Biology’s Shameful Refusal to Disown the Machine-Organism

Stephen L. Talbott, Clive on Learning, Apr 27, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The metaphors we live by shape the expectations we have. But if the metaphor is inappropriate, so are our expectations. Such is the case with the 'body as machine' metaphor, writes Steven Talbott in this excellent essay. Take even something so simple as the 'heart as pump' metaphor. It conjures a single engine pushing blood through a system of pipes. But most circulatory fluid is outside the popes and the whole body contributes to circulation, a process that resembles tidal ebb and flow more than movement through a pipe. In the same way, I would argue, the 'mind as computer' metaphor is equally misleading, representing cognition as a set of individual data stores, when in fact even a simple concept like 'Paris' is more like a wave of interconnected neural activations, an activation that takes place in the very same body of water as the next wave (which may be 'plaster' or 'France' or 'Hilton' or whatever).

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