Usually, the See e.g. Lakoff & Johnson (1980, 1999).
They enable conceptual creativity, but also put Constraints on what thoughts we can think: they import assumptions and distinctions from the source domain to the target domain, regardless of their applicability, and thus “constrain available hypotheses”Eliasmith (2003), 2
Therefore changing metaphors is not enough when we want to understand Complex Systems for what they really are and: metaphors always introduce distortions and force us to stay within the boundaries of Folk Ontology.
Thus, as long as we stick to metaphors as sources of abstraction, we
are either stuck with fantastical ontologies (e.g. classical
metaphysics), or we therapeutically identify metaphors and expose
fantastical ontologies as suchSee Lakoff & Johnson (1999) for a very thorough
application of this strategy.
, but have no way of escaping them, as we will always end up with another metaphor.
The alternative to these
is to create and use abstractions without metaphors.This has been the main motivation and device of Niklas
Luhmann (Luhmann 1984) and Gilles Deleuze (DeLanda 2002) in their
respective ontological work.
The highest-level abstraction that is useful for us is the general
distinguishable entities, which just reflects the fact that there is
difference in the world and refrains from positing any intrinsic
qualities of these systems.Cf. Friston (2019), 4: “something can be distinguished
from everything else”. Luhmann and Deleuze also take difference as their
starting point, but their approaches are limited in their potential as
they don’t reflect current science, e.g.
or Causal Emergence, and don’t contribute to the accumulation of Knowledge because their research communities, institutions and practices are too insular in the wider system of .
In order to arrive at more specific abstractions that help detail
Commitment to systems we can look into the natural sciences and
mathematics, being careful to not re-import metaphors from there.Vervaeke & Kennedy (2004) describe how the use of
spatial notions in abstract thinking, e.g. that of a
Space, is not based on the embodied experience of space which
grounds a conceptual metaphor, but on “linking largely procedural
knowledge from one abstract domain … to another domain … to set
properties in order of significance, structuring information for
evaluative and expressive purposes.” (Vervaeke & Kennedy 2004,
So the overall methodology should be:
- Identify the most useful abstractions in current science and mathematics.
- Describe reality with them to generate insights for Sensemaking, using techniques to avoid falling back into folk ontology.
- Refer back to science (i.e. make and test predictions) to validate these insights.
- Use metaphors only to make them accessible and tangible.
A set of particularly useful abstractions taken from current science and mathematics are Scale-free Abstractions.
- DeLanda (2002): Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy
- Eliasmith (2003): “Moving beyond Metaphors: Understanding the Mind for What It Is”
- Friston (2019): “A free energy principle for a particular physics”
- Lakoff & Johnson (1980): Metaphors We Live By
- Lakoff & Johnson (1999): Philosophy in the Flesh
- Luhmann (1984): Soziale Systeme. Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie
- Vervaeke & Kennedy (2004): “Conceptual Metaphor and Abstract Thought”