Metaphors and “Metaphors”

Over at the THE EVOLUTION LIST, Allen MacNeill comments on a couple of excerpts from Chapter 3 of The Design Matrix. Allen writes:

The fundamental question in this ongoing debate is, how do we know an analogy really exists? For example, do we have any objective way to determine if one rock is analogous with another?


So, is there a way to verify if an analogy or metaphor is “real”?


In the brief example from Mike Gene’s The Design Matriz posted at the head of this thread, the implication is that the analogies we perceive between biological systems and those engineered by humans are “natural analogies”; that is, they are real analogies, and not simply a form of linguistic convenience. However, there is nothing about the finding of an analogy that necessarily verifies that the analogy is “natural” (i.e. “real”), as opposed to “semantic” (i.e. “imaginary”). This would be the case even if one found repeated analogies between complex systems engineered by humans and biological systems that evolved by natural selection. To verify that an analogy is “natural” requires an independent source of validation for the assertion that the analogy is “real” and not merely “semantic”. At this stage in my reasoning about this subject I am not at all sure how one would go about this.

Good points. Good questions. Let’s have a look.

I can think of only two ways that one might objectively verify that the metaphor/analogy is literal/real.

First, one could objectively discover the designer(s) and obtain independent evidence that these designers are the cause for the first cells.

The problem with this approach is that there is no reason to think we can discover the designers simply by wanting and trying to discover the designers. No one, on either side of the aisle, has any idea about how one might go about making such a discovery. After all, if the original cells were indeed designed over three billion years ago, this truth would not entail that we could discover the designers in 2009.

Second, we could embrace the god-of-the-gaps approach and objectively rule out all non-teleological processes as explanations for the features that appear as carbon-based nanotechnology.

The problem with this approach is not only that it amounts to an attempt to prove a negative, but how can we objectively know that all non-teleological processes, including yet-to-be discovered non-teleological processes, have been truly ruled out? What would a successful god-of-the-gaps approach look like and wouldn’t it mean an end to science?

Of course, The Design Matrix never intended the metaphors (or is it “metaphors”?) as objective knowledge, verification, or validation. On the contrary, I clearly issued such warning and explanations in Chapter 3. For example:

In conclusion, none of the above arguments are intended as proofs of design. None of these arguments work to establish design in a probable sense. We are merely trying to traverse the Explanatory Continuum from the realm of the possible to the plausible. We are simply looking for clues; causes for suspicion; reasons to consider that design may indeed be behind life. If we return to our earlier example of the murder investigation involving Jones and Smith, the convergence of biological and engineering concepts does not amount to Jones being caught in the act of murdering Smith. It simply amounts to Jones behaving suspiciously.

Now since you may not have read The Design Matrix, let me illustrate this point with another posted example:

Even though evidence that merely sparks or supports a suspicion is insufficient to effect a satisfactory conclusion to a case, it is an essential starting point for any investigation. For instance, consider the mundane example of a woman who suspects her husband is cheating. She may not be able to prove he is cheating nor is she sure he is cheating. But she could probably tell you a few things that lead her to suspect he is cheating. Maybe he suddenly spends too much time at the office. Maybe someone has been calling the house and hanging up when she answers. And maybe one night he came home late and had the faint smell of perfume on his clothes. None of these reasons allow her to be certain he is cheating, and she realizes this. But her suspicions sensitize her such that she is more likely to recognize clues as clues. So she looks more closely and begins to find more, perhaps a phone number in his wallet. She calls the number and a woman answers the phone. While convinced her suspicions have been borne out, she might recognize her husband is likely to react with extreme skepticism when she confronts him. Perhaps she decides to strengthen her belief further, making it so probable that it will be difficult to deny. So she hires a private investigator to document the adultery with photographic evidence. Thus, the ambiguous data that lead to an initial suspicion ultimately results in a more rigorous attempt to confirm or dismiss those suspicions.

Using this example, the “metaphors” are not in any way intended as documentation “with photographic evidence.” No, they function instead as “a few things” that might cause us to suspect design. It is something that flows naturally from a hypothesis of design and arouses and/or deepens suspicion in some of us. It is this suspicion that becomes the motivation to investigate.

But how can one investigate if there doesn’t seem to be a way to generate documentation “with photographic evidence” (i.e., objective verification)? All we can do is take a closer look, realizing that if we cannot objectively verify that an analogy or metaphor is real, then neither do we have a method to objectively determine that an analogy or metaphor is only imaginary. We are left stranded in an ambiguous reality.

