Nature doesn’t seem reducible to rigid systems and classifications. Although resorting to metaphors may give rise to contradictions, it allows the elaboration of explanatory models which help us to organize thought and to find orientation in the natural world. Giving form through metaphors stands for seeking the way by which mankind looks for both solutions and new configurations to face nature’s enigmas. The creation of morphological and/or evolutionary metaphors framed in a schematic way what Hugo called “man’s groping in the universe of nature”. Circles, arrows, spirals, scales, etc. stood for research directions: for example, scale became metaphor of an “animal universe” that – as it was thought to be in the Eighteenth Century – organized itself in a bottom-up scale. The circle referred to “metamorphosis” (Alle Glieder bilden sich aus nach ew'gen Gesetzen, /Und die seltenste Form bewahrt im Geheimen das Urbild), which reminds us of Goethe’s thinking. Metaphors are never an aim in themselves: they always determine a way of thinking as well as choices and research directions.
Such a use of the linguistic image deeply influences the very notion of metaphor as figures of speech. If, on the one hand, metaphor shows unknown structures of nature, on the other it rediscovers its own ‘naturalness’. Starting from the deep interconnection between functional and formal tasks in morphological discussion, metaphor turned from “figure” to “figuration”, Gestaltung, and in doing so it revealed a dynamic structure able to make us understand new links and directions in the sense of a metamorphic nature.
Far from limiting itself to a historical retrospection, the methodological significance of having recourse to metaphor profoundly informs the most recent questions in the scientific field and notably in life sciences, in the very moment in which it leads and encourages a renewed dialogue between sciences and philosophy.