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Metaphor

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The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.
   — Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By[1]

Reality is a cliché from which we escape by metaphorr.
   — Wallace Stevens



Contents

As a particular type of expression in speech or writing, such as Shakespeare's "And Juliet is the sun", a metaphor invites the listener or reader to conceive of some particular thing — e.g., a person, Juliet — as sharing certain properties or features with whatever the metaphorical linguistic expression specifies, or references, or predicates — e.g., the sun — a particular reference that otherwise might lead the listener/reader to literally, and falsely, interpret the meaning of the linguistic expression. Certainly, Juliet is not the sun. Shakespeare's metaphor, "And Juliet is the sun", invites the listener to conceive Juliet not literally as the sun but as possessing some properties of the sun, sharing some of the sun's notable properties (gloom-dispelling, warmth-giving, nourishing).

Shakespeare applies the word, sun, to Juliet, implying an analogy or comparison, inviting the reader to exercise imagination in comparing or identifying Juliet with the sun. He appears to want the reader to conceive of Juliet as sharing certain features