So what do I suggest? Again, from Chapter 3:

None of the points discussed above amount to a proof of teleology in biology. We are only concerned, at this point, about things that might cause the suspicion of design behind life. Those who share in this suspicion might want to explore the world as if biological metaphors have a literal meaning that is, at least, partly true. Crude technology gives us at least partial insight into much more advanced biotechnology. Is there any reason why we would be wrong to do this? Is there any evidence that strongly demonstrates that a literal interpretation of such metaphors is indeed in error?

The key sentence? Those who share in this suspicion might want to explore the world as if biological metaphors have a literal meaning that is, at least, partly true.

If you don’t share in this suspicion, then you’ll not be able to participate in the investigation in any meaningful way, as complaining about a lack of objective verification is complaining about a point that was already acknowledged. Verification is not needed to arouse or maintain suspicion and curiosity. And complaints about lack of verification do not dislodge and eliminate suspicions and curiosity.

Secondly, exploring the world as if biological metaphors have a literal meaning means we are not on a Duck hunt, but instead follow the Rabbit (the importance of Chapter 6) as we seek out a higher resolution analysis (the importance of Chapter 1).

For ya see folks, we may never be able to declare, with great confidence, that this or that was designed. That’s not the point of The Design Matrix. What matters is whether our attempt to follow Da Bunny generate a deeper insight and understanding of biotic reality.

And here two levels of insight are involved. First, there is the level where the individual investigator can gauge whether the suspicion is paying off. If so, curiosity, focus, and motivation are enhanced and maintained. Second, is the level where the individual investigator uncovers a better understanding of some part of biotic reality that can be appreciated by those who don’t share in the suspicion.

And the first one with the suspicion that reaches this second level could very well change the terrain.


2 responses to “Metaphors and “Metaphors”

  1. Michael,

    “And the first one with the suspicion that reaches this second level could very well change the terrain.”

    Excellent…. 3b yrs or not, for me, the key is whether embracing the machine language or design language enhances discovery and understanding of the forces and mechanisms of life. I’m more interested in fucntional research, not the story telling or wild conjecture of many evolutionist today.

    My suspicion is not only that a Design View enhances scientific inquiry and bio-engineering, but it must be so because it is Coded Informatrion. DNA Code is not a metaphor. I recognize code.

    I do not see this as simple metaphors and analogy.

    Most often the words used are action verbs to describe intracellular and intercellular functions in all the scientific papers, Mags and books I’ve read. Science would flounder if researchers were not allowed to describe biology and cellular characteristics with design language.

    Translation, Transport, Repair, Reading, Matching, Rotors, RPM, Signaling are not mere metaphorical semantics. They are not imaginary descriptions of the actions taking place in the cell or nucleus or bacteria.

    How else does the biological community describe translation? Or repair work? Is repair a human only quality of external description to machines humans create? Of course not. It cannot be. It describes the mechanism of the skin of a human body, or the DNA repair mechanism and pathways SUMO takes within the matrix.

    There is no “human” in intelligence or design. This is why Dave R’s insistence to the contrary did not work. There are universal descriptors with different coded languages whether in our world or others. Repair or self-repair is a functional mechanism of design criteria for damages prepaired in advance. Programmers do this in code for damage that may occur to input data. It can be logically analyzed and waiting in pre-coded form, or reaction dependent upon severity of damage. Software/Firmware coding follow the very same patterns of Repair network in the cell. Therefore, it is easy to say certain cellular repairs are “pre-programmed” whereas other reactions operate on higher level of severity to degrade and restart process from the beginning.

    Likewise, when mechanics say a machine does the work of 10 men, or has 402 HorsePower, are they not making the same exact explanations for work as any nano-engineer makes in their endeavors to harness ATP energy or to desribe the 20,000 RPMs of a bacterial flagellum?

    When an intelligent being states that a physical mechanism rotates at 20K Revolutions Per Minute this is no analogy. It is an active verb description of the subject and it is simultaneously objective. In this case; propeller is ths Subject, Rotate the verb. Rotate describes the mechanical action familiar with all engineers, mechanics and kids with bikes.

    We all understand it is not an analogy or metaphor. It is an action. That action is started and stopped, forwarded and reversed by ATP pump that requires energy. Likewise another descriptive action of the inherent design properties of life – energy is required for functional automation.

    So, it is not only a one word descriptor of the function that can desribe the manuevering actions of the mechanism within the flagellum. But it is also the combination of functions that are coordinated together to provide a “summation function” bigger than its parts.

