Metaphors

These days researchers are obsessed with making models as an aid to understanding reality. But there is a danger here in that in concentrating on the models the actual living world around us is lost sight of. And the same can be said regarding the metaphors that are in frequent use. How true to reality is the mind picture evoked by the metaphor.

Kantian naturalist linked to a paper by Daniel J. Nicholson, titled “Is the cell really a machine?” here

This paper “argues that a new theoretical understanding of the cell is emerging from the study of these phenomena which emphasizes the dynamic, self-organizing nature of its constitution, the fluidity and plasticity of its components, and the stochasticity and non-linearity of its underlying processes.”


This increasingly accurate view demonstrates how misleading the machine metaphor is. Inventors and engineers are trying to build machines that are more like living systems but we are still a long way off from achieving this goal. Machines fall very far short of living systems.

A metaphor, as well as for its poetic use, can be used when an entity that is hard to describe is better understood in terms of an entity that can be much more clearly defined. But as our knowledge of these living systems becomes more detailed then the machine metaphor loses its usefulness and constrains our thinking.


Why call these dynamic complexes within cells “nano machines” when a more realistic term would be “nano beings”. They do not behave and function like dead machines with their levers, struts, braces, containers and clamping devices. They are living tissues and living beings, going through their own life cycles and functioning in ways reminiscent of higher animals such as insect colonies, or of growing vegetation. Their nature and activity is more like that of the animals and plants of our everyday sense world than that of human made machines.


We are at a stage of our evolution where we have become detached from the natural world. As Owen Barfield puts it, we have moved from the ancient position of being within nature, participating in the natural world along with the creatures around us, to the detached position of onlookers. In “Saving the Appearances” he relates the way we are after this transition:

For the generality of men, participation was dead; the only link with the phenomena was through the senses; and they could no longer conceive of any manner in which either growth itself or the metamorphoses of individual and special growth, could be determined from within. The appearances were idols. They had no “within.” Therefore the evolution which had produced them could only be conceived mechanomorphically as a series of impacts of idols on other idols.

The machine metaphor became dominant and it turned into a form of idolitry when it was taken literally and it still is being taken literally. It’s time to move beyond this way of thinking.

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76 thoughts on “Metaphors

  1. CharlieM: If you understood my constant reference to the example of buttercup leaves you would know where I stand on UCD.

    I freely confess that I do not understand what your buttercup leaves are telling us about the chronology of modifications to the archetype, or about the genealogical relationships between extant life forms.

    CharlieM: I would have thought it obvious that direct evidence is superior to making inferences.

    This would have sounded more convincing, if you hadn’t just lectured me about buttercup leaves.

    CharlieM: it’s only conjecture.

    Some of that “conjecture” has acquired a lot of support, and has become broadly accepted. Endosymbiotic theory is currently uncontroversial.

    CharlieM: Eukaryotes have always been subject to change the same as everything else.

    Then why doubt that they have evolved from more primitive ancestors?

    CharlieM: Proteins are unique to living systems and so must be regarded as life forms.

    I have no interest in rehashing our previous discussion. You are free to redefine life to include individual proteins, but that will remain your idiosyncratic interpretation.

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  2. CharlieM: We have to look at the whole picture, or should I say, process. “Picture” here being a pretty poor metaphor. “Picture” is more to do with seeing with the eyes whereas “process” is more to do with seeing with the mind.

    You often say things like this and it always baffles me as to why this seems so obvious to you. It seems to me that “picture” is a very bad metaphor for sense-perception, and that what we perceive is process.

    One key respect in which your assumptions are leading you astray is by noticing that you always talk about the eyes whenever you talk about sense-perception. But why are they are good such examples?

    I think that if you paid equal attention to sounds, smells, touches, etc., it would be much harder for you to deny the fundamentally temporal nature of sense-perception.

    And once we have a clear understanding that sense-perception is itself temporal and dynamic, and not static at all, you will see that the role of the intellect must also be reconsidered.

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  3. Corneel:

    CharlieM: Can you give us some examples where these truly novel phenotypes have been demonstrated to have been the result of natural selection?

    If you accept examples from artificial selection, that makes it rather easy (the concept is the same in natural selection). The idea is that you can create phenotypes that did not exist previously by selectively breeding individuals with an association of desired alleles, e.g. the ears of modern maize as compared to teosinthe. Part of that will have been fueled by new mutations, but quantitative genetics shows that you can get a long way using standing genetic variation as well.

    Picture from this site, where, in a completely coincidence, the same point is being made. 😀

    This shows the plasticity within the type. The variety within type that plants and animals are capable of expressing and from which natural or artificial selection can actually select. There is infinite variety within a type in the same way that there is a infinity of points on a line. Goethe spoke about this variety.

