Demystifying mysteries. How metaphors and analogies extend the reach of the human mind

Abstract

Some philosophers have argued that, owing to our humble evolutionary origins, some mysteries of the universe will forever remain beyond our ken. But what exactly does it mean to say that humans are ‘cognitively closed’ to some parts of the universe, or that some problems will forever remain ‘mysteries’? First, we distinguish between representational access and imaginative understanding, as well as between different modalities of cognitive limitation. Next, we look at tried-and-tested strategies for overcoming our innate cognitive limitations. In particular, we consider how metaphors and analogies can extend the reach of the human mind, by allowing us to make sense of bizarre and counterintuitive things in terms of more familiar things. Finally, we argue that this collection of mind-extension devices is combinatorial and open-ended, and that therefore pronouncements about cognitive closure and about the limits of human inquiry are premature.

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Michael Vlerick
Tilburg University

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