    Hey, I like that – Summation Function or Sum Function: Word(s) describing action of one or more functional parts in coordination for an overall functional purpose. Engine, Motor, Car, Plane, GPS, IPod, Rotor, ATP, Propeller, etc.

    Essentially, the Bacterial Flagellum has an Inboard Motor for example as its nested “Summation Function” or overt purpose. Nested because in engineering terms the Inboard Motor is subordinated to the Bacterial Flagellum’s Summation Function or to other Higher Coordinated Functions(HCFs). Summation Functions can be nested or cross-purposed for use by other higher purpose designs. Just like engines can be utilized in many different transportation modes for higher functions like cars or planes.

    Maybe this seems like redundant logic?

    Essentially, instead of worrying so much about past historical evolution stories that cannot ever be fully understood as reasonably admitted by Eugene Koonin(1), the design language helps researchers convert to mechanical and operational aspects of minimum and maximum boundaries required for life and the engineering language of functional spaces and subspaces.

    Inboard Motor is the Summation Function for example and likewise a Summation Sub-Function of BF. Ha… the SS-F of BF. Where ATP, rotor, bushings, intake and propeller are all coordinate pieces of the Inboard Motor. All of them likewise are SS-Fs of BF. Normally, in our design world, we call them parts. Some parts are stand-alone single piece, like a bolt, others are multi-piece parts. All are functional with some more functionally specific and complex than others.

    So we have Sum Sub-Functions and Higher Coordinated Sum Functions categories. And Simple Sum functions and One Sum Function

    HCSF = Bacterial Flagellum / Boat or submarine
    SSF = Inboard motor / Inboard Motor – (cross functional)
    SSF = ATP Synthase / Engine / Enzyme / Catalyst
    SSF = Shaft / Shaft / force generation mechanism
    OSF = protons / (nuclear, solar, battery)

    That is universal categorization of functionality with regards to specific complexity of lower to higher orders irrelavent of human intelligence or any intelligence.

    Obviously, mechanics just call them part with possible descriptives as car parts, motor parts, boat parts with other individual distinguishing names. Unfortunately, biologist have missed the boat on this for decades. I suspect new terms will be utilized in a Design Centric future that better describe the functional attributes and reduce nomenclature overflow and engendering a larger population with understanding of fundamentals of life.

    There is no reason this cannot be done for Communication, Signaling, Repair, Reading, Translation, DNA storage. All functional language derivative categories of biology are transposable with current modern day technologies or will be.

    Now, if someone like Allen wants to state “Inboard Motor” is a metaphor, fine. But he cannot state the same for the action of the Inboard motors function, which is to “rotate” a “propeller” that “manuevers” the flagellum in “forward” and “reverse” motions.

    This is not about “one” metaphor. It is about a whole cacophony of metaphors, active and passive verbs, actions, descriptors and adjectives. And we all see the beauty of these complex higher functions that coordinate together for a rich, abundant life on this earth.

    I contend the language is not a choice. That the engineering language or mechanical language is forced upon the researcher(s). There are not other reliable and reasonable alternative descriptions for the word, “motor.” This encapulates all function in one simple word. The motor can be in stationary position or in a mobile transport vehicle. It is still a “motor” as base concept.

    Therefore, it is not a “choice” metaphor. There are in fact no other active verbs to desribe such “actions” of the functional properties of a motor for life in mitochondria, cells or between cells and car engines or generators. You can play semantics… engine, motor, generator, etc., but the function does not change. That the Nobel Prize winners named it the “smallest motor” in the world is no accident.

    What else would a biologist call it? A “thing that makes it go?” Or the ATP Synthase? Thats fine for knowledge base, but it is no different than a mechanic calling a motor a Big Block 4-bbl V8 L89. L89 indicates aluminum head option. But would a biologist never trained in car mechanics know what L89 is? No. So, we call it a motor for simplification. And with horsepower. Only serious car buffs or mechanics know about all the descriptive terminology associated with each motor and it is as highly complex a naming convention as adenosine triphosphate.

    Yet a mechanic will look at ATP and say immediately – cool motor dude! Why? Because of universal recognition of designed parts.

    It is the very language to describe life’s functional attributes that for me, more than lead to a suspicion of Design.

    They are not only using words as metaphors… “as in,” “like a” or “as a” rotor. It “is” a rotor. There’s no doubt what is is, or what rotor is in the active verb and descriptive adjectives.

    But its not just the descriptive language, it is the anticipatory language.

