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Metaphor and Reality

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In a way, this entry is a sequel to the piece, How Real Are Relationships Several of the previous installments in the SEEING THINGS WHOLE series have to do with the reality --and the consequential power-- of relationships. Consider, for example, the article Patterns of Thought) that drew upon my "Mind and the Breadbaker" essay, with its suggestion that "The minds of those who conceived this process of turning grain into bread had themselves been cultivated by generations of experience turning earth into crops of food to eat," and that the process of bread-making was essentially patterned upon farming, the crop in this case being yeast. I would maintain that such a relationship is indeed "real." Assuming that my overall thesis is correct, that the mental pattern formed by a culture of managing the interaction between soils and seeds and water and warmth formed the foundation for the innovation of the making of bread, then the "relationship" between growing crops and bread-baking has the "reality" that without that relationship the technology of bread-baking might well not have come into being. Likewise with the pattern discussed in the piece, "Science as the Discovery of Patterns and Connections" (at " target="_blank">click here There the relationship was between the falling of an apple from the tree to the ground and the "falling" of the moon that is a component of its continual orbitting of the earth. The basis of that relationship is the existence and operation of one of the main forces operating in the universe: the force of gravity. The two instances of "falling" are bound together in both being instances in which gravity affects the motion of bodies. In this instance, I would say that the relationship is real to the same extent, and for the same reason, as one might say that the equation F = ma describes a part of the reality of the universe. That equation is a generalization based on a set of relationships that describe a "law" that seems to describe how certain things operate in this cosmos. Two different events --the falling of the apple, the orbiting of the moon-- are tied together by the operation of a common set of forces. Which leads then to a kindred, but also rather different instance: consider the case of all those instances to which people apply (presumably "properly") the metaphor, "Strike while the iron is hot." That metaphor is derived from the blacksmith's procedure for working iron. When the iron is cool, its shape is not readily changed. But if the iron is sufficiently heated, it becomes malleable and the blacksmith can pound and twist it into the shape he desires. When people in our culture declare that one should "strike while the iron is hot," however, they are not generally talking about metallurgy. No iron is involved, nor heat either, or any striking with a blacksmith's heavy hammer. Rather, what they are saying is that there is a situation in which the same pattern occurs. As with the blacksmith with his iron, this is a situation in which there is a moment of opportunity, a moment where the things are malleable, and where one can shape them to one's purposes with the right kind of intervention effected without too much delay. That pattern just described: is it a part of reality? Does the metaphor of "strike while the iron is hot" describe something real that connects a whole spectrum of otherwise diverse situations? Or is it "just a metaphor," just some image thrown up by the human imagination, but not really grounded in the reality of the universe in which we live?
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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