    From Goethean Science

    On July 9, 1786, he writes to Frau von Stein: “It is a becoming aware the … form with which nature is always only playing, as it were, and in playing brings forth its manifold life.” Now the most important thing of all was to develop this lasting, this constant element this archetypal form with which nature, as it were, plays — to develop it in detail into a plastic configuration. In order to do this, one needed an opportunity to separate what is truly constant and enduring in the form of plants from what is changing and inconstant. For observations of this kind, Goethe had as yet explored too small an area. He had to observe one and the same plant under different conditions and influences; for only through this does the changeable element really become visible. In plants of different kinds this changeable element is less obvious. The journey to Italy that Goethe had undertaken from Karlsbad on September 3 and that gave him such happiness brought him all this. He made many observations already with respect to the flora of the Alps. He found here not merely new plants that he had never seen before, but also plants he knew already, but changed. “Whereas in lower-lying regions, branches and stems were stronger and thicker, the buds closer to each other, and the leaves broad, highest in the mountains, branches and stems became more delicate, the buds moved farther apart so that there was more space between nodes, and the leaves were more lance-shaped. I noticed this in a willow and in a gentian, and convinced myself that it was not because of different species, for example. Also, near the Walchensee I noticed longer and more slender rushes than in the lowlands.” [ 12 ] Similar observations occurred repeatedly. By the sea near Venice, he discovers different plants that reveal characteristics that only the old salt of the sandy ground, but even more the salty air, could have given them. He found a plant there that looked to him like “our innocent coltsfoot, but here it was armed with sharp weapons, and the leaf was like leather, as were the seedpods and the stems also; everything was thick and fat.” [ 13 ] Goethe there regarded all the outer characteristics of the plant, everything belonging to the visible aspect of the plant, as inconstant, as changing. From this he drew the conclusion that the essential being of the plant, therefore, does not lie in these characteristics, but rather must be sought at deeper levels. It was from observations similar to these of Goethe that Darwin also proceeded when he asserted his doubts about the constancy of the outer forms of genera and species. But the conclusions drawn by the two men are utterly different. Whereas Darwin believes the essential being of the organism to consist in fact only of these outer characteristics, and, from their changeability draws the conclusion that there is therefore nothing constant in the life of the plants, Goethe goes deeper and draws the conclusion that if those outer characteristics are not constant, then the constant element must be sought in something else that underlies those changeable outer aspects. It becomes Goethe’s goal to develop this something else, whereas Darwin’s efforts go in the direction of exploring and presenting the specific causes of that changeability. Both ways of looking at things are necessary and complement one another. It is completely erroneous to believe that Goethe’s greatness in organic science is to be found in the view that he was a mere forerunner of Darwin. Goethe’s way of looking at things is far broader; it comprises two aspects: 1. the typus, i.e., the lawfulness manifesting in the organism, the animalness of the animal, the life that gives form to itself out of itself, that has the power and ability — through the possibilities lying within it — to develop itself in manifold outer shapes (species, genera); 2. the interaction of the organism with inorganic nature and of the organisms with each other (adaptation and the struggle for existence). Darwin developed only the latter aspect of organic science. One cannot therefore say that Darwin’s theory is the elaboration of Goethe’s basic ideas, but rather that it is merely the elaboration of one aspect of his ideas. Darwin’s theory looks only at those facts that cause the world of living beings to evolve in a certain way, but does not look at that “something” upon which those facts act determinatively. If only the one aspect is pursued, then it can also not lead to any complete theory of organisms; essentially, this must be pursued in the spirit of Goethe; the one aspect must be complemented and deepened by the other aspect of his theory.

    There is an infinite variety even within each individual. A human is at one time a single celled organism, another an undifferentiated, multi-cellular organism, and yet another a bipedal, air breathing mammal, and all the stages in between.

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  4. CharlieM: This shows the plasticity within the type. The variety within type that plants and animals are capable of expressing and from which natural or artificial selection can actually select. There is infinite variety within a type in the same way that there is a infinity of points on a line.

    No, it’s not plasticity, because once the genetic variation is exhausted, the population is stuck with the current phenotype (barring phenotypic plasticity). No further change is possible until mutation introduces new alleles. It’s not the archetype that limits the type variation, but genetics.

    This discussion resembles the one we had with Nonlin in the cannibalistic tadpole thread. (S)He also maintained that selection could not push a population beyond what plasticity within kinds allowed. So please enlighten me, what mysterious force would constrain a population within the boundaries of the archetype. What prevents populations from stepping on a point outside of the line, if you wish?

    CharlieM cites from the Rudolf Steiner Archive: Now the most important thing of all was to develop this lasting, this constant element this archetypal form with which nature, as it were, plays — to develop it in detail into a plastic configuration. In order to do this, one needed an opportunity to separate what is truly constant and enduring in the form of plants from what is changing and inconstant.

    So what is this constant element? We already spoke of the unity of all eukaryotes, so let’s agree that Goethe was wrong about “plantness” and “animalness” being constant elements. You seem to insist on “eukaryoteness” but why not take the last step and admit there are no constant elements, no archetypes, in nature at all?

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  5. Corneel:

    CharlieM: If you understood my constant reference to the example of buttercup leaves you would know where I stand on UCD.

    I freely confess that I do not understand what your buttercup leaves are telling us about the chronology of modifications to the archetype, or about the genealogical relationships between extant life forms.

    For a start they are not modifications to the archetype, they are individualised expressions of the archetype. The archetype is not a static form. Of all the forms that lie within it, it encompasses all the visible forms and all the potential forms in between that do not come to physical expression.

    CharlieM: I would have thought it obvious that direct evidence is superior to making inferences.

    This would have sounded more convincing, if you hadn’t just lectured me about buttercup leaves.

    So you are not convinced? You think that inferences can be superior to direct evidence? Can you give me an example where that is the case?

    CharlieM: it’s only conjecture.

    Some of that “conjecture” has acquired a lot of support, and has become broadly accepted. Endosymbiotic theory is currently uncontroversial.

    We need only look at the history of broadly accepted beliefs to see that these have a habit of being overturned over time.

    CharlieM: Eukaryotes have always been subject to change the same as everything else.

    Then why doubt that they have evolved from more primitive ancestors?

    More primitive gives the impression of less complexity. I prefer the term more primeval. The question of whether or not the ancestors are less or more complex than the descendants is left open.

    CharlieM: Proteins are unique to living systems and so must be regarded as life forms.

    I have no interest in rehashing our previous discussion. You are free to redefine life to include individual proteins, but that will remain your idiosyncratic interpretation.

    Proteins originate within the domain of the living and nowhere else. This is a fact not a redefinition.

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  6. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: We have to look at the whole picture, or should I say, process. “Picture” here being a pretty poor metaphor. “Picture” is more to do with seeing with the eyes whereas “process” is more to do with seeing with the mind.

    You often say things like this and it always baffles me as to why this seems so obvious to you. It seems to me that “picture” is a very bad metaphor for sense-perception, and that what we perceive is process.

    One key respect in which your assumptions are leading you astray is by noticing that you always talk about the eyes whenever you talk about sense-perception. But why are they are good such examples?

    We were discussing the activities of protein complexes within cells which we cannot sense directly with any of the 5 senses. But we can see them with visual aids or see representations of them in picture form. I don’t know of anyone who describes them in terms of hearing, smell, touch or taste; so the best way to learn about these things is through the medium of sight.

    I think that if you paid equal attention to sounds, smells, touches, etc., it would be much harder for you to deny the fundamentally temporal nature of sense-perception.

    And once we have a clear understanding that sense-perception is itself temporal and dynamic, and not static at all, you will see that the role of the intellect must also be reconsidered.

    I do not deny that we are activity engaged in sense perception. It is never pure seeing, touching, smelling, tasting or hearing that we experience. And that is the point, sensing alone does not give us full reality. I can see sheep copulating and several months later I can see lambs being born, but I do not make the connection through my senses alone. Under normal circumstances I do not sense awareness of the processes in between the two events. In order to know the connection thinking must take place.

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  7. Corneel:

    CharlieM: This shows the plasticity within the type. The variety within type that plants and animals are capable of expressing and from which natural or artificial selection can actually select. There is infinite variety within a type in the same way that there is a infinity of points on a line.

    No, it’s not plasticity, because once the genetic variation is exhausted, the population is stuck with the current phenotype (barring phenotypic plasticity). No further change is possible until mutation introduces new alleles. It’s not the archetype that limits the type variation, but genetics.

    Does genetic variation ever become exhausted in sexually reproducing organisms?

    Genetics is just one limiting factor among many. Genes code for chains of amino acids. But variety is obtained by the way that these chains can be manipulated.

    From the book Anthroposophy and Science, An Indroduction by Peter Heusser:

    In terms of quantity for example it has been shown that the maximum available amount of information in the human being would not he adequate to explain something like the complexity of the neural networks in the central nervous system; this also applies to information networks in other systems such as e.g. the immune system {Stent, 1981; Kauffmann, 1995]. But also in qualitative terms the information coded by the DNA only provides part of the total information in the organism. What exactly is the information coded by the DNA in qualitative terms, i.e. what is its content? Simply expressed, it is “the genetic potential of an organism carried in the base sequence of its DNA [.. .] according to the genetic code” (Oxford University Press, 2014}. More precisely it is the lawfulness of the primary protein structure, i.e. the ordering principle for the beginning, sequence and end of the amino acids in the amino acid chain of the primary protein strand, corresponding to the base triplets in the DNA associated with these amino acids. What this information does not contain is the laws for the structural instructions, i.e. for the sequence of the basic building blocks of other carbohydrate and fatty macromolecules and also the structural instructions for higher-level structures, shapes, arrangements and functions of the cell organelles, cells, organs and organ systems and for their complex relationships and coordination in the whole organism…

    This discussion resembles the one we had with Nonlin in the cannibalistic tadpole thread. (S)He also maintained that selection could not push a population beyond what plasticity within kinds allowed. So please enlighten me, what mysterious force would constrain a population within the boundaries of the archetype. What prevents populations from stepping on a point outside of the line, if you wish?

    What do we observe from artificial selection? The breeding of domestic animals has produced a wide variety of forms. Dogs from chihuahuas to whippets to St. Bernards. But all recognised to be dogs. There are limits within kinds. Can these animals eventually produce descendants that from our current understanding we would not recognise as being within the kind? Perhaps? But will this happen via genetics alone? This has still to be demonstrated. In other words it is simply a belief.

    CharlieM cites from the Rudolf Steiner Archive: Now the most important thing of all was to develop this lasting, this constant element this archetypal form with which nature, as it were, plays — to develop it in detail into a plastic configuration. In order to do this, one needed an opportunity to separate what is truly constant and enduring in the form of plants from what is changing and inconstant.

