analogies in cosmology/physics...

Scientists often use analogies when trying to further the publics understanding of their subject. The problem is these analogies can lead to more confusion, rather than understanding…
Physical reality can be near perfectly described in the language of mathematics; it cannot be so perfectly described by our everyday, spoken language. When we try to describe a theory in terms of an analogy (the ‘balloon analogy’ used to describe the expansion of the universe, for example) it, more often than not, confounds the understanding of the ordinary ‘man-in-the-street’.

Im not saying that the use of analogies should be abandoned altogether; but that when scientists use such analogies, they should make it clear to their readers that these concepts cannot be well understood outside of the language of mathematics, and that this is merely an attempt to put mathematical concepts into spoken language.

Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this…

It’s not just for the man in the street they use these analogies. They use them themselves. These are a part of or one way of describing various models, including ‘physical’, which they use to help themselves understand, to help them determine what later research might be productive (and further confirm their model) and more. They can’t just publish mathematical papers. Their abstracts and the main bodies of their research are going to contain analogies. Of course they are also generating language. This doesn’t evade the problems around analogies, but it is not just that they use everyday language and models to describe what they find.

I agree, however that this area is problematic. At the same time I see it as inevitable. It is part of how we think. You can see this from the parts of the brain that developed into language centers and what they did before. The main problem is that scientists often think their language is metaphysics free and contains no analogies.

Dan, I think this is the kind of stuff that’s behind phrases like, “the god particle”, or “cigarettes are bad for you”.

This makes sense, it does seem to be the way our minds work.

Certainly God particle is silly. But it needs to be pointed out that ‘particle’ is already an analogy with sub-atomic entities and even more so with something like Higgs Bosons, which, I Believe, can be more than one in the same Place at the same time. A particle of dust is not simply bigger.