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All the World’s a Stage for Periodic Tables

Astute readers will recognize that “all the world’s a stage” is a classic metaphor. Shakespeare, in fact, created metaphors by the bushel, this particular one from As You Like It.

Without consulting a dictionary, I would say that a metaphor is a comparison that shows how two things not fundamentally the same have at least one thing in common. The actual dictionary says much the same thing, albeit with more precision. Thus, while not physically a stage, the Bard tells us that much drama is acted out in the world.

The periodic table, that veritable icon of science, has itself been used as a metaphor for countless ideas. So much so that I’ve posted more blogs than on any other subject on what Mendeleev (unintentionally) begat.

And now, combining idioms, comes the Periodic Table of Metaphors, courtesy of artist Christoph Niemann.

Like all periodic tables, the metaphors are aligned into groups with similar properties. There is Group I, “The Classics” (e.g., worm in an apple, hammer and nail, train entering a tunnel), and Group VI, “The Toxics” (piles of money, light bulb, piggy bank). Presumably you want to steer clear of these.

There is also Group IV, “The Zombies,” but since this includes the double helix I think I’d have trouble avoiding it. My favorite is Group III, the “Editors’ Faves” (Swiss army knife, brain, crown of thorns). Presumably I’d have no trouble getting published if I claimed that the Chemical Heritage Foundation is a brainy Swiss army knife.

But the real value of this version of the periodic table, at least according to Niemann, lies not in figures of speech, but in creating conceptual metaphors. There’s no way to describe what he has in mind so visit his Web site to see for yourself. Then announce your ideas so our drama can have “all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare, ibid).

Posted In: Education

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