    So what is this constant element? We already spoke of the unity of all eukaryotes, so let’s agree that Goethe was wrong about “plantness” and “animalness” being constant elements. You seem to insist on “eukaryoteness” but why not take the last step and admit there are no constant elements, no archetypes, in nature at all?

    I think you are confusing constant with static. The constant elements are the laws of the type. For instance the laws of expansion and contraction of plants. It is that which through observation we recognise the being in front of us as belonging within the type.

    The archetypal plant and the animal typorum have in common that they are all forms of life.

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  8. From the book Anthroposophy and Science, An Indroduction by Peter Heusser which I linked to above, he writes about the metaphors used to describe living processes:

    …gene replication, gene expression and morphogenesis are complex events which, beyond enabling individual molecules or functions, also have an effect on the enzymatically assisted self-organisation of higher-order molecular, organelle. cell and organ structures and functions, in short, on the organism and in fact “as the result of a highly orchestrated dynamic process requiring the participation of a large number of enzymes organized into complex metabolic networks“ (Fox Keller, 2000, 31, ePH).

    Orchestration, however, is synonymous with active determination of the orchestrated parts — in this case the regulatory enzymes — by the whole, i.e. by the lawful unity and organisation of these enzymes and their functions respectively, These enzymes are of course themselves the result of the orchestrated dynamic processes, even though at a preceding ontogenetic stage of development. The cause of the orchestration is therefore not the cascades of regulatory proteins but their “conductor”, as it were, i-e. that active entity which — in a top-down process — gives all the individual “instruments” their entry in accordance with the “symphony” of the whole, to take the metaphor of orchestration to its conclusion. If we dispense with the anthropomorphism in the comparison and hence with the “conductor” (cf. Section 4.4), then it is the coordinating or orchestrating law itself, the symphonic structure, which comes about through self-organisation in its instruments and in unity with them.

    And the symphony does not reside in the genes. As already described, this organisation involves mutually dependent proteins and nucleic acids (DNA/RNA). The protein is a product of the gene and the gene in its way is a product of the protein. Both are polar elements of a higher organisation of which they are themselves incorporated as parts. So, as already explained above, the DNA can never contain all the information in the organism, a view also expounded by Richard Strohman who, when referring to this, speaks of a “coming revolution in biology” {Strohman, 1997, 195}:

    There is growing recognition that information for function may not be located solely in genomic databases. That is, it is becoming clear that sequence information in DNA, by itself, contains insufficient information for determining how gene products [proteins] interact to produce a mechanism of any kind. The reason is that the multicomponent complexes constructed from many proteins are themselves machines with rules of their own; rules not written in DNA

    As shown above, the DNA only encodes sections of the primary structure of proteins and they contain their own organisational laws (in the state of universalia in re).

    Here he uses metaphors related to the orchestration and performance of music, which fits well with processes that have been observed in cells. Of course he quotes Richard Strohman who uses the machine metaphor, but further on he makes his thoughts clear:

    Organism or Mechanism:

    It is of course very unusual to explain the order in a living organism by the active idea which underlies it and which organises its parts in the process of self-organisation. We are accustomed to think of this organisation as the result of causal interactions in the molecules. The organism is therefore ultimately viewed as a kind of complex biological machinery and it is hoped that a full elucidation of the molecular biological interactions will provide a causal explanation of its order.

    But this hope turns out riot to accord with reality. Let us for a moment consider the organism logically as a mechanism or machine. Can a machine be causally explained in fall by the interaction of its parts? – No, because the plan, the design, according to which the parts of a machine are arranged is never a result of their interaction, but the interaction of the machine parts always requires that the parts have first been arranged according to this plan. And this takes place as a result of forces which do not arise from the parts, but are imposed on them in order to give them their logical place in the whole of the machine.

    The full causal explanation of a machine therefore requires two hierarchically arranged systems of efficient causes: 1. the system of forces which makes the plan into a reality. This is superior to the parts and their Forces because it compels them to occupy their place; 2. the system of forces which brings about the function, the interaction of these parts. This can never give rise to the plan and its system of forces which puts the plan into action.

    A logical definition of the organism as a mechanism therefore results in the need for two different, hierarchically arranged systems of forces to fully explain the life processes. However, there are two points in which the organism differs significantly from a mechanism. First, the organism is autopoietic, it always creates itself, whereas the machine never creates itself but is built by a design engineer or by other machines which are in turn built by an external something or someone else. Therefore, the organism itself must contain what in the case of the machine always has to be brought into it from outside by the engineer: the design and the forces which put this into practice. And because in the organism these forces implement the design directly without the intervention of an engineer, design (idea, law) and force must be a unity: a lawfully acting force or a force-bearing law.

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  9. CharlieM: For a start they are not modifications to the archetype, they are individualised expressions of the archetype. The archetype is not a static form. Of all the forms that lie within it, it encompasses all the visible forms and all the potential forms in between that do not come to physical expression.

    Changing the words doesn’t help. There is a chronology to the “expressions” in the fossil record, and these tend to converge as we trace them back in time. I do not understand how that follows from your buttercup leaves.

    CharlieM: So you are not convinced? You think that inferences can be superior to direct evidence?

    I was trying to make the point that your buttercup leaves do not qualify as direct evidence either. Neither do fossils by the way; they are casts or mineralized replacements of once-living things. We still need to infer what they were like when alive.

