An recently arrived Iranian student took a seminar on metaphor from one of us. Among the wondrous things he found in Berkeley was an expression, "the solution of my problems" — which he took to be a large volume of liquid containing all your problems, either dissolved or as precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others. He was disillusioned to find other students had no such chemical associations in mind. And he might be, for the chemical metaphor is both beautiful and insightful.

The chemical metaphor gives us a new view of human problems: the experience of finding that problems we once thought "solved" turned up again and again.

The chemical metaphor says problems are not kinds of things that can be made to disappear forever. To treat them as things that can be "solved" once and for all is pointless. To live by this metaphor, you would direct your energies towards finding what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing problems for the longest time without precipitating out the worse ones. The reappearance of a problem is a natural occurrence, rather than a failure on your part to "solve it."

At present, most of us deal with problems according to what one might call the puzzle metaphor, in which problems are puzzles for which there is typically a correct solution — and once solved, they are solved forever.

Puzzle vs. Chemical Metaphor

A different metaphor for thinking about problems in one's life. Reminds me of Frank Chimero's "problem management".

Ross Zurowski