By: Kenan Malik | Like a moth to a flame, we’re drawn to metaphors to explain ourselves | Kenan Malik | Neuroscience | The Guardian
The selfish gene. The Big Bang. The greenhouse effect. Metaphors are at the heart of scientific thinking. They provide the means for both scientists and non-scientists to understand, think through and talk about abstract ideas in terms of more familiar objects or phenomena.
But if metaphors can illuminate, they can also constrain. In his new book, The Idea of the Brain, zoologist and historian Matthew Cobb tells the story of how scientists and philosophers have tried to understand the brain and how it works. In every age, Cobb shows, people have thought about the brain largely in terms of metaphors, drawn usually from the most exciting technology of the day, whether clocks or telephone exchanges or the contemporary obsession with computers. The brain, Cobb observes, “is more like a computer than like a clock”, but “even the simplest animal brain is not a computer like anything we have built, nor one we can yet envisage”.
Social and political discusses are steeped in metaphors from ‘trickle-down economics’ to the ‘red wall’