Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reanimating Nature

As I was reading Steven Shapin's wonderful little book 'The Scientific Revolution,' and thinking about psychotherapy I came upon the following paragraph [p37]: "It must, however, be pointed out that there is nothing, so to speak, 'in the nature' of machines to prevent them from being regarded as mysterious, and a strand of thought going back to the Hellenistic period accounted machines something more than the sum of their material parts. Boyle, for example, wrote about the cultural variability of the appreciations of machinery. He related a --probably apocryphal-- story about the Jesuits "that are said to have presented the first watch to the king of China, who took it to be a living creature." Boyle himself accepted the adequacy of an account wholly in terms of "shape, size, motion &c. of the spring-wheels, balance and other parts of the watch," while recognizing that he "could not have brought an argument to convince the Chinese monarchs, that it was not endowed with life." A mechanical metaphor for nature meant, as all metaphors accepted as legitimate do, that our understanding of both terms changes their juxtaposition. The rightness of a metaphor is not subject to proof."
As someone who sees psychotherapy as fundamentally about trying to persuade people that they are not machines, but living creatures, this little story had great resonance. I realized that psychotherapy aims to reanimate nature, through whatever metaphors are at hand.

No comments:

Post a Comment