Metaphors for the Unknown

ignorance and uncertainty

Common metaphors for ignorance and uncertainty are highly informative about how it is regarded and used in a society. I regard such metaphors as important for the reasons elaborated in George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s classic 1980 “Metaphors We Live By.” To poet Robert Frost, metaphor “is all there is of thinking. It may not seem far for the mind to go, but it is the mind’s furthest. The richest accumulation of the ages is the noble metaphors we have rolled up.” For those of us who would dispute Frost’s grand claim by pointing to science as a mode of thought with no place for metaphors, I recommend Theodore Brown’s 2003 book, “Making Truth: Metaphor in Science.”

Most Western metaphors for ignorance, uncertainty, and the unknown have a negative cast to them. This negativity is symptomatic of (and may be partly responsible for) a blind-spot in Western culture…

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