"A Quaternion of metaphors for the hermeneutics of life," by Richard Jung

by CT on November 8, 2014

The following ‘seven theses’ can be found in Richard Jung’s "A quaternion of metaphors for the hermeneutics of life,” a paper presented at the International Conference of the Society for General Systems Research, Los Angeles, California, 1985. 

"They are the metaphors ORGANISM, MACHINE, MIND, and TEMPLATE. I am calling them a QUATERNION, employing the term first in its general meaning, as a set of four parts. In this sense of the term, my assertion is simply that EACH METAPHOR IS A BASIS OF A COHERENT AND DISTINCT SYSTEM OF DISCOURSE that is capable of conceptualizing most, if not all the phenomena characteristic of life. The systems are mutually conceptually exclusive, in that an intrusion of terms from one system of discourse into another leads to conceptual confusion with severe theoretical consequences.

"My second thesis is that although the four metaphors seem to be contradictory if treated as ontological statements about the nature of living systems (and thus the opposition of any two of them gives rise to an unsolvable paradox) — the paradoxes are dissolved when each metaphor is treated as a different matrix for expressing different epistemic attitudes.

"My third thesis is that each metaphor does indeed reflect a different type of curiosity about living systems, and thus gives rise to a different system of discourse appropriate to a specific kind of epistemic concern. While each is valid and irreplaceable as a vehicle for a given epistemic attitude, all four are necessary for the conceptualization and explanation of all the phenomena of life that give rise to different types of legitimate curiosity.

"The fourth thesis asserts that each metaphor(and the theoretical formulation and type of discourse based on it) is complementary in the strict sense to each of the three other metaphors, theoretical formulations, and types of discourse.

"The fifth thesis is that while employing a particular metaphor, an ontological commitment to its reality is psychologically inescapable, since the interpretation of experience occasioned by its employment gives rise to a compelling sense of empirical validation. During the period of such epistemic engagement, the three other metaphors appear as ontologically imaginary.

"The sixth thesis is that a different interpretation of life arises depending on the order in which the different metaphors are employed.

"As a reminder of the above theses, the mathematical sense of the term quaternion may be helpful. As a mathematical concept, a quaternion is a generalized complex number that is the sum of a real number and a vector and that depends on one real and three imaginary units, the third of which is the product of the first two and also the negative of this product when the order of the factors is reversed (so that multiplication over the field of quaternions is not commutative).

"The seventh thesis is that in view of the previous theses, the task of the theory of life is not the reduction of the phenomena to any single metaphor. It is the development of all into formal theories, and ultimately the development of a theory of transformations enabling us to move in an orderly fashion from one type of theory or discourse to any of the others. "

(Note – This and other works by Richard Jung can be found here: http://www.richardjung.cz/index.asp?menu=561 )

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