    CharlieM: We need only look at the history of broadly accepted beliefs to see that these have a habit of being overturned over time.

    … like most of Goethean science, i suppose. Still, you seem to be more reluctant to let go of ideas from the scrapheap of history than of well-supported modern theory.

    CharlieM: More primitive gives the impression of less complexity.

    In the context I was using it primitive means “ancestral”, not modern.

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  10. CharlieM: Does genetic variation ever become exhausted in sexually reproducing organisms?

    Yes, it does. Inbreeding and genetic drift in small populations tends to do that.

    CharlieM cites Peter Heusser: information coded by the DNA

    CharlieM: There are limits within kinds. Can these animals eventually produce descendants that from our current understanding we would not recognise as being within the kind? Perhaps? But will this happen via genetics alone? This has still to be demonstrated. In other words it is simply a belief.

    This is a bit disappointing. This talk about information, your attempt to equate established science with religious belief, and the good-old “they are still dogs” makes you sound just like our ID-creationist friends. No, it is not simply a belief. Phylogenetic analysis (among other things) tells us that all Carnivora, including dogs, wolves, hyenas and cats, evolved from a common ancestor. We now recognize different families, genera and species within that group. Hence, there is no magic barrier preventing species to evolve beyond our recognition of the group we currently assign them to.

    CharlieM: I think you are confusing constant with static. The constant elements are the laws of the type. For instance the laws of expansion and contraction of plants.

    Do you recognize a plant because you witness “the laws of expansion and contraction”? Sorry, but that sounds like utter nonsense.

    CharlieM: The archetypal plant and the animal typorum have in common that they are all forms of life.

    And that they are eukaryotes, remember? So what unites plants and animals in eukaryotes to the exclusion of bacteria and archaea? Any more laws, or will you be sticking with good-old-fashioned morphology this time?

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  11. CharlieM: the book Anthroposophy and Science, An Indroduction by Peter Heusser

    OK, so I looked up anthroposophical medicine and I found it deeply unsettling Please promise me that you will never ever forego conventional treatment for that nonsense.

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  12. Corneel, I’ll respond to what you have written in the last two posts after I’ve thought a bit more about what you have said. But meanwhile I’d like to thank you for your interaction with me here. I need to have something to push against without which I’m in danger of falling on my face, metaphorically speaking, . Your resistance is actually providing me with support. Disagreement is a vital part of the process of learning.

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  13. Corneel: OK, so I looked up anthroposophical medicine and I found it deeply unsettling Please promise me that you will never ever forego conventional treatment for that nonsense.

    I don’t have to spend much time thinking about.this comment.

    Only conventionally trained certified doctors are allowed to practice anthroposophical medicine. No anthroposophical practitioner would dream of foregoing conventional treatment. Each has its place. The point is to treat the patient as a fellow human being instead of only focusing in on the ailment with little regard for the person, and to provide the treatment or treatments that suit.

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  14. CharlieM: I’ll respond to what you have written in the last two posts after I’ve thought a bit more about what you have said.

    Sure, take your time.

    CharlieM: No anthroposophical practitioner would dream of foregoing conventional treatment. Each has its place.

    Good. Glad to hear it.

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  15. Corneel:

    CharlieM: For a start they are not modifications to the archetype, they are individualised expressions of the archetype. The archetype is not a static form. Of all the forms that lie within it, it encompasses all the visible forms and all the potential forms in between that do not come to physical expression.

    Changing the words doesn’t help. There is a chronology to the “expressions” in the fossil record, and these tend to converge as we trace them back in time. I do not understand how that follows from your buttercup leaves.

    There is indeed a chronology in the fossil record. Taking humans as an example look at the record from the ancient fish-like creatures up to the appearance of primates. There is a sequence of related forms from aquatic. terrestrial, quadrupedal and on to bipedal with the oldest rocks containing only the aquatic forms and the most recent rocks containing everything including primates..

    We also see a chronological sequence of related leaf forms in a growing buttercup plant. But the form of the later leaves in the sequence are not determined by those that came before. The form of a leaf is determined by its position (both temporal and spacial) within the whole. The earlier leaves stop short in their development as it were.

    CharlieM: So you are not convinced? You think that inferences can be superior to direct evidence?

    I was trying to make the point that your buttercup leaves do not qualify as direct evidence either. Neither do fossils by the way; they are casts or mineralized replacements of once-living things. We still need to infer what they were like when alive.

    They are direct evidence of what they are. Their forms can be directly observed. Are you saying that the form of a humerus or a flight feather cannot be directly observed in the fossil of an archeopterix? The material composition changes but the form remains. This is reminiscent of what is constantly happening in our bodies. In fact, the tissue of the skeleton is replaced many times during life. You are focused on the material and ignoring the form.

    CharlieM: We need only look at the history of broadly accepted beliefs to see that these have a habit of being overturned over time.

    … like most of Goethean science, i suppose. Still, you seem to be more reluctant to let go of ideas from the scrapheap of history than of well-supported modern theory.

    Beliefs change but the methods of scientific enquiry are practices that we should keep. Making careful observations and trying to understand what is being observed is not something we should change. As anthroposophical medical practices should be carried out in conjunction with conventional practices so too should the Goethean scientific method be carried out alongside modern natural science.

