“Natural selection” and the early career of a metaphor

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“Metaphors, as we all by now know, aren’t just ornamental linguistic flourishes—they’re basic building blocks of everyday reasoning. And they’re at their most potent when they recast a difficult-to-understand phenomenon as something familiar.” So writes cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider. In giving the backstory of Darwin’s choice of “natural selection” for evolution, he provides a short article for any Theory of Knowledge teacher to note, relevant to language as a way of knowing and the natural sciences as an area of knowledge.

This example is probably a familiar one to most TOK teachers, but I recommend this article for the way it handles metaphor. It comments both on the implications of “natural selection” in particular for how we think and, more broadly, on how metaphor affects thought. I also like it for use with students because it tells a story. I’ve blogged recently on the role of storytelling in knowledge – for good and ill – and am more convinced than ever (happily confirming my own biases!) that good class material for catching student interest is often laced with stories.


Kensy Cooperrider, “Why ‘Natural Selection’ Became Darwin’s Fittest Metaphor”, Nautilus, March 30, 2016. http://nautil.us/blog/why-natural-selection-became-darwins-fittest-metaphor