The Tree of Life, by Gustav Klimt
We need metaphors to communicate complex ideas. Art, religion and science know it since thousands of years. Circles, pyramids, tress, spirals, nets. I had the opportunity to notice a language change (maybe of adepts of a philosophical school would say: no paradigms!) during the time of my life -- which is not that long. Perceiving these changes make me feel we live in an age which will leave its marks. And that makes me enthusiastic in the same way I felt when The Berlin Wall fell and Nelson Mandela was set free. And it was 20 years ago.
Going back to the use of images and going to a concrete example: when I was at school, the most used metaphor was the tree. There was the tree structure of Linguistics; there was the tree structure of the Biology dichotomous key; there was the tree structure of companies' organograms; and there are still the tree structure of PC and the first Internet portals directories. But as Internet becomes a common and multiplied thing, a new metaphor becomes usual and manifested in another areas, even in a popular way: the net.
The first Darwin sketch of his 'tree of life'
I like the net, as it has an organic connection to the animal universe. We have the world wide web net; we have new biological developments which apts to make flexible the Darwin tree of life to a model closer to the net -- as there is not only one way from A to B, and many points cross and communicate in several knots; we have the neurons nets. I do not know if Linguistics has also a model similar to the net to describe the way the language works.
It is not just substitute a word for another, but substitute a kind of look and its complexity to another. We have more hierarchy in the model of tree, and it is also a political kind of look and social organization and relationship way. Maybe it is more functional, in a pragmatic aspect. The net model recognizes how difficult representing the whole complexity of a live system is -- and Internet, made by language, is also a live system -- through univocal relations. However, it is less easier, as it has no beginning and no end. Sometimes, it does not even have a core.
What will come next? Some days ago I started thinking abou the tags model. Could it be another version of the net, or another metaphor: the cloud? Since decades we have the atomic clouds (metaphors invade and cohabit different areas of the knowledge in different times). If the model is the cloud, could not it be more disturbing and lonely than the net? Will we have to wait the exploration of smaller particles by the science, in our attempts to perceive the universe structure, to get borrowed a new metaphor? One thing is for sure: we cannot observe the nature and the changes of the world without observe to the words we use to explain them.