    Are there not electrical values associated with enzymes and gateways and catalytic reactions? And doesn’t work get transferred thru reactions by steps of pre-configured mechanisms? Mechanisms that must be in place, must wait to be alerted by signals and informed a pathway to the target repair area for example? How do you describe an anticipatory function? A function that must exist for a repair call? Well, I call them Error Codes or Feedback Loops or Branch on Error Input. Most people call them Repairmen when dealing with intelligent beings. Both are the result of intelligent request by users for specific repair requirements based upon anticipated outcomes.

    The suspician is all but over for me about design of life. I come from a background of evolutionary materialism. I was taught and believed it for quite some time. But no longer.

    There is something going on which we must investigate from all sides. We live in a vast ocean of informational matrices. And the matrix of words collides with the Design Matrix of life. Functional language subsets are a part of larger sets. Not because they are metaphors or simple analogies, but because they are real. They are not imaginary sets.

    More than halting science as hyper critics and uninformed followers might say, the Design Matrix, the Design of Life, the Design Paradigm you might say is being forced upon biologist by the very discoveries in the nano world of life. Not by your book Michael, or your insistence.

    This revelation in biology and life sciences would happen with you or without you and others. This is not an insult, but a recognition of prevailing logic coming to the fore now that we can actually see into the bunny hole.

    Modern research and discoveries force an engineering language upon reluctant Darwinist that long ago was unknown or rarely considered by Darwin or his peers in agreement.

    This is actually good news as it can lead to practical consideration of a new knowledge and wisdom in breakthrough technology.

    I agree wholeheartedly this recognition can “change the terrain.” The first life engineers and reverse engineers to peer into life and see design, and to utilize knowledge of present design wisdom, will move swiftly to new areas of understanding.

    We are recreating what we are every day. Whether it is comparing signal pathways to network or chip designs, rotational mechanism to existing engines, dna storage and replication to databases and mirrored units, or a million and one other mechanisms, the Design Paradigm will deliver us into Science Fiction Future ever faster than those who look backwards for explanations of a random emergence.

    Frankly, I think its time for historical guessing to be funded less and operational science to be funded more in America. Functional science; not endless conjectures of guesses of phylogeny based upon faulty ideas of the past, should get the major support. I’m not saying stop all the guessing. But I am saying America could lose precious time and leadership as other countries sharpen their research tools and ideas.

    (1) Eugene Koonin admitted recently in several publications the inefficiency of phylogentic research with HGT as a major mechanism for change. He has stated, “As noticed by Ford Doolittle, as long as the HGT is quantitatively substantial and involves, to a lesser or greater extent, all categories of genes, “Molecular phylogeneticists will have failed to find the “true tree,” not because their methods are inadequate or because they have chosen the wrong genes, but because the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree.”

    What is interesting about the paper is that Koonin and the researchers he quotes, Baptiste, Doolittle, et al, are interested in looking harder at rapid evolution Big Bang model of information buildup. A different model not based upon one single TOL.

    And while I think this favors Design from a pragmatic aspect, it is the operational research that concerns me.

    A new research paradigm then, one that may provide much fruit would be along functional nested categories and not LUCA dependent searches, nor even LUCA “states” as Koonin conjectures for alternative solutions to the problems that HGT brings to the forefront of evolutionary hypothesis.

    ps. changed the psuedonym I’ll be posting under from now on.

    pss. “That’s not the point of The Design Matrix. What matters is whether our attempt to follow Da Bunny generate a deeper insight and understanding of biotic reality.”

    I’maa following the bunny…

    White Rabbit

    “If you get caught…”

    “Yeah I know… you don’t exist”

    “Yeah… sure… I’ll go” 🙂

  2. Upon reflection, my hurried writing…

    Your book will have an impact. My point is if you did not write it, eventually someone would write a similar position, because your suspicions ring a bell that intuitively most people recognize when they first look at cellular life. Even the most advanced researchers and philosophers have had their minds changed as a result of the latest research. Dean Kenyon, Antony Flew and many others. I think these are people with open minds that for decades believe in materialistic solutions.

    The Design Paradigm is already at play on large scale and has been for sometime in reverse engineering research design for practical applications in nano technology as well as new applications across all industries.

    For example optics of a butterfly wing, or aerodynamic design of a boxer fish. Optics and aerodynamic are not simple metaphors – they are transposable, transferrable reality to new intelligently designed optics and cars. Same reason why sonar of bats, porpoises, whales, etc., are now being researched. These are real, bonafied mechanisms which engineers already designed mechanically and recognize instantly as design equivalents.

    FYI, Still “curious” just updated new name to datcg.

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