As someone who has given considerable thought to the writing process (I
authored a handbook used in classes at UC Berkeley), Mr. Barclay's
description of his English teacher, whom he obviously holds in high
regard, caught my eye. However, as well as he may have followed his
teacher's advice to avoid *obvious* metaphor, the structure of our
thought did not allow him to escape using metaphors of understanding -
cognitive maps. For example:
On Wed, 28 Dec 1994, Chas. A. Barclay wrote:
> Didn't your high school english teachers instruct you not to write in
> metaphors for instructional and technical material?
> I had a phenomenal high school english teacher[...] He taught that what
> reads best is written directly. Its written in active voice, without
> hyperbole, redundancy, latent modifiers, nor with [*]obvious[*] metaphor.
> Accomplished writing leads
[note the use of the metaphor of words as guides]
> the reader directly to the purpose and
> premises of the reports, with supporting evidence
[this is an example of *ideas as buildings* metaphor]
> and conclusions.
> This class had tremendous impact
[*change as a physical force*]
> on my
> career: it was demanding, frustrating, discipline creating, even
> hateful at times, and years later--insightful.
> Metaphor is fine for literature, even Eli Goldratt's The Goal does a
> fine job in the TQ arena, but for business & technical writing
> metaphors confuse issues and delay acceptance of the concepts.
> Adjectives and adverbs--modifying descriptors--also delay the
> understanding. IN a world looking
> for efficiency and economy in
> one's purpose there is no room
> for metaphor in technical material.
Even a well-trained and careful writer like Mr. Barclay has his thinking
shaped by cognitive maps based in metaphor (as do I - note the numerous
metaphors in this line and the paragraph before Mr. Barclay's passage as
well as the great number of visual metaphors such as "seeing things as
they are," "perspectives," "blinding," and others like "re-vision" and
"super-vision" in our everyday language).
We cannot *escape* the use of metaphors/cognitive maps in our thinking
(understanding one thing in terms of another is what allows us to apply
past experience to new situations), but we can be aware of them, their
uses, influences, and drawbacks. Becoming aware of our use of
metaphorical cognitive maps opens up new possibilities for learning as we
test different ways of looking at things and come to know how our
understanding of the situation affects how it appears - that what we look
for shapes what we see.
As Albert Einstein noted, "The mere formulation of a problem is far
more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of
mathematical or experimental skills. To raise new questions, new
possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative
imagination and marks real advances in science."
Einstein's point also constitutes a refutation of the popularly
understood idea of "objectivity." In this, Einstein is hardly alone:
Heisenberg's discovery of quantum uncertainty also challenges the
conventional idea of "objective observation" by demonstrating that the
act of observation leads to change in the observed phenomenon, and so
does the wave/particle duality, in which setting up an experiment that
looks for light to have the characteristics of a wave produces a result
that has light demonstrating wave characteristics, while an experiment
looking for light to have the characteristics of a particle finds that it
exhibits particle characteristics.
Though Mr. Barclay maintains that
"The reality rather than metaphor is that we have only one set of
eyes we can see through. If you think you need another set of eyes,
or more literally; another perspective, then you have failed to be
objective. Objectiveness is the principle skill of the scientist--
social or physical," the missing key is the meaning of objective. For
us to insist on the logical positivists' definition of objectivity in
spite of the evidence (including controlled experimental evidence) that
being able to see things from different angles is more useful (and more
"objectively true") than insisting that "things are one way, and one
only" seems unproductive.
The difficulty that arises from asserting that "truth is discerned from
disciplined rational thought" (as Mr. Barclay continues) is that
scientific investigation has yielded decades of evidence that human minds
function by understanding things in terms of other things (i.e. by
metaphorical cognitive mapping), that they process information in
terms of patterns (e.g. Herbert Simon's research) instead of unconnected
bits (such as result from "analysis," which means "to break into pieces"
- and which is quite different from systems thinking), that emotional
reactions to things precede rational ones (experimental psychology has
demonstrated this over the last 20 years), and many other conclusions
that do not fit with the rationalists' ideas about how things are/should
be. The logical positivism that says things are only one way, the way
they appear, was the subject of Bertrand Russell's attention in _An
Inquiry Into Meaning and Truth_:
"We all start from "naive realism," i.e., the doctrine that
things are what they seem....But physics assures us that the greenness of
grass, the hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow are not not the
greenness, hardness, and coldness that we know in our own experience,
but something very different. The observer, when he seems to himself to
be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing
the effects of the stone upon himself. Thus science seems to be at war
with itself: when it most means to be objective, it finds itself plunged
into subjectivity against its will. Naive realism leads to physics, and
physics, if true, shows that naive realism is false. Therefore, naive
realism, if true, is false; therefore it is false."
"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not,
however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world."