The History Of Metaphors Of Nature:

Author: Norwick, Stephen A.
Modern European languages have a large number of metaphors which represent the whole of nature. Many of these, such as Mother Nature, the celestial harmony, the great chain of being, and the book of nature, are used in natural science and in literature. Most of these words can be traced back into prehistory where they arose mythologically from the same small set of images. Metaphors have a powerful influence on the framing of scientific hypothesis making, and so these words have guided the history of natural science, for good or ill, for several millennia. Newtonian mechanics, for example was motivated by the idea of celestial harmony, whereas Darwin used the images of the great chain of being and Mother Nature, and James Hutton created modern geology and ecology by mixing the images of nature as the macrocosm, and as a machine.

The images elicited by these phrases have also been important in the development of the positive feeling for nature, which existed in the Hellenic and Hellenistic society, which was lost in the Middle Ages, and which has been developing again since the Renaissance, and especially since Earth Day, 1970. Each chapter in this book is a parallel longitudinal history of a word or phrase which represents the whole of nature, and which has influenced natural science and general literature, and especially North American Nature writing. Ironically, as natural science developed, and enabled our technological society to destroy natural areas more and more rapidly, science strengthened the fundamental images of nature, and was used by nature writers to encourage a revaluing of the natural world.


“Dr. Stephen Norwick is a geologist who has devoted himself to a serious and sustained study of the Western Literary tradition out of which … modern scientific discourse has emerged … His voice is simple and clear, his approach is admittedly amateur in the best sense … [he] brings a fresh approach to matters that have long been subjected to layers of scholarly specialization. He carries out his historical project with an exhaustive comprehensiveness that is decidedly out of fashion in our present era of disciplinary exclusion and downsized production …” – (from the Preface) Professor Bruce Clarke, Texas Tech University

“Professor Norwick has written a thorough and fascinating study of the history of metaphors that inform our understanding of the natural world. The book is an unsentimental, yet wry, look at nature’s capacity to reflect and refract our thought. It should be read as one might imagine a walking tour of an unfamiliar but richly storied country, because it is a journey through the haunted ‘ecosystem’ of scientific thought and the evolutionary forces that turn its tropes. Put simply, this book invites the reader to consider how we share the witness of the world and the metaphors that help us sift the truth.” – T.E. Jay, environmentalist and author, Washington State

Table of Contents

Brief Table of Contents
Detailed Table of Contents
Preface by Professor Bruce Clarke
Foreword by the Author
Study of Metaphors in the History of Science
Volume 1
1. Mother Earth, Mother Nature and the Handmaiden of God
2. The Muses as Goddesses of Natural History and Poetic Inspiration
3. The Music of the Spheres versus the Clockwork Universe
4. The Humanoid Macrocosm
5. The Thread of Life, the Great Chain of Being, and the Food Web