The Role of Metaphor in Science

By Brett Wilson and Stuart Sim.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: July 23, 2015 $US5.00

Research over the last 50 years has revealed that metaphors do not just add colour and texture to our everyday speech but play a significant – albeit imperfectly understood – role in our thinking process. Lakoff and Johnson’s recent work on embodied realism firmly links our powers of metaphor-infused thought and imagination to our sensorimotor faculties and experiences, placing physical metaphors at the very centre of our conceptual world (1999). Linguistic and visual metaphors have long played important roles in literary and artistic expression, but science has only recently appreciated that it too relies on metaphoric scaffolding when formulating new models and hypotheses for its own pursuits. We suggest that while fundamental science is concerned primarily with literal truth, in contrast, the conceptual models from which these predictions emerge are metaphoric in nature. A scientific theory is a form of metaphoric equation in which an internal predictive conceptual model spontaneously offers multiple provisional metaphoric possibilities that need to be tested in the external physical world, where literal truth content can be determined experimentally. Each sustainable paradigm will therefore have at its core a unique metaphorically-inspired conceptual model.

Keywords: Scientific Knowledge, Metaphors, Conceptual Models

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 7, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.31-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: July 23, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 370.718KB)).

Dr. Brett Wilson

(Retired) Senior Research Fellow, Department of Art and Design, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of the West of England, Bristol, Somerset, UK

Prof. Stuart Sim

Retired Professor, Department of English, University of Northumbria, Newcastle, UK