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Metaphor Project (Explanations)

Significance: Metaphor, analogy, symbol and pattern

Metaphor Project

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In the humanities subtle distinctions have long been made between metaphor, analogy, allegory, synecdoche, metonymy, parable, symbol, and the like. The assumption made here is that these may usefully be considered as forming a continuum that may indeed be segmented in a number of ways. But it would seem to be the case that the long and intense debate on the appropriateness of some particular pattern of segmentation has obscured the possibility of vital and unexplored uses of metaphor in response to the crisis of the times.

1. Models, analogies and metaphors

There is an ongoing debate in the philosophy of science concerning the status of models and analogies in relation to scientific "explanations" (Mary B Hesse, The Explanatory Function of Metaphor, 1966). Sharp distinctions have been made by some between models, analogies, metaphors and isomorphs in this debate. As a technical term, analogy has been used to designate a kind of predication midway between univocation and equivocation.

For many years it was therefore of no interest to scientists who perceived themselves as dealing only in univocal terms. But research in fundamental physics involving phenomena only describable by complex equations has given increasing legitimacy to analogy and metaphor as tools with which to create, comprehend and communicate complex intangibles. Analogy and metaphor, however they may be distinguished, have thus come to serve the same function as they have traditionally had in theology where metaphor has been used to focus the mind on the dynamic real.

Gibson Winter (1981) provides one possible clarification of the relationship between metaphor and analogy. "Analogy is an abstract way of talking about a working metaphor, since analogy draws upon a conjunction in things which is discerned in reflection. However, analogy draws out the similarity in the metaphoric imagery, letting the dissimilarity fall into the background. In this sense, analogy functions as a weakened metaphor."

But he argues that: "Analogy and metaphor have the common element of drawing upon similarities for understanding the less known from the better known. However, tensive metaphors are much more than this, since they conjoin similar and dissimilar realities in an explosive disclosure of insight. This is the paradoxical quality of the tensive metaphor. A metaphor thus resolves contradictions in an unexpected way which generates new understanding."

Kathleen Forsythe (1986) in a paper to a meeting of cyberneticians argues: "Analogy and its poetic expression, metaphor, may be the "meta-forms" necessary to understanding those aspects of our mind that make connections, of ten in non-verbal and implicit fashion, that allow us to understand the world in a whole way."

2. Isophors

Forsythe uses the term isophors for isomorphisms experienced in the use of language. Isophors are distinct from metaphors in that they are experienced directly. With the isophor there is no separation between thought and action, between feeling and experience. The experience itself is evoked through the relation. She suggests that the experience of one thing in terms of another, the isophor, is the means by which we map domain to domain and that our consciousness of this meta-action, when we observe ourselves experiencing this, lies at the heart of cognition. She has postulated the development of an epistemology of newness in which learning is the perception of newness and cognition depends on a disposition for wonder leading to this domain of conception-perception interactions.

She argues that the notion of metaphor is commonly understood to mean the description of one thing in terms of another. This notion presupposes an objective reality. This objectivity may be questioned and if, as suggested by Maturana, (objectivity) is placed in parentheses, "we can begin to appreciate clearly the role we play in the construction of our own perception of reality. for this reason, the notion of the experience of one thing in terms of another, the isophor, suggests that it is this dynamic constructing ability that involves conception and perception -- unfolding and enfolding, that this gives rise to the coordination of actions in recursion which we know as language."

3. Symbols

Winter (1981) points out that: "Metaphors do not settle everything, but they are guides to the rich possibilities of life and nature."

"Metaphors furnish clues to transformation, but they are not the powers that resist or engender such new realities...Symbols are the powers that resist change or open the way to creative change when it is needed. Root metaphors are interpretations of these founding symbols...Symbols are, in fact, metaphoric events that arise through the poetic powers of the human species."

He calls for caution regarding symbols: "The symbol is ambiguous and, indeed, conceals as well as it discloses the powers and rhythms of life and cosmos which it mediates. To identify the symbol wholly with the higher order reality it mediates is to reify that which transcends...When the mediation of higher order realities supplants the reality, symbolization becomes idolatry...This reification of the higher order realities that are mediated in symbolization is the peculiar idolatry of the modern age."

He then raises a fundamental issue: "The question remains as to how one determines an authentic rather than inauthentic symbolization of life. With all their promise, Western symbols have revealed their corruption. To transcend the crisis of Western spirituality and the imminent destruction of non-Western peoples, at least on the level of understanding and ideology, a new paradigm and spiritual foundation are required."

Pattern language

Forsythe (1986) stress the relationship between metaphor and pattern language: "The architecture of how we structure the reality of our imagination is metaphoric. Metaphors are bridges that order the nature of our collective and individual humanity. Metaphor provides the reality to the pattern language of thought for it is the mechanism of ordering newness. Language only lives when each person has his or her own version that must constantly be re-created in each person's mind as he or she interacts with others in the environment. It is only through understanding these inner patterns that we can begin to consciously bring the outer pattern of our lives into harmony."


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


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