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Metaphorically Thinking

Posted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 12:24 am
by coberst
Metaphorically Thinking

We commonly think of metaphor as something like analogy. We are trying to explain something to someone and we say this something new is very much like this other something you are familiar with.

This is one form of metaphor but there is another metaphor that is automatic and unconscious. The child playing with objects has an experience of collecting objects in a pile. This experience results in a neurological network that we might identify as grouping. This neurological structure that contains some sort of logic related to this activity serves as a primary metaphor.

The child has various experiences resulting from playing with objects. These experiences result in mental spaces with neural structures that contain the logic resulting from the experience. When the child then begins to count perhaps on her fingers these mental spaces containing the experiences automatically map to a new mental space and become the logic and inference patterns to make it possible for the child to count because counting contains similar operations.

Primary metaphors are the contents of mental spaces developed in experience and the contents then pass to another mental space to become the bases for a new concept. The contents of space A is mapped to space B to then be the foundation for the new concept at space B. This mapping is automatic and unconscious.

Many years ago, before ‘self-service’, it was common to pull into a gas station and when the attendant came to the car the motorist would say “Fillerup”.

“More is up” is a common metaphor. I think of it every time I pour milk into a measuring cup when baking cornbread. The subjective judgment is quantity, the sensorimotor domain is vertical orientation, and the primary experience is the rise and fall of vertical levels as fluid is added or subtracted and objects are piled on top of or removed from a collection.

We can see (know is see) by this mechanism that we equate vertical motion in the spatial domain with quantity; we use the vertical domain to reason about quantity. We have a vast experience in vertical space domain reasoning and thus we derive this great experience to help us in reasoning about quantity; no doubt a very useful thing when first learning arithmetic. Teachers of mathematics, I suspect, depend upon this storehouse of knowledge to make abstract mathematical reasoning for children more comprehensible.

In a metaphor the source domain, ‘up’, is mapped onto the target domain ‘more’. The neural structure of the sensorimotor domain, the primary metaphor, is mapped onto the subjective domain ‘more’. Reasoning about the vertical motion in the spatial domain is mapped onto reasoning about the quantity domain. This is a one-way movement; reasoning about quantity is not mapped onto spatial domain reasoning. The direction of inference indicates which the source is and which the target domain is.

Physical experiences of all kinds lead to conceptual metaphors from which perhaps hundreds of ‘primary metaphors’, which are neural structures resulting from sensorimotor experiences, are created. These primary metaphors provide the ‘seed bed’ for the judgments and subjective experiences in life. “Conceptual metaphor is pervasive in both thought and language. It is hard to think of a common subjective experience that is not conventionally conceptualized in terms of metaphor.”

Cognitive science informs us that “Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical”. Can you think of an abstract concept that can be described without metaphor?

Quotes from “Philosophy in the Flesh”—Lakoff and Johnson

Posted: Sun Oct 21, 2007 4:28 am
by coberst
The new paradigm for cognitive science that is described in the book “Philosophy in the Flesh” is called ‘conceptual metaphor’. This theory stipulates that as I have an experience I create mental structures that allow me to draw inferences regarding that experience. These mental structures consist of neuron structures that we call concepts. This is all done unconsciously and automatically.

The infant when first held by the mother feels warmth and security. In the infant’s brain a structure develops regarding this experience. Likewise each time it happens this structure is strengthened.

At some time in the future the infant constructs another concept that is strictly subjective, i.e. not based on a literal experience, and we shall call this concept affection.

Automatically and unconsciously the mental structure of the warmth and security experience is copied onto that mental space we have called affection. From that time on the concept ‘affection’ contains the experienced structure of warmth and security and that is why we feel affection to be warm and secure.

We might think of this process as going to a file cabinet in which all of our concepts are contained and automatically the file containing the warmth and security experience is copied and then added to the file containing a new subjective concept called affection.