Why is Metaphor Important in Systemic Change and Learning?
References on metaphor
Metaphors of Dominant World Views AND Paradigm Shifts
A) WHAT IS METAPHOR?
1. A figure of speech in which a term is transferred from the object it ordinarily designates to an object it may designate only by comparison or analogy, as in the phrase "evening of life". 2. Figurative language; allegory or parable: the prophets used much by metaphors to set forth truth. Bunyan. -- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
Metaphor describes the relationship between two unlike objects, ideas of situations. For example, "life is a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, is a metaphor. -- Carole Cooper with Julie Boyd, Mindful Learning, 1996
A metaphor calls a thing something it isn't life is a bowl for of cherries, Metaphors are not logical, but they create an image that can challenge what is blindly accepted, allow new links to develop and generate new ways of thinking. Metaphors are a way of understanding a situation you are a part of and helped create. They give a new language, a more poetic, less scientific language, for discussion of life. -- H. B Gellat, Creative Decision-Making
"When people say it's "just a metaphor," we really have
to look at that because all science is metaphor. When you say that nature
is an array of mechanisms, that's absolutely as metaphorical as saying
it's a living entity. There is no way of talking about anything new without
invoking metaphors. All of science is based on metaphor. If you talk about
an atom as a little solar system with planets around it, or as whirlpools
of energy, in the more recent descriptions, these are all metaphors. Metaphor
simply means that "you take something that is familiar to you and use it
as a pictograph or an image of what you are trying to describe that you
don't yet understand well." -- Elisabet Sahtouris
"The fact is that when you work with body and mind, or
you've been forced to because you've been ill, you find that the connector
is metaphor. Metaphor is the language of the soul. Shakespeare talks in
metaphors, the Bible talks in metaphors. Metaphor is a physical picture
of a spiritual condition." -- Marion Woodman--
"Images and metaphors are not only interpretive constructs or ways of seeing, they also provide frameworks for action. Their use creates insights that often allow us to act in ways that we may not have thought possible before" -- Gareth Morgan--
"Metaphor is a linguistic label or symbol directly given or transferred to some object, person or thing. But the label is different from the thing, even though it seems analogous to it n many potential ways. ... The metaphor serves to catalyze the imagination; it is image provoking. The analog is seductive; it tantalizes one into believing , even if temporarily, that the metaphor is the thing. Various images provoked by the metaphor and the analogous characteristics implied between the label and the thing provide much food for thought that can be harnessed for personal reflection as well as group discussion. Although metaphor is much of the life-blood of artistic and literary forms, metaphors are widely used in everyday conversation. But it is the disciplined use of metaphor as a methodological device in small group activities that reveals its promise for facilitating the conversation of systemic change in education. " -- Arne Collen, Educational Technology, Jan-Feb, 1996--
"The metaphor --- a figure of speech used to indicate resemblance--has become a common tool in systems teaching and research. Merali and Martin (1994) have provided a valuable commentary on the metaphor's role and on the characteristics which influence its usefulness. They suggest firstly, that a metaphor has to be culturally and linguistically appropriate, and also possess structure, depth and richness with an appropriate degree of familiarity and referencing for the intended purpose. Limitations are also pointed out, including what is described as reification (taking metaphor too literally); distraction; distortion; manipulation; and disfunctionality (applying a metaphor when it is culturally inappropriate). The criteria Merali and Martin suggest for examining metaphors are by their nature value-laden, and exploration of these criteria would be linked to the human or social sciences." -- Gordon Dyer, Educational Technology/JanFeb, 1996----
"The metaphorical mode of teaching is holistic; it constantly focuses on the processes of recognizing and understanding patterns and general principles which give meaning to specific facts. Each unit is no longer an isolated set of information but an opportunity to make new connections, to gain insight into both the new subject and that which is already known.......Learning has a sense of integration when the emphasis is on seeing relationships; it is both more efficient and more satisfying." ... -- Linda Verlee Williams, 1983
".... Metaphors, similes and analogies are all short story forms that can twist the learner's thinking to a new revelation or dimension. They can be used to clarify, link ideas and to persuade others. Most often, they paint vivid pictures in the learners mind that involve the learner in the context of the story or illustration. The right metaphor or story is much more powerful than the words and storyline; it develops a relationship of meaning between learning and context. What is critical to learning is developing appropriate metaphors, because they do colour how the learner sees the situation and then influences his/her corresponding actions." --Cooper, Carole with Julie Boyd, 1996
"Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories." -- Mary Catherine Bateson, 1994 --
