Metaphor as Technology, Module 5: Teaching Instructions

The goal of this unit is to get students to see that applying new technologies as metaphors to animals changes our understanding of them, to show not that bats knew about radar "sixty million years ago," as Carlson maintains, but that we can now think about what bats do in terms of radar since it has been invented. In these readings, Cuvier tries to understand how bats fly in terms of "aerial impressions." He is using the technology of printing as a metaphor for bats' capacity to sense the world around them: for Cuvier, "bat's skin=printed paper" and air makes an impression on that paper ("facial membrane") telling it what objects to avoid while flying. Locke and Hume use printing metaphors in describing how human memory works, relying on the metaphor "memory=printed page."


This unit requires reflective thinking that William Perry maintains either happens in later college years or not at all in college. (See problems in teaching this unit.)

But it can be used for first-year college students, if you reduce your expectations for the outcomes.


1st-year college: seeing that new technologies create new models for thinking about the way things work.

Advanced: appreciating the value of studying history as a way of overcoming culture-bound models for thinking about the way something works.


Students may find it possible to discuss problems that have been overcome by using models garnered from the past. (See problems.) If not, though, you can discuss how science has advanced when new technologies became available, not because they could simply perform better measurements, but also because they could be used to understand how things (or in this case) animals work. If students can identify radar and sonar as technologies that make new metaphors possible, it is fun to discuss how our new technologies might increase our understanding of things. Are people's personalities like remote-controlled TVs that can switch among numerous programs?


The written response to Assignment 3 should begin with "Yes." Ideally, more advanced students will make the case that we shouldn't abandon the older models.

Responses to this Assignment by Students, and the Professor's Response to Student essays.