Nautilus

Why “Natural Selection” Became Darwin’s Fittest Metaphor

Some metaphors end up forgotten by all but the most dedicated historians, while others lead long, productive lives. It’s only a select few, though, that become so entwined with how we understand the world that we barely even recognize them as metaphors, seeing them instead as something real. Of course, why some fizzle and others flourish can be tricky to account for, but their career in science provides some clues.

Metaphors, as we all by now know, aren’t just ornamental linguistic flourishes—they’re basic building blocks of everyday reasoning. And they’re at their most potent when they recast a difficult-to-understand phenomenon as something familiar: The brain becomes a computer; the atom, a tiny solar system; space-time, a fabric. Metaphors that tap into something familiar are the ones that generally gain traction. 

Charles Darwin gave us both

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus6 min readPsychology
Why Did Witch Hunts Go Viral?
It’s hard to make sense of witch hunts. Many people of early modern Europe and colonial America seemed to have genuinely believed that witches posed a serious threat. But if witch trials—like the ones in Salem, Massachusetts, and in European communit
Nautilus5 min read
Physicists Peer Inside a Fireball of Quantum Matter
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. A gold wedding band will melt at around 1,000 degrees Celsius and vaporize at about 2,800 degrees, but these changes are just the beginning of what can happen to matter. Crank up the
Nautilus12 min read
The Flawed Reasoning Behind the Replication Crisis: It’s time to change the way uncertainty is quantified.
Here are three versions of the same story: 1. In the fall of 1996, Sally Clark, an English solicitor in Manchester, gave birth to an apparently healthy baby boy who died suddenly when he was 11 weeks old. She was still recovering from the traumatic i