A Dead Metaphor and Reproductive Organs: Timely Reflections on Technology and Human Agency

By Robert Doede

History teaches us that civilizations’ most advanced technologies typically become their root metaphors. Root metaphors are the metaphors by which we understand everything else. As you might expect then, the West’s privileged metaphor today derives from the computer/the digital information processor. Metaphors, as we know, can expand understanding; by bringing two separate ideas into a working relationship in close linguistic proximity, metaphors enable ideas to semantically copulate, producing literal untruths that have the paradoxical potential of expanding understanding. In this way, metaphors often yield new insights. To a civilization with a robust ground metaphor, everything looks more intelligible, almost self-evident, in its terms. However, despite their capacity to expand apparent intelligibility, it is always important to remember that not all metaphors expand understanding—that literal untruths, when taken as literal truths, may result not in insight but in deep mis-understandings. Let me give you a case in point from my area of specialty, philosophy of mind.