Friday, June 10, 2022

The Doll As Metaphor - 8

Live? Machine

I. Wanted Dead or Alive

It's alive!, it's alive! (the doll metaphor-speak is everywhere):

"The Perseverance rover made friends with a pet rock about four months ago, and the two have been inseparable ever since."

(Perseverance rover has made a friend on Mars). The metaphor-speak of  The Warming Science Commentariat world is spreading out into space it would seem, probably because it is difficult not to use metaphor-speak:

"Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish---a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language.

Live? Pet Rock

Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature."

(Metaphors We Live By, emphasis added). So, metaphor-speak's beauty is not only skin deep, it's ugly is all the way to the bone.

II. But What About War?

As an example of metaphor in our militaristic culture, notice this telling example:


Your claims are indefensible.

He attacked every weak point in my argument.

His criticisms were right on target.

I demolished his argument.

I've never won an argument with him.

You disagree? Okay, shoot!

If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out.

He shot down all of my arguments."

(ibid). And let's not forget more recent metaphor-speak used as a compliment for a job well done "that was killer!" or "he killed it!"

But, as has been asked and answered in this series, should that be so within scientific research and discourse?

III. What About Viruses?

For some scientists, "alive" and "dead" are just metaphors with little relevance when it comes to viruses (the most populous entity on the planet):

“Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill most types of bacteria, viruses and fungi in a few seconds” – claims a random ad in a family magazine. Regardless of the technical (in)accuracy of this statement, its anonymous author(s) has unwittingly answered, in the affirmative, a question that over several decades had been debated by many scientists: Are viruses alive? The logic here is simple and arguably undefeatable: you cannot kill something that is not alive."

(Are viruses alive? ... an old but misguided question). Wow! An anonymous author has answered the question with "undefeatable" "ARGUMENT IS WAR" metaphor-speak.

It reminds me of Voltaire:

"It is forbidden to kill therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."

(Voltaire). Of course, the scientist's argument "you cannot kill something that is not alive" presumes the virus was "alive" and in the "most types" category. 

But if the virus was already "dead" because it had been killed by an earlier alcohol-based sanitizer attack, the "you cannot kill something that is not alive" applies as well.

Furthermore, the viruses that were not in the "most types" category must also be considered.

They could not be "killed" by that "most types" sanitizer unless they were of the "most types" category (whether or not they were dead or alive).

So his oversimplification violates Einstein's "make things as simple as possible, but no simpler" equation.

IV. What About DNA or RNA?

The author of the "Are viruses alive? ..." paper moved along into genetics:

"All life that is currently known centers around DNA or RNA molecules, replicating carriers of genetic information which all share fundamentally the same chemical structure." 

(Are viruses alive? ... an old but misguided question). Did you notice how the scientist who wrote the paper tricked himself ("replicating carriers")?

DNA does not replicate itself, the cell it is in replicates it using various molecular machines within the cell (e.g. ribosome: "Ribosomes are the sites at which information carried in the genetic code is converted into protein molecules"), which are not within the DNA (How DNA Is Copied). 

The scientist who wrote the paper was metaphorically playing with dolls:

"Questions about teleology are, broadly, to do with whether a thing has a purpose or is acting for the sake of a purpose, and, if so, what that purpose is. Such questions can be raised with respect to anything: twigs, people, schools, ants' nests, ceremonies, stars, the universe as a whole, etcetera."

(The Doll As Metaphor - 7). Wow, "anything" can be used in everyday metaphor-speak.

V. Closing Comments

I wonder if the Perseverance Rover or its Pet Rock have an "arrow friend" too (like the guy in the video below)?

The previous post in this series is here.