Shakespeare’s metaphor that “all the world’s a stage” also means that all engagement with the world is really engagement with an understanding/image of the world, where these actors “strut and play.” A metaphor is a “figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.”[i] The connection between the two terms forged in the metaphor introduces a third, previously unknown possibility. In contrast to simile, which preserves the original terms, separating them with a prophylactic preposition, metaphor absorbs the original terms in the new meaning. In contrast to definition, which aims at reduction, metaphor expands language, and this expansion of language leads to expansion of thought, consciousness, experience.

This expansion through metaphor is functional. It begins with the permission to think of dissimilar elements together, in a space where they are gathered closely enough that a fertile connection could be discovered and from which a new thing created. Metaphor is a machine for producing sensible newness from sensible oldness. This heuristic bootstrapping is afforded by the familiarity of the newly related terms. Not all metaphoric combinations work: for the new term to be meaningful the original terms must be linked in a way that is not nonsense, however surprising. The metaphoric relationship is not a mere collage or random juxtaposition. Rather it is more of a graft. Not only must the terms be familiar, but they must share some logical connection, some genetic material, that can form the basis of the graft. To “rain cats and dogs” works while “blowing cats and dogs” does not, or “white lie” means something but “orange lie” is just confusing.  Metaphors bring the mechanics of a world of objects in space into the world of words and language as a “mirror of the world” in Rorty’s phrase. But language is a mirror that overcomes the physical limitations of the “real’ world, allowing pigs to fly and lies to assume weight and color.

The doubling of reality by such representation introduces the space of metaphoric permission. This is the space where experience becomes a game, where invention plays with necessity, and imagination is set free to tease the spirit.[ii] Science began with the Pre-Socratic philosophers who played this game against each other and nature, vying to provide a compelling metaphor for the world: Heraclitus claimed the world is fire and change the norm, Thales said it was water that was the first principle, Democritus described a world made up of atoms. Each of these constructions was delivered as a metaphor since none could be verified through experience, and each became the basis for a much extended exploration of the consequences, proliferating that metaphor into an entire cosmology. Eventually the current scientific method was developed from within the same permissive game space, with the work of Francis Bacon. He countered the “idols” of the ancients and alchemists by turning the metaphor into a hypothesis that could actually be tested against an observable reality, reconnecting the metaphor to an “objective” standard and completing its heuristic role. The rise of the scientific method returned metaphor to language and greatly tightened the rules by which the epistemological game space of representation was governed.