Science, Metaphor, and Understanding

Science, Metaphor, and Understanding

Imagine that you’ve grown up in a place with absolutely no scientific knowledge. You’ve never heard of physics, or biology. Also the community you live in is so small that laws were never required. No government, no really concept of law at all. But you do have a family, maybe even a spouse or significant other, something much more integral to being human than laws.

Now imagine some is trying to explain physics to you and they start telling you about laws that control the way things move. Why would a rock obey laws? It’s a silly statement to say inanimate objects obey laws. An older way of describing how things like gravity worked was love. Love was the word to describe gravity. Dirt loves the earth so it was attracted to it, and smoke loved the sky so it would go up. Basically this was a system that described how like things might sort themselves. One of the most surprising things they explained with this system was that love made the planets move through the sky. Ancient people knew that the same force that caused a rock to fall was what caused the planets to move.

A lot of people would dismiss the ancients system as backwards or uneducated, but when you think about it. It actually describes gravity and is yet more beautiful than describing it as cold disconnected laws.

I’m not proposing that we do away with modern concepts of science and physics but that we bring back ancient metaphors to bring beauty and poetry back into science. We’ve lost something as a people by dismissing old ways of looking at things.

This is the focus of my favorite book by C.S. Lewis The Discarded Image where he discusses the Medieval view of how the cosmos was constructed and what we’ve lost after it was discarded. The symbolism is gives the world more meaning and life, and I really don’t think that using different metaphors will hurt the way society or science is working, but it may encourage more people to be interested in the subjects.

So remember Love really does make the world go round.


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