I’m writing a Long Post, but it’s a slog. In the meantime here are some more trivialities.
- I realised that the three images in my glaucoma machine post could be condensed down to the following: “Glaucoma, the ox responded / Gaily, to the hand expert with yoke and plough.”
This is really stupid and completely impenetrable without context, and I love it.
It’s probably not surprising that we reach for a visual metaphor, as sight is so important to us. It’s common to describe improved understanding in terms of seeing further. Galileo named his scientific society the Academy of Lynxes because the lynx was thought to have unparalleled eyesight, though unfortunately that finding seems not to have replicated. (That was the high point of naming scientific institutions, and after that we just got boring stuff like ‘The Royal Society’.)
I’m more attached to smell as a metaphor, though. We do use this one pretty often, talking about having a ‘good nose’ for a problem or ‘sniffing out’ the answer. Or even more commonly when we talk about good or bad taste, given that taste is basically smell.
I’m probably biased because I have atrocious eyesight, and a good sense of smell. I’d rather join an Academy of Trufflehogs. I do think smell fits really well, though, for several reasons:
- It’s unmapped. Visual images map into a neat three-dimensional field; smell is a mess.
- The vocabulary for smells is bad. There’s a lot more we can detect than we know how to articulate.
- It’s deeply integrated into the old brain, strongly plugged into all sorts of odd emotions.
- It’s real nonetheless. You can navigate through this mess anyway! Trufflehogs actually find truffles.
3. An even better metaphor, though, is this beautiful one I saw last week from M. John Harrison on Twitter. ‘You became a detector, but you don’t know what it detects’:
This mental sea change is one of my weird repetitive fascinations that I keep going on about, here and on the old tumblr. Seymour Papert’s ‘falling in love with the gears’, or the ‘positive affective tone’ that started attaching itself to boring geology captions on Wikipedia. The long process of becoming a sensitive antenna, and the longer process of finding out what it’s an antenna for. There is so absolutely NO BETTER STATE THAN THIS.