"Metaphors are what thought is all about. We use metaphor consciously or unconsciously, all the time, so it is a matter of mental hygiene to take responsibility for these metaphors, to look at them carefully, to see how meanings slide form one to the other. Any metaphor is double-sided .. offering both new insight and new confusion. The solution is to take responsibility for the choice of metaphors, to savor them and ponder their suggestions. Above all to live with many and take no one metaphor as absolute. A metaphor goes on generating ideas and question, so that a metaphorical approach to the world is endlessly fertile and involves constant learning. A good metaphor continues to instruct. -- Mary Catherine Bateson, 1994--
Gareth Morgan .... "argues that metaphors are an important tool of systemic thinking and that metaphors between physical organisms and social systems have produced new theories and practical implications for understanding social systems." -- Larry Hutchins, 1996--
"Metaphors are not logical, but they create an image that can challenge what is blindly accepted, allow new links to develop and generate new ways of thinking. Metaphors are a way of understanding a situation you are a part of and helped create. They give a new language, a more poetic, less scientific language, for discussion of life." -- H.B. Gellatt, Creative Decision Making---
Bateson, Mary Catherson. 1994. Peripheral Visions: Learning along the Way. New York: Harper Collins.
The Chaordic Handbook- Living, Learning and Organizing on the Edge of Chaos. http://www.funderstanding.com/mailing1.htm
Collen, Arne. Reflection and Metaphor in Conversation. Educational Technology / January-February 1996.
Cooper, Carole and Julie Boyd. 1996. Mindful Learning. Australia: Global Learning Communities.
Dyer, Gordon. Enthalpy: A Metaphor for a Design Guide for Conversations. Educational Technology/January-February, 1996.
Hutchins, Larry. 1996. Systemic Thinking: Solving Complex Problems. Colorado: Professional Development Systems.
Gellat, H. B.. 1991. Creative Decision Making: Using Rational and Intuitive Techniques to Make the Best Decisions. California : Crisp Publications, Inc.
Morgan, G. 1986. Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage Publicatiosn.
Morgan, G. 1993. Imagination: the Art of Creative Management. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Rowland, Gordon. Lighting the Fire of Design Conversation. Educational Technology/ January-February, 1996.
Sahtouris, Elisabet. 1994. Earth Dance : Living Systems in Evolution. Available for down loading from her website: http://www.ratical.com/LifeWeb/
Williams, Linda Verlee. 1983. Teaching for the Two-sided Mind. New York: A Touchstone book, published by Simon & Shuster, Inc.
Woodman, Marion http://www.now.com/issues/15/42/Ent/cover.html
The old scientific mechanistic paradigm dominant
Coombes and Holland
Capra, 1993. Ch. 8 Tao of Physics
Alvin toffler, The Third Wave.
Toffler, the Third Wave, 1982
Hutchins, Systemic Thinking, 1995
Wheatley, Leadership and the new Science,
Zohar in Wheatley, 1995
The Cancer Stage Of Capitalism:
The Body Metaphor for Present Economic and Political
Now if you were going to do world politics in your body, it would look something like this: You have raw material blood cells coming up in the marrow of bones throughout the body, and they are swept up to these northern industrial organs -- the heart-lung system -- where the blood is purified and oxygen is added and you now have a useful product. So the heart distribution center announces that the body price for blood today is so much, who wants? And the blood is shipped off to those organs that can afford it, and you chuck the rest out as surplus. You have to ask, is this a viable economics for a living system? You can see that it would kill the body to do economics in that way because some of the parts of the body that couldn't afford the blood (which now might be bottled until the price goes up) would now be starving and dying off. This is exactly what you see, of course, in the human world. We exploit some parts of humanity to the benefit of other parts. That cannot work in a living system. If your body decided to value the heart over the liver, or tried to turn the heart into a liver or something like that (which is the kind of crazy things we do as humans) it just couldn't function. It requires diversity. It requires that every cell look out for its own interest as well as for the communal interests of its tissue, its organ, and the whole body. No one in nature asks anyone to make a decision between personal interest or communal interest. You don't decide whether to be on the left or the right, whether to be a conservative or a radical. You have to have both in nature. It is the source of all creativity -- this tension between the individual and the collective, the part and the whole. It is the fact that their interests are somewhat at odds that fires the creativity toward solutions. And then again there is always another imbalance in the system that has to be resolved. This is the great driving force of all creativity. We are never going to be able to reach perfection, and we are never going to be in total chaos. We are always going to operate between those two. We have to recognize the value of both sides. Capitalism is inherently no more viable than the communism that was practiced in the Soviet Union and some other places. One asked the individual to sacrifice himself to the whole, and the other asks the individual to sacrifice the whole to himself, which isn't viable either. So we are going to find a lot of chaos in this country as we begin to regroup, begin to understand living systems better, and begin to obey the principles of living systems as we develop an alternative society for the future."
