Saturday, February 23, 2008

Metaphors and Equations

I watched a program the other day about Einstein's equation e=mc2. Einstein captured the nature of the relationship between energy and matter in the simplest possible way. The equation was a remarkable success, of course, but Einstein felt true grief and guilt when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. If only he'd never mentioned the equation and its potential to FDR. The equation opens a path to utter destruction within the tiniest sliver of matter.

Only after Einstein's death did thinkers really plumb the depths of the reverse side of the equation. Energy can be transformed into matter. This led to the Big Bang theory. Utter creation and utter destruction on opposite sides of an equal sign. Equations are reversible.

Equations are also metaphors. Einstein's genius was to find a relationship that defined the world in ways no one had really even conceived of previously. One equation changed how we thought about the universe -- about what it even was. Einstein didn't invent e=mc2. He named it, and in naming there is power.

Many of us are a little hazy on what exactly a metaphor is. We learned something about how "my love is like a rose" is a metaphor in high school English. Or was it a simile, or are similes metaphors? It's why most people stay away from the pink spaces in Trivial Pursuit.

Metaphors are equations. They take chaos and turn it into knowledge. There's nothing hazy or high-falutin' about them. And they work by shifting energy and meaning back and forth. The writer writes the equation into the script. The audience reverses the equation, and finds where the author started. A metaphor isn't a flower, or a dream, or a feather. A metaphor is your engine block, your transmission. It's how a little pressing of the foot against a pedal moves the car forward.

Metaphor is all around us. The War on Terror was all about creating a metaphor that fed power to the Bush administration. When those metaphors started falling apart, you get where we are now. Barack Obama is building a metaphor. Hillary Clinton is building a different metaphor. John McCain is trying to rebuild the old metaphor.

A writer is lucky in that they do understand the power a metaphor has. They do understand that a metaphor can suck a viewer in and get them identifying with a rat chasing an empty potato chip bag. Most people never really think about it. A metaphor is the thing they can't remember from high school.

Metaphors are equations that move power and meaning from one person to many. And a good writer knows they're reversible as any equation. Think about how you see the world. Metaphors are real, and they're all around us. The good news is that we can write new ones ourselves.

1 comment:

Darren K. Brooks said...

I love this post, and I would very much like to quote a paragraph or two from it (along with a link back to your post, of course). Would you be alright with that?