The cell is not a hierarchical factory

While this is written from the perspective of social hierarchies, the factory also is one of the favorite ID metaphors used for urging laypeople to see life as designed. The lack of hierarchy one observes when doing biology is much more consistent with evolution than with design.


This is true, and yet I (and perhaps every biologist I know) use metaphors constantly and often unconsciously. Kinesins are “motors,” actin filaments can be “cables,” cells “send signals” and “transmit” information and on and on. I’m not sure I could think of intracellular transport or signal transduction without employing metaphors in my speech/writing and without the structures they represent in my mind.

I loved the article because it is challenging not just dumb metaphors like “blueprint” or “factory” but essentially every metaphor. He’s correctly (IMO) pointing to how these thinking tools are necessarily tied to our biases and power structures. Thanks for posting. I’m going to think a lot about this one.


Yes, but one typically fails to understand why metaphors need to be abandoned until it comes to testing hypotheses.

I loved the author’s example of organelles–not so much their transport, but when you try to consider organellar identities as a function of the particular Rab proteins (humans have ~70) on them, the fluidity of the system becomes more clear and the factory metaphor fades.


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