Babel Project I - epistemic functions of metaphors in scientific processes of knowledge formation
Date: 4 - 5 May 2018
Convenors: Christa Finkenwirth (Zürich, SUI), Nikola Kompa (Osnabrück, GER)
Metaphors fulfill epistemic functions, as specific ideas of new abstract conceptions (target concepts) can be imparted by linking them to better known entrenched metaphorical source conceptions. Thus, metaphors are also essential for the new construction and articulation of scientific theories and terms. In this workshop, we explored the epistemic functions of metaphors and developed a consensus-oriented working definition (including quality criteria) of epistemically effective metaphors based on the view of different scientific disciplines. In an experimental approach, we furthermore attempted to explore the structure-generating function of metaphors by addressing specific interdisciplinary questions with different metaphorical views. Our definition of a metaphor emphasizes a multi-level process which transfers or translates structural elements from one notation system to another. Metaphors may uncover similarities specifically between far-domain areas, whereas analogies may rather expand existing categories by transferring similarities between near-domain areas. Metaphors may then exert epistemic functions when they explain an issue in a new way, thereby enabling a new research approach and a new description of reality. This often correlates with the introduction of new hypothetic entities such as 'dark matter' in the field of astrophysics. Testing the structure-generating, epistemic functions of metaphors experimentally occurred to be difficult in the theoretical context of this workshop. It may be more fruitful to attempt the same experiment in the context of an (interdisciplinary) research group working on a specific problem.
Benjamin Angerer (Osnabrück, GER), Aura Heydenreich (Erlangen, GER), Meinard Kuhlmann (Mainz, GER), Klaus Mecke (Erlangen, GER), Jutta Müller (Osnabrück, GER), Alexander Salle (Osnabrück, GER), Peter-Maximilian Schmidt (Zürich, SUI), Ursula Seeger (Berlin, GER)