Peeling Away Metaphors

Feb 09, 2012

By Jamison Dance

An electron is like a little ball orbiting a bigger ball - only it’s not. A pointer is basically an address, and dereferencing it is like finding the mailbox for that address - only it isn’t. We rely on metaphors to teach broad principles about complex subjects. However, the metaphor is not the truth. It is not what the thing actually is. As you learn more, the metaphor creaks under the weight of fact. Little things don’t make sense. Eventually, the metaphor falls away, revealing true understanding. Real learning happens when you strip away the metaphors to find more knowledge underneath. Sometimes another metaphor awaits, and the process begins again.

Jamison Dance enjoys kittens, making computers smarter and the magic of children's laughter. He tweets at @jergason and GitHubs as jergason. He also podcasts on JavaScript Jabber and Soft Skills Engineering.