Multimodal metaphors in science communication

Multimodal metaphors in science communication

Author: Jan Swierkowski – Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Portugal

In the era of visual culture the scientific world described by equations is incomprehensible for most of the society because it lacks qualitative representation of its main ideas. There is a need of a multimodal language for communicating science.

The results of research and analysis show that when scientists solve complicated problems in order to understand the unknown they often use heuristics methods that include metaphors (Miller, 2000). The theoretical background of this fact lays in sciences of cognition and the idea that the way we perceive the Universe has a largely metaphorical character. The essence of ‘a metaphor’ is to understand and experience one thing in the terms of the other (Lakoff, Johnson 1980). Moreover when people conceptualize their experience, especially for new phenomena that has never been observed and cannot be understood otherwise, they usually rely on metaphors (Dudzikowa, Czerepaniak-Walczak, 2009).

Following this reasoning I suggest that in the Digital Era in which ‘digital, electronic, and visual expressions’ became a form of literacy (Gentry, McAdams, 2013), multimodal metaphors ‘whose target and source are each represented exclusively or predominantly in different modes’ (i.e. written or spoken language, visuals, sound, music etc.) (Forceville 2009) can form basis of new scientific stories and serve as modern translations from scientific to layman language.

I try to understand how these multimodal metaphors can be methodologicaly created/curated with the use of conceptual blending theory (Turner, Fauconnier, 2002) and presented as art, performance or Digital Storytelling based on the work of an interdisciplinary experimental group ‘Institute B61’ that I established in 2009. Since then B61 has been conducting intensive art and science experimental research that has resulted in the formulation of over 50 multimodal metaphors of scientific phenomena, most of them presented as spectacular pop-up activities to more than 20,000 volunteers from 5 countries.

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Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Stories
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice