Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Preferata! Good or bad poetic science?

While reading Dawkins' Unweaving The Rainbow I've been thinking about the distinction between literal and metaphorical description with respect to philosophy and science. The dictionary definitions of the words basically state that literal description gets at the "essential or genuine character of something" whereas metaphorical description is where "a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another." It seems to me that the way science sometimes claims to be providing literal descriptions is by inventing new words - by spinning out something from a more familiar term for similar observed or hypothetical phenomena (e.g. gluon* for the force that sticks quarks together), often by taking or amending a (sometimes quasi-) latin synonym (e.g. gravitas, latin for heavy) for what they are describing - thus avoiding the charge of metaphor.

So perhaps I could do the same and invent a word for describing how subatomic particles, chemicals, cells, animals, people, institutions, and everything else we can think of appear to express preferences in their observable behaviour and are in fact definable by the range of preferences they can express and the probability of them expressing them. I could call the smallest unit of anything a preferatum (plural: preferata) and explain their existence and behaviour as being a particular mode of preferation. So, for example, with a sufficiently serious look on my face I could say that it is not that there are electrons which can be said to express preferences but that electrons are in fact a species of inorganic preferata and that experimental data are in fact a record of the preferation from which the existence of electrons is inferred.


A hypothetical massless, neutral elementary particle believed to mediate the strong interaction that binds quarks together.

[glu(e) + -on1.]

: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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