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Metaphors and models 

Metaphors and models
Metaphors and models

Neil Pickering

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date: 06 April 2020

However, if metaphors are advisory, or are to be understood as unfamiliar noises that may suddenly open up a new avenue in the search for the best way ahead for our community, then they can be accepted or rejected without getting involved in an argument about whether these things really exist or not. If metaphors make suggestions rather than definite propositions, or try to surprise us into better ways of dealing with something, then a decent degree of rationality seems to be preserved in science, while some of the advantages of the radical and unexpected concerning how one might think of things are preserved too.

Notwithstanding the advantages that may seem to flow from thinking of metaphor in these ways, I shall not take up the idea that they must play this kind of role. They may do; my purpose is not to rule it out. However, I do not think that the notion of mental illness, or that the body is a machine, or that schizophrenia or ADHD are illnesses need to be, or are most plausibly construed either as advisory or in the pragmatist spirit of Rorty. This chapter will take these issues up.

But having rejected the idea that these metaphors are advisory, or to be understood in the pragmatist's terms, the issue of irrationality returns. The answer to the worry that the presence of metaphor as I describe it throws science into unreason or irrationality is, to some degree, simply to accept it. The worry has to be lived with. However, a rational process that relies upon metaphor can be discerned. From the recategorization of the mad as ill created by metaphor may arise models of particular aspects of madness. A model is fundamentally an attempted analogy, as in the example of a musical instrument as a model for the human vocal organs in Gray's Anatomy (see Chapter 5). Models are intended to be testable. They are produced by scientists to aid explanation and understanding, and they can be rejected if they do not. The scientist pitches her ideas against her own beliefs about the world in the form of theories, hypotheses, and models. This is a rational process. What leaves the charge of unreason untouched is this belief: metaphors cannot be tested. Metaphors, rather than being the subject of tests, make tests possible. Indeed, this is one of metaphor's principal roles within science.

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