    CharlieM: More primitive gives the impression of less complexity.

    In the context I was using it primitive means “ancestral”, not modern.

    The way that words are taken don’t always match the intended meaning of the author.

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  16. CharlieM: We also see a chronological sequence of related leaf forms in a growing buttercup plant. But the form of the later leaves in the sequence are not determined by those that came before. The form of a leaf is determined by its position (both temporal and spacial) within the whole. The earlier leaves stop short in their development as it were.

    Not quite. The earliest leaves are cotyledons, which are themselves highly modified, unlike what we see in fossil succession.

    Am I correct that this scenario predicts no genealogical relationships whatsoever between the “individualised expressions” of a single archetype? Do you realize how strongly that is contradicted by phylogenetic studies?

    CharlieM: They are direct evidence of what they are. Their forms can be directly observed.

    Are they now? Please meet Hurdia victoria. Can you tell me to which archetype it belongs, please? [no peeking]

    Picture from here

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  17. CharlieM: Making careful observations and trying to understand what is being observed is not something we should change. As anthroposophical medical practices should be carried out in conjunction with conventional practices so too should the Goethean scientific method be carried out alongside modern natural science.

    I’d rather have it purged from medicine altogether.

    Steiner’s intuition that mistletoe might help treat cancer is based on the fact that, like cancer, mistletoe is a parasitic growth that eventually kills its host. Inspired by Hahnemann’s “like cures like” principle, he believed that an extract of mistletoe would cure cancer.

    […]

    Findings from in vitro studies suggest that mistletoe extract may enhance the proliferation of some cancers. In addition, some patients with cancer may use mistletoe as an alternative to conventional treatments for cancer, rather than just a complementary treatment.

    The claim frequently voiced by proponents of anthroposophic medicine—that mistletoe injections have no serious risks—is therefore misleading.

    Thus, mistletoe has been tested extensively as a treatment for cancer, but the most reliable randomised controlled trials fail to show benefit, and some reports show considerable potential for harm. The costs of regular mistletoe injections are high. I therefore recommend mistletoe as a Christmas decoration and for kissing under but not as an anticancer drug. At the risk of upsetting many proponents of alternative medicine, I also contend that intuition is no substitute for evidence.

    Ernst, BMJ 2006; 333:1282
    doi: 10.1136/bmj.39055.493958.80

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  18. Corneel: I’d rather have it purged from medicine altogether.

    It isnt medicine at all. There is evidence=based medicine which is, obviously based on evidence gleaned through screening processes designed to determine efficacy prior to approval for release to the masses. Outside of GRAS components, e.g., aspirin.

    Then there is so-called alternative medicine (sCAM) that is based on musing, testimonials, and anecdotes for numerous nostrums and factless belief systems. Demonstration of efficacy is the last thing on the minds of purveyors of such nonsense better just to believe the purported stories, true, real, or not.

    Followers of s-called alternative medicine, outside of the worried well, often fall victim to their own belief system. Where belief overides the reality of disease progression and lack of the nostrum being effective in treating the disease state. The decision is often fatal for the ‘true’ believers. Steve Jobs comes to mind but there are many examples to draw from.

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  19. Corneel:

    CharlieM: Does genetic variation ever become exhausted in sexually reproducing organisms?

    Yes, it does. Inbreeding and genetic drift in small populations tends to do that.

    Recombination during meiosis ensures that genetic variation is never completely exhausted no matter how insignificant the variation. The process that does ensure complete exhaustion is the death of the interbreeding group.

    CharlieM cites Peter Heusser: information coded by the DNA

    Yes, about that he said:

    What this information does not contain is the laws for the structural instructions, i.e. for the sequence of the basic building blocks of other carbohydrate and fatty macromolecules and also the structural instructions for higher-level structures, shapes, arrangements and functions of the cell organelles, cells, organs and organ systems and for their complex relationships and coordination in the whole organism…

    Do you have any evidence that contradicts what he writes above?

    CharlieM: There are limits within kinds. Can these animals eventually produce descendants that from our current understanding we would not recognise as being within the kind? Perhaps? But will this happen via genetics alone? This has still to be demonstrated. In other words it is simply a belief.

    This is a bit disappointing. This talk about information, your attempt to equate established science with religious belief, and the good-old “they are still dogs” makes you sound just like our ID-creationist friends. No, it is not simply a belief. Phylogenetic analysis (among other things) tells us that all Carnivora, including dogs, wolves, hyenas and cats, evolved from a common ancestor. We now recognize different families, genera and species within that group. Hence, there is no magic barrier preventing species to evolve beyond our recognition of the group we currently assign them to.

    I’m not saying that there is any magic barrier. We witness the transformation of one kind into another all the time in individuals. We see humans transforming from single celled organisms to multi-cellular mammals. We see voracious, crawling organisms transforming into delicate, flying insects. The life cycle of any animal is an example of this supposed barrier being overcome. The open question is, what is the cause of these transformations, both in individuals and in groups? Genetics plays a vital part, but genes are not the root cause of the transformations.

    CharlieM: I think you are confusing constant with static. The constant elements are the laws of the type. For instance the laws of expansion and contraction of plants.

