Friday, December 07, 2007

Science = Metaphor?

Via Ron Silliman, I just finished reading an interview with Rae Armantrout wherein she says

I find that thinking about contemporary science takes us to the border of what we imagine we know—which is a good place for poetry to be. Science generally ignores poetry, of course. But science, like all human communication, depends on metaphors. I sometimes think scientists would do well to study poetry to become more conscious of the way metaphors work.

My first instinct was to say "umm, no." Science, in the sense of discovering the laws of nature, is the opposite of metaphor. It's the paring down of all interactions until unalterable truths are stated a minimum of ambiguity. But articulating that thought made me realize that this is not necessarily the opposite of metaphor. In fact, the demonstration of scientific findings to nonexperts through models and simulation does seem to be to contain some of the stuff of metaphor. And in that sense, Ms. Armanttrout is right: scientists could benefit from a fluency in meatphor to express their concepts better outside the fraternity of technogists.

I have drafted a Grade 6-8 program called "Poetry and Science" in which I use science concepts as poem starters and exercises. This simple statement has me thinking I could also go the other way: Start with language that captures a nugget of a scientific concept and have students expand on it, seeing if they get close to the law described or not, and discussing what the process teaches about separating "fact" from "idea" in the poem.


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