Mad Metaphor In Science:
An NLPers Rant
by Silvia Hartmann
I've been watching a TV program about astrophysics, a series, really, and I am being driven INSANE by their appalling misuse of metaphor.
Here is an example.
See if you get this ...
A nebula comes into being when a star goes supernova.
It explodes with incredible force and smashes everything in a wide distance around it to smithereens in the process.
This is so violent that neutrons get knocked off atoms in the process; so you get loads and loads of these neutrons swarming about at high velocity.
Every so often, a neutron finds a nucleus and they recombine.
When that happens, there is a big discharge of energy, and some of it is in the spectrum of visible light, causing a light flash. Depending on what collided, you get different materials emerge from that with different coloured lights - like if the collision produces iron, the colour will be orange; if it produces some other thing, the colour will be green or blue.
Which is why you can see nebulae in the first place, these light flashes, and also why they look so pretty.
And now, the resident scientist on the program goes on to say, and I quote:
"And that's EXACTLY LIKE A BASKET BALL GAME."
Camera pans to a school gym where a basket ball game takes place. People in white jackets are playing against people in black jackets. Someone scores a hoop and the audience jumps up and claps and cheers.
You tell me.
HOW THE F***K IS THAT "EXACTLY LIKE" a bunch of neutrons from a supernova smashing into a nucleus and emitting light?
This is not only not exactly like, it is NOTHING LIKE THAT!!!!
The basket ball players aren't smashing into each other and turning into something else altogether, and the audience isn't the basket ball player's emissions across the visible and non visible spectri of light!
That is a SHIT metaphor!
It isn't even a metaphor, it does NOTHING but totally confuse the core issues and leads an unwitting conscious mind into some insanity of madness where nuclei wear black shirts and there is an audience in yellow sweaters with a duck on it!
So I'm screaming abuse and throwing cushions at the TV in OUTRAGE at this mad misuse of even the idea of metaphor and my son comes in, enquires as to the reason for my outburst.
I rewind the whole sequence for him.
He is 18 years old and totally astonished.
"That guy is supposed to be a scientist? A professor? HOW can he stand there and say that this is EXACTLY LIKE A BASKETBALL GAME - in public? Isn't he ashamed of himself? Is he mad??
"Mummy, I don't understand ..."
Watching his pain reflecting mine, I calm down and say, "Well you know the reason for this is that the school of linguistics is not just not in the same building as the astrophysics department. It's not even on the same campus. It's 3000 miles that way - and they never, ever meet, they don't read the same magazines, or go to the same conventions.
"That professor there doesn't have the first clue about linguistics, that's the problem. And he never will."
We both sat down and shook our heads sadly, and I deleted the program from my Sky box with a sigh. Then we did some EmoTrance as a family to calm down enough to be able to get the laundry ...
This one incident is the tip of a gruesome, misshapen iceberg of metaphor madness.
"A neutron star is EXACTLY LIKE a tennis ball."
"A nebulae is the graveyard of a star."
"A supernova is a star in its violent death throws."
The HIDEOUS and TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE metaphors just keep on comin' ...
And then we must ask ourselves, and we really MUST ask ourselves this:
With such SHIT metaphors spooking around in the brains of the research scientists, the teachers, the lecturers and the students -
HOW ON EARTH are they EVER going to conduct clean, logical science?
What EFFECTS, cumulative, long term, on their thinking, maps, world views does this have?
HOW do these mad metaphors limit, twist and distort their ideas, theories and future research directions?
Oh man I SHUDDER to think!
Logic and linguistics should be made compulsory for human beings from pre-kindergarten onwards and they should NEVER be allowed to stop taking all the courses!
Peter & The Presupposition
Mary Meets A Metaphor
Loopy Lou In Logic Land (Series!)
Someone really, really needs to start writing ...
Mad Metaphor In Science: An NLPers Rant © Silvia Hartmann 2008