgs me and asks for elaboration will be summarily treated to a raspberry. Because frankly, I got plenty lost somehow (hahaha) during the description of how Minkowski's interpretation of Einstein's relativistic coordinate transformations as rotations in a 4-D space led Weyl to hypothesize asymmetry between the four vectors and then develop gauge transformation to describe same, although I got that Einstein really didn't like Weyl's guage transformations and put the smack-down on him in a published paper after which Weyl really didn't say much ever again. Then there was a whole bunch of math, and some more physics jokes, and then we all went out for coffee, the end. Also, according to one of my professors Hofstadter's history and philosophy of physics was wack, which is forgivable considering that's not really his gig, but I should mention that this reportage does not constitute endorsement, understanding, or ability to defend the lecturer's conclusions.