In defense of metaphor

mon23jul2007—30w204d55%— 20h47m00s—0utc

Not, of course, that it needs any. But if you insist on one, what better answer than to let metaphor defend itself?

Some people (me among them) are often accused of Mixing Metapors. This is supposed to be a bad thing. I’ll admit it can be a bit confusing, but I really think it’s our only hope. The more different views you have of something — and the more different the views are — the more hope you have of understanding what the thing is really like. Of perceiving some aspect of its reality that isn’t apparent in any of the individual views.

The best metaphor I know of to explain this is the phenomenon of binocular vision WP, or stereo sound. WP We have two eyes and two ears, even though each one of them works fine alone. The other one isn’t just a spare, though, because using them in parallel provides information about what is being perceived that isn’t carried in either of the separate images. We perceive depth in visual or aural signals precisely to the degree we use separate, different signals and succeed in integrating them into a single percept.

This beautiful excerpt from John M. Lawler’s great essay on the use of metaphors in understanding and explaining computers, Metaphors We Compute By. Required interface design reading.

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