Science: Between Literal and Metaphorical Meanings?

April 20, 2023 - April 21, 2023
CFUL-LanCog, University of Lisbon and Champalimaud Foundation

Av. Brasilia


American University in Cairo



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Modern scientific endeavors are often guided by the positivistic ideal of obtaining a neutral, detached point of observation from which truths about the world can be deduced and believed to hold independently of the socio-political context in which they were obtained. Philosophical and sociological perspectives have however long highlighted that science and the contents of its discoveries are not to be separated from the context in which they are practiced, nor are they to ignore the impact that objects, artifacts, or natural events have in structuring our social, political, or physical realities. In the same spirit, Graham Harman argues that the human dimension of reality is just one of many, equally real non-human realities. Within this shared ontological space all beings – termed objects in Harman’s system – have sensual qualities, i.e. the ones that define an object in relation, and real qualities, i.e. the ones that define the object withdrawn from all interactions and relations. Within this framework Harman distinguishes between two ways of knowing: a literal one that takes phenomena to be the sum of their features as they appear to us and a metaphorical one that hints at an infinite interiority of objects and brings about the awareness that there is always more to them than meets the eye. Harman argues that literalism is the mode by which science knows things, while the way that art and aesthetics approach objects is instead metaphorical. In contrast to literalism, “the metaphor seems to give us the thing in its autonomy from the other things to which it relates.” In Harman’s reading, the metaphor suspends the sensuality of the object and alludes to its real core. This workshop will explore whether Harman’s assessment of science’s method is apt and whether a dialogue between the two ways of knowing might benefit the endeavors of both aesthetic and scientific inquiry.

The workshop will consist of a keynote lecture by Graham Harman with participants and general public at Champalimaud Foundation on April 20, and of a full-day workshop with invited keynote and selected participants, on April 21, at the University of Lisbon

We invite contributions from researchers working on core concepts in Harman’s ontology or on the relationship between metaphorical and literal cognition. Possible topics may include, but are not limited to: Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Real and sensual objects/qualities
  • Interactions and relationality in object oriented ontology (OOO)
  • Cognition and the role of the subject in OOO
  • Alternate ways of knowing – art, architecture, literature, film, etc. – in OOO
  • Science and OOO
  • Political, ethical, social dimensions of flat ontologies.

For consideration, please submit a 500-800 word abstract prepared for anonymous review to [email protected] by Feb. 15, 2023. Please include the name of the title of your paper in the body of your email. Accepted papers will give a 30-minute presentation followed by a 15-minute Q&A. The conference will take place in person. Unfortunately, we will not be able to cover the cost of attending the conference. If you have questions about the conference, contact Razvan Sandru, [email protected].

Submission Deadline: Feb. 15, 2023

Notification by March 1st, 2023.

Date: April 20-21, 2023


Adrian Razvan Sandru, Systems Neuroscience, Champalimaud Foundation

Tamara Caraus, Centre of Philosophy, University of Lisbon

Federica Ma. Gonzalez Ortiz Luna, University of Tübingen

Zachary Mainen, Systems Neuroscience, Champalimaud Foundation

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February 15, 2023, 9:00am +01:00

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