From string theory to the big bang, black holes to dark matter, our big scientific theories are increasingly conveyed through metaphor. Yet from Newton to Einstein, the science has been founded on mathematics.
Should we see scientific metaphors as real descriptions of an underlying universe or are they instead marketing vehicles for sets of mathematical equations? Could Newton have chosen to call forces 'spirits' and Einstein have called fields 'matrices'? And if so would our understanding of reality have been profoundly different? Should we see all scientific concepts as a metaphorical fantasy or are they true descriptions of an underlying reality?
Eminent Oxford chemist Peter Atkins, author of The Science Delusion Rupert Sheldrake, Francis Crick Institute geneticist Güneş Taylor and Closure theorist Hilary Lawson debate the need for metaphor in science.