Elephants and Analogies

Elephants are like analogies in that they can be viewed from many different perspectives.  Elephant analogies, therefore, can be viewed from so many perspectives that you could get dizzy. 

One such perspective is espoused by Justin_DeBin.  He asks some great questions.  Why do atheists get to see the elephant?  Are there no blind atheists?  Are their hands full of elephant dung?

I have other questions.  Why are these blind guys not feeling up the whole elephant to get a better sense of its dimensions?  Plenty of blind folks know perfectly well that to get a good sense of an object, you need to feel the whole thing.  Are these blind guys just the really dumb ones?  If so, isn’t this whole analogy a bit insulting to the intelligence of blind guys and religious folks?

And really, what does the elephant stand for in this analogy?  If the elephant is standing for whatever higher power or force operating in our universe might be, wouldn’t the atheist be wrongly insisting that the elephant was the product of wishful thinking or agency over-detection on the part of the blind guys? 

If the elephant is standing for our experience of the world, wouldn’t the blind guys be claiming that some deities or a deity created the elephant (polytheism, monotheism, henotheism, or deism), or that the elephant is the deity (pantheism), or that the elephant is in the deity (panentheism)?  And after that, they would disagree in a most self-righteous and insufferable manner, right?

Maybe the Jain version of the story is the best.  The point of it is that truth can be expressed in a variety of ways, none of them being completely incorrect, but none being completely correct either.  You might think of it as an ancient version of postmodernism in that it treats differing views on the same topic as merely being different narratives about the same object.  Such abstractions can describe the properties of an object but never truly convey its nature. 

In that light, perhaps all perspectives are like analogies in that they can never completely make their subject understood.  The best they can do is enlighten us about some aspect of the subject.

And occasionally provide me with some amusement.  There is that.

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11 Responses to Elephants and Analogies

  1. I laughed out loud several times reading this post.

  2. I don’t like the elephant analogy at all.  The moral of the story is that all religions are equal and equally limited in their point of view.God completed the revelation of himself to man through the Hebrews and finally Jesus.The makes Judeo-Christianity the whole enchilada.

  3. nidan says:

    Another Elephant post.

  4. AmeSoeur says:

    Heffalumps and woozles are very confuzzles.

  5. explosive says:

    I really didn’t get the elephant/atheist analogy. it might’ve worked better if it were a nihilist (instead of an atheist). 

  6. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @nyclegodesi24 – I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂@LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – If it makes you feel better, the view that all perspectives on reality are differing narratives that each have a piece of truth is a meta-narrative whose standard, when we apply it to itself, reduces itself to the status of merely one among many competing and incomplete perspectives regarding meta-narratives.@Justin_DeBin – I take a bow, sir.@nidan – Just for giggles.

  7. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @explosive – Nihilism could work, but so could many other philosophical perspectives.  I was too lazy to include them all. 🙂

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