    Do you recognize a plant because you witness “the laws of expansion and contraction”? Sorry, but that sounds like utter nonsense.

    No, I recognise the law through studying plants. When it comes to observing plants and animals, we recognise the general before we recognise the particular. My 5 year old granddaughter can recognise a tree if I point one out, but in most instances she wouldn’t be able to tell me the species. What in your opinion is it about plants that allows us to recognise them as such?

    CharlieM: The archetypal plant and the animal typorum have in common that they are all forms of life.

    And that they are eukaryotes, remember? So what unites plants and animals in eukaryotes to the exclusion of bacteria and archaea? Any more laws, or will you be sticking with good-old-fashioned morphology this time?

    Essentially all life is a unity. But within life there are differences that allow us to make distinctions. Bacteria and archaea are essentially single celled organisms.

    Plants and animals are also single celled organisms at some point in their life. so they have this in common with bacteria and archaea. Also an individual plant or animal is a unity composed of the combined functions of bacteria, archaea, and nucleated cells.

    Animals in addition to the foregoing have inner feelings and consciousness. And the higher animals can express these feelings in a way that others can have an understanding of those feelings.

    Humans have taken communication and understanding to an even higher level.

    Do you think that any other creatures would be able to make anything of metaphors or puns? Just contemplate what it takes for this level of understanding.

    “To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower”. If we understand this we can see how the whole is contained in the parts.

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  20. Corneel:

    CharlieM: We also see a chronological sequence of related leaf forms in a growing buttercup plant. But the form of the later leaves in the sequence are not determined by those that came before. The form of a leaf is determined by its position (both temporal and spacial) within the whole. The earlier leaves stop short in their development as it were.

    Not quite. The earliest leaves are cotyledons, which are themselves highly modified, unlike what we see in fossil succession.

    Cotyledons can be distinguished from true leaves. And creeping buttercups tend to root from runners and so there are no cotyledons involved in leaf formation here.

    Am I correct that this scenario predicts no genealogical relationships whatsoever between the “individualised expressions” of a single archetype? Do you realize how strongly that is contradicted by phylogenetic studies?

    It’s not a prediction, it’s an observation. But there are relationships. In an individual plant all the cells of the leaves have a common ancestor in the original seed. The form of an individual leaf however is dependent on how its environment constrains the expression of the archetypal form. The plant maintains a balance between outward earthly forces and inward cosmic forces.

    CharlieM: They are direct evidence of what they are. Their forms can be directly observed.

    Are they now? Please meet Hurdia victoria. Can you tell me to which archetype it belongs, please? [no peeking]

    Picture from here

    This is obviously a picture of an organic form. But you don’t seem to understand the archetype. Your question is more in line with a trivial quiz show than genuine scientific enquiry. It would be like showing a quiz contestant a picture of a famous person when they were a child and asking them to name that person.

    To answer the question about archetypes one would need to examine a form in detail, how it relates to other forms, its origin and historical development and anything else relevant to it. This is much easier with extant plants and animals which can be studied in life. Much harder when studying ancient dead life forms.

    Goethean science must include using conventional scientific practices. Constant detailed observation and analysis is a fundamental requirement.

    The relation of Hurdia victoria to archetypes cannot be gleaned from the one single image which you provided. But I think it would be safe to say that if I had the actual specimen in front of me I would recognise it directly as a fossil of some sort.

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  21. Corneel (regarding anthroposophical medicine): I’d rather have it purged from medicine altogether.

    How much research have you done to enable you to judge? Is there no situation in which you could see the benefit of using these practices alongside conventional practices?

    Here is an interview with a doctor which gives a positive impression of anthroposophical medicine just for balance. It’s up to you whether or not you watch it.

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  22. PeterP,

    How do you feel about integrative medical practices? All medical practices should be integrative not alternative. In many cases surgery is the best option and IMO any medical advice should stress this. If tumours can be successfully removed surgically then I would say that in most cases this should be the first action in any treatment geared towards curing cancer.

    I would be wary of anyone why told me to ignore my GP or any NHS specialist.

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  23. CharlieM: I would be wary of anyone why told me to ignore my GP or any NHS specialist.

    Well, I am glad to hear it. Unfortunately, less enlightened souls are not so discerning. Take J-Mac, for example.
    As a consequence, peddlers of many ‘alternative’ approaches cause patients to fail to seek suitable conventional treatment, or lead them to inject themselves with dangerous plant-based poisons.

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  24. CharlieM: How do you feel about integrative medical practices?

    My answer is predicated on what is being advocated as integrative medicine. Here are a few examples I find acceptable:

    Massage therapy: patients with lymphoma, e.g., cancer patients with lymph nodes surgically removed, often get edema in their arms or legs due to disruption of lymphatic circulation. Massage is useful and acts to assist in moving the pooled fluid. Outside of that who doesn’t like a good rub down.

    animal therapy: animals are fun to be around and who doesn’t like snuggling up to a nice dog. While I consider cats to be a waste of fur some folks like them as well. Bottome liine pets help our overall mental health and sense of well being.

    Meditation: sitting in quite contemplation, be it done in a studio or along side a stream or watching the waves meet the shore are fine ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Many patients battling serious illness, e.g., cancer, benefit from the exercise.

    Exercise/yoga: exercise, in all forms, have many documented health benefits. For the elderly practicing yoga, assists with balance, walking, pool aerobics result in positive overall improvement in physical health and well being. Recovering cardiac patients can build heart health and strength via exercise. As an anecdote my mom practiced yoga till she was 91. Helped her balance and physical tone.

    music/aromatherpy: soaking in a hot tub in the candle light with scented/nonscented water/air while listening to some favorite tones strikes a note for many people.

    All the above can be had with little to no cost to the patient or the health care system.

    Some I find objectionable:

    Acupuncture: Often advocated for pain relief there is little evidence of the efficacy of needliing for pretty much anything. There are no meridian s to tap into and numerous studies deonstrate that acupuncture results are pretty much a placebo effect. In todays health care system the often cold and inpersonal process of a differential diagnosis leave many patients dissatisfied. They feel they aren’t being paid attention to and the acupuncturist, and many other so_called alternative medicine practitioners fill this void. What they offer is for th emost part bogus but the patients suck up the attention and with proper patient prep and conditioning they are satisfied with the outcome. There are numerous other placebo-based modalities for reduction of pain in patients.

    chiropractic: quacks for the most part but there are some evidence-based practitioners albeit very few. Don’t let them near you and never let them adjust your neck you just might stroke-out soon after.

    Cleanses/footpads/ect: these nostrums are fraudulent from the get go. The body is not like a trashcan that can be emptied every so often by doing a ‘liver cleanse’ or giving yourself coffee enemas or high colonics. Some advocate wearing their own special brand of foot pads which are said to draw out toxins, e.g., PCB’s out of the body and get trapped in their not-so-cheap pads. Needless to say the pads do nothing but lighten your wallet and increase the weight of the charlatan.

    Dietary supplements: Good for making expensive urine. Some folks do have specific needs, e.g., iron, where iron suppliments can help improve their condition. However, outside of a bonafida diagnosis of a deficiency dietary supplements are a waste of money. Not to mention the coomplete lack of quality control for the product with many of the most ‘efficacious’ supplements found to contain pharmaceuticals……not mentioned on the label of course.

    Numerous other nostrums. Anything found at curezone.com.Bring them up and we can discuss their value.

    the above costs a fair penny to the patient and even if insurance is covering chiropractic care it is a waste of money outside of the few evidence-based practitioners. The subluxation advocates seem to run the gambit of complete kooks to outright frauds.

    So, Charlie, it depends on what is being advocated as integrative medicine and what is not. If you have some differing idea on what should be/or not included in integrative medicine I’m all ears….errr eyes.

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  25. DNA_Jock: Take J-Mac, for example.

    Yes,, his DCA advocacy is completely off base as well as most, if not all, of what he posted.

    DNA_Jock: As a consequence, peddlers of many ‘alternative’ approaches cause patients to fail to seek suitable conventional treatment, or lead them to inject themselves with dangerous plant-based poisons.

    Yup. People who distrust evidence=based medicine and strike off ontheir own often end up right back at the evidence-based medicine care team with advanced disease with nothing to be done outside of getting their affairs in order.

    Things like mistletoe extract , one of among many, nostrums offered to have fantastical cure rates but dangerous on so many levels. Of course should it (a nostrum) fail the practioner never misses an opportunity to blame the patient. The patient did not take it right, didn’t believe/trust it would work, etc. etc. It is NEVER that nostrums fault that is one thing beyond question. They all work as claimed just read the testimonials!

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  26. CharlieM: Recombination during meiosis ensures that genetic variation is never completely exhausted no matter how insignificant the variation.

    Not true. If there is genetic variation, recombination breaks up linkage disequilibrium which can increase the phenotypic variation. However, without genetic variation there is nothing to recombine.

    CharlieM: Do you have any evidence that contradicts what he [Peter Heusser] writes above?

    Yes, I do. The “structural instructions for higher-level structures” are provided by developmental genes, such as members of the Hox family. The “sequence of the basic building blocks of other carbohydrate and fatty macromolecules” is also partly determined by genetic instructions, i.e. genes coding for enzymes catalyzing metabolic reactions, such as those of the citric acid cycle.

    CharlieM: The open question is, what is the cause of these transformations, both in individuals and in groups? Genetics plays a vital part, but genes are not the root cause of the transformations.

    The question at hand was whether individuals from a kind are limited to expressions of a certain archetype. In my view, this is the cause of your reluctance to accept the unity of certain groups, in particular the relationship of eukaryotes with non-eukaryotes that set off this whole discussion.

    CharlieM: My 5 year old granddaughter can recognise a tree if I point one out, but in most instances she wouldn’t be able to tell me the species. What in your opinion is it about plants that allows us to recognise them as such?

    Most of us use morphology. Taxonomists may use additional information, such as from biochemistry and molecular biology. Nobody but you uses “the laws of expansion and contraction”.

    You should take more walks with your granddaughter and spend less time behind a computer BTW. 😉

    CharlieM: Essentially all life is a unity. […] Humans have taken communication and understanding to an even higher level.

    Except me, because I do not understand a iota of this paragraph. Where do the archetypes fit in? Also, you make a division based on multicellularity, but the vast majority of eukaryotes are unicellular.

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