The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Three Harmful Metaphors the Scientific Revolution Bequeathed Us

Religious and philosophical conceptions of how humanity interacted with nature very likely influenced the perceptions of most European people for almost 2,000 years from the 5th century BCE onward. Then, in the 16th and 17th centuries CE powerful and compelling new discoveries and insights loosened humanity’s connection with nature irredeemably. The Scientific Revolution served to firmly infuse three long-lasting metaphors within human consciousness:

  1. Nature as a machine,
  2. Nature to be tamed and conquered,
  3. Homo sapiens exceptionalism.

In 1605 the German astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler, wrote to a friend stating that his aim was to show that the ‘celestial machine (can be) likened to clockwork.’ The implication is obvious. There is no life, no animation, no essence, in a machine that runs like clockwork. Robert Boyle, the Irish chemist and physicist, took up this refrain later that century stating that, ‘The world is like a rare clock.’1

By characterising nature as a machine, the early pioneers of the Scientific Revolution stripped away any mystery, wonder and vitality from nature. The door was opened to enable people to tinker (as might a clockmaker) with nature.

Moreso, the machine characterisation led inevitably to the second metaphor – that nature was to be tamed and conquered. For, if nature was nothing but a machine, then any relic of a wildness trait had to be purged.

For at least one of the major scientists of the time – Francis Bacon – his imagery was violent and contained disturbing sexual innuendo. Bacon genderised nature as female, but not in the wholesome manner of earlier personifications. The scientific method for him was to discover ‘the secrets still locked in (her) bosom… (so that) she can be forced out of her natural state and squeezed and molded.’

Bacon was vehement in his desire to conquer nature. He exhorted his fellow scientists, and indeed humanity generally, to ‘storm and occupy her castles and strongholds and extend the bounds of the human empire.’

Descartes was enamoured by Bacon’s crusade and asserted that science could ‘render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature.’ Bacon and Descartes were not the only ones to promote the metaphor of conquest and domination; others wrote of ‘commanding her’ and putting it (nature) on the rack.’

It is little wonder then, with our westernised exaltation of the Scientific Revolution, that nature today continues to be exploited, dominated, and treated with disdain.

The third metaphor – human exceptionalism – is not a metaphor that has its origins in the Scientific Revolution; however, it does find a novel expression in the scientific method.

Human exceptionalism – the notion that humans are different from, and superior to, all other life forms – can be found in early scriptural writings and monotheism. The human right to dominion over all other beings goes back to the Biblical story of creation. What science offered the notion of human exceptionalism came as a result of discoveries in evolution. The Theory of Evolution arose not during the classic period of the Scientific Revolution (the 16th and 17th centuries CE) but during the 19th century CE. It did however, owe its instigation to the scientific method developed during the Scientific Revolution. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (published in 1859) was promoted by the German naturalist Ernst Haeckel as the tree of life in his 1879 publication The Evolution of Man. Haeckel’s depiction of evolution as a tree placed humankind at the apex of the tree, suggesting that humanity was the inevitable and only possible outcome for evolution. This depiction still has favour today, with humanity’s superiority being at least tacitly assumed.

Thus, although the Theory of Evolution dislodged creationism as the process by which life on Earth has been formed, it did not (until very recently) dislocate humanity from our place of primacy in the scheme of things.

Human exceptionalism has come to be described today as anthropocentrism and is viewed by many as the major obstacle to a more environmentally friendly attitude towards the Earth. Indeed, many environmental thinkers and activists have suggested that we are in a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene.2 The Anthropocene describes the epoch in which human activity significantly impacts the geology and ecosystems of the planet.

Although we do not go about our daily lives thinking of the world as a machine, or that we must conquer nature, and assert our place of superiority, these three metaphors continue to influence our behaviour and beliefs at a subconscious level, both individually and collectively.

To that end, they are threatening and harmful.


1. All citations in this section from Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct, Prometheus Books, Lanham, Maryland, 2017.

2. In July 2022 the International Union of Geological Sciences officially approved the term.

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