Figuring Science: Metaphor, Narrative, and the Cultural Location of Scientific Revolutions
James Bono Principal Investigator
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This project has as its objective reexamination of the problem of scientific change and its relationship to social and cultural contexts. The project will go beyond Thomas Kuhn's famous account of change in science, and will focus attention upon how the scientific, the social, and the cultural interact and mutually define each other. It will examine the largely neglected role of metaphoric processes and narrative structures in science and argue that they mediate the relationship among social, cultural, and technical dimensions of science.<br/><br/>This project will seek to transcend the normative, but misleading, account in which metaphor is relegated to, at best, a temporary and marginal role in science, as an element of immature scientific speculation that mature science systematically excludes. On the other hand, it will emphatically deny simplistic claims that scientific concepts are "just metaphors" and that scientific explanations are "merely stories." Rather, this project will argue that metaphors and narratives play an important and largely unacknowledged cultural and cognitive role in science: they are arguably cultural tools that enable scientists to define procedures and interpretive strategies allowing them to engage nature meaningfully. In this view, "cultural" and "social" explanations of science are anything but attacks on the integrity, power, and dignity of science. Rather, the project hopes to show how the very process of doing science is both social and cultural work and that it is dependent upon narratively-produced metaphoric models to uncover features of the natural world. Rather than producing an array of arbitrary, equally valid, and "relativistic" scientific theories, it is argued that, through the mediation of metaphors, cultures allow scientists to grasp aspects of nature that constrain and partially determine theory. Without culturally produced, inherited, and transformed metaphors, the very ability of science to uncover and explore new dimensions of the natural world would be threatened.<br/><br/>Empirical research in psychology and cognitive sciences has in recent years validated the central role played by metaphor in cognitive processes including in the production of "schemas," "models," and "categories" essential to reasoning and problem-solving. Metaphor, and tropes more generally, have also enjoyed renewed interest in theoretical discussions within the humanities and the interpretive social sciences. Going beyond these approaches, the project takes as its task careful delineation and concrete exemplification of the cognitive, cultural, and historical operation of metaphors and tropes within science understood as the product of social, cultural, and technical practices. It proposes to do so through a combination of theoretical analysis in dialogue with relevant literature on metaphor, narrative, and science and case studies drawn both from the early modern period and twentieth-century science.