Metaphors for the shifting world view or paradigm shift
River of Life
"The Rapids of Change are a metaphor for our times. Those who have done river-rafting are aware of the exhilaration which comes from "going with" the flow of the river. We need to develop the same skills as we are swept with the current of change. We can then begin to recognize that we can also affect the dynamics of which we are a part." Robert Theobald
Life as River
"Life is a river and we each make decisions everyday about how to navigate it. The way the river flows is changing. The river of the past was generally calm, somewhat predictable, and moderately manageable. The river of the future is more turbulent, unusually unpredictable, and much less manageable. Our river is changing and our navigation should be changing. Life on the new river means we must learn, not only how to expect change and respond to it, but also how to imagine it and create it. In his book "Positive Uncertainty, for making decisions in changing times" describes the condition of today's river of life. The successful decision maker navigating the river needs to be understanding, accepting, even positive about that uncertainty. Today’s world like today’s river, is constantly changing. Today's decision maker should be as capable of change as the environment. A smooth river flowing through a flat terrain in calm weather is a linear system. Our linear scientific methods make is possible to explain, predict, and control the smooth river. By contrast, a turbulent mountain stream, where water splashes over rocks and twists around eddies, is a nonlinear system.Because the linear scientific methods of the past cannot predict the turbulent, stream's chaotic behaviors, a new science is born. The old science is not obsolete just insufficient. Nonlinear science (quantum physics) was invented to find order in chaos. We know how to make rational, linear decisions on the predictable, calm river, but do we know how to manage the extraordinary complex, random parts of the turbulent river? We need some non-rational, nonlinear strategies. We need decision tactics for both steadiness and randomness; we need decision making skills and attitudes to manage both order and chaos, stability and inconsistency we need flexibility and balance. H.B.Gellatt, 1995
The Third Wave
Gaia as metaphor explained by Elisabet Sahtouris Interview
with Stephen London Excerpts from the text found at:
Elisabet Sahtouris: Jim Lovelock is an atmospheric scientist from England. He proposed that the earth was a living, self-organizing entity, and called it Gaia after the Greek name of the original goddess of creation who became the earth itself. I differ a little bit from Lovelock and Margulis in how I talk about Gaia because I never call it either a hypothesis (which is what they first called it) or a theory. To me it is a conceptualization of the earth as alive to replace our conceptualization of the earth as an array of mechanisms. It's part of the transition in general from a mechanical worldview to an organic worldview, to see the world as alive. For me it's alive by definition. I use the definition of life which was proposed by two biologists from South America, Maturana and Varela, which goes by the name of autopoiesis. Autopoiesis is a Greek word, of course, meaning literally "self-creation." The definition goes: a living entity is any entity that constantly creates itself. This really distinguishes it from a mechanism, because a machine is not constantly creating itself. In fact, if it changes itself at all it's probably broken ......while a living thing is always changing, or it's dead. So, it's a conceptualization, not a hypothesis or a theory. Within that conceptualization, that scientific framework, you would propose hypotheses or make theories about how it functions.
London: When Lovelock first proposed this, he said he was using poetic and metaphorical language. So, in addition to presenting this as a scientific hypothesis, he was also using it as a metaphor. Today the Gaia theory or hypothesis is bandied around a lot as a nice "metaphor," but is it taken seriously by the scientific community?
Sahtouris: One of the things that happened was that people who get identified as "new age" (and that means a lot of things) got very excited about the Gaia hypothesis of Jim Lovelock, because intuitively everyone knows that nature is alive, that the earth is alive. In fact, our western industrial culture is the only one in history that has not known that the earth is alive.
The Whispering Pond:
A Concluding Thought from "The Whispering Pond" by Ervin Laszlo
"The theories and concepts of science are not merely the source of technological systems and gadgetry, they are also a source of meaning. When we come right down to it, how we relate to each other and to nature depends on our concepts of nature, of life, and of the thinking and feeling human being -- on concepts that are involuntarily yet significantly influenced by science.
If we believe that nature is a lifeless mechanism, a collection of passive rocks, we will come to believe that we are entitled to do with it as we please, so long as we do not go against our interests. Our choice of technologies will reflect these beliefs, we shall opt for powerful machines to extract, transform, use, and discard the energies and materials found in our environment, If we look on animals and other people as but more complex machines, we shall manipulate them, too, we will cut out the dysfunctional parts and organs, splice up their genes, or rewire the circuitry of their brain. We shall also manipulate people's social and political behavior, their labor, even their lifestyles,consumption patterns, and leisure time activities
But what if nature -- the universe itself -- is not a passive rock or lifeless machine? What if people are not complex machines, and not separate from each other and from their environment but profoundly, though subtly, linked ?
And what if the entire cosmos throbs with the creative energy of self-organization, constantly evolving, with periodic bursts of explosive innovation? If this is the concept we get from science, and if we assimilate it with our intellect and embrace it with our heart would we still relate to each other and to our environments in quite the same way?
In this book (The Whispering Pond) we have argued that it is something like this organic image that science is beginning to project. We have seen that the current wave of change sweeping through the natural sciences leaves behind the last remnants of the mechanical view of life, mind, and universe. Space and time are united as the dynamic background of the observable universe; matter is vanishing as a fundamental feature of reality, retreating before energy, and continuous fields are replacing the discrete particles as the basic elements of an energy-bathed cosmos. And the final destiny of this world need no longer be a lapse into the grayness of a lukewarm, empty and eternally unchanging nothingness, but could well be a cyclic renewal in a self-creating, self-energizing, and self-organizing mega-universe.
The current shift in science's concept of the world from a lifeless rock to a interconnected and quasi-living universe has intense meaning and significance for our times. The concept of a subtly interconnected world, of a whispering pond in and through which we are intimately linked to each other and to the universe. assimilated by our intellect and embraced by our heart, is part of humanity's response to the challenges that we now face in common. Our separation from each other and from nature is at the root of many of our problems, overcoming them calls for a recovery of our neglected, but never entirely forgotten, bonds and connections.
Unexpectedly but perhaps not entirely accidentally, the vision emerging in the workshops of the avant-garde sciences could inspire ways of thinking and acting that would go a long way toward facilitating current efforts to transform the specter off a global crisis into the splendor of a humane and sustainable civilization.
With poets insight. T.S.Eliot asked, "What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? Son of man you cannot say, or guess, for you know only a heap of broken images...." The new sciences help us surmount this predicament. They give us the vision of a whispering pond. of a universe where all things are linked in a fundamental way. The insights that emerge is both meaningful and timely. It confirms psychologist-philosopher James' image: "we are like islands in the sea - separate on the surface, but connected in the deep." Ervin Laszlo (1996) The Whispering Pond: A personal Guide to the Emerging Vision of Science. Massachusetts, Dorset, Queensland: ELEMENT.
Net, Network, Web Metaphor:
Net- Indira's Net - from Hindu Mythology:
A good explanation of the Hindu/Buddhist myth of Indra's net is found in, of all places, The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra: "...particles are dynamically composed of one another in a self-consistent way, and in that sense can be said to 'contain' one another. In Mahayana Buddhism, a very similar notion is applied to the whole universe. This cosmic network of interpenetrating things is illustrated in the Avatamsaka Sutra by the metaphor of Indra's net, a vast network of precious gems hanging over the palace of the god Indra. In the words of Sir Charles Eliot:
In the Heaven of Indra, there is said to be a network of pearls,
so arranged that if you look at one you see all the others
reflected in it. In the same way each object in the world is not
merely itself but involves every other object and in fact IS
everything else. "In every particle of dust, there are present
Buddhas without number."
The similarity of this image to the hadron bootstrap is indeed striking. The metaphor of Indra's net may justly be called the first bootstrap model, created by the Eastern sages some 2,500 years before the beginning of particle physics." Fritjof Capra --Chapter 8 of The Turning Point - Fritjof Capra (1982) http://magna.com.au/~prfbrown/capra_0.html
Canada in a World of Rapid Change: Future Choices