Boiling frog syndrome

Boiling frog syndrome is a metaphor that refers to the creep of some insidious process that sinks in slowly and only becomes apparent over time. In it, a frog in increasingly hot water will not attempt escape as long as the temperature is increased gradually. It happens a little bit at a time, until the poor frog meets its end, in the end.

Scientifically, the fable is on poor footing — most frogs would actually leap to escape at some point along the way. But metaphorically, the analogy is a useful descriptor for some processes which tend empirically to have this quality of imperceptible changes over time resulting in seismic shifts when taken as a whole.

This syndrome is frequently invoked in discussions about social, political, or environmental issues. For example, in the context of climate change, it suggests that incremental increases in temperature and gradual environmental degradation might not be met with immediate action, leading to a lack of urgency in addressing the problem. The metaphor is a cautionary tale, urging people to be aware of and responsive to gradual changes that might have serious consequences if left unchecked. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing and acting upon subtle shifts in our environment, whether they are literal or figurative, to prevent detrimental outcomes.

Related to boiling frog syndrome:

  • slippery slope
  • gradualism
  • marginal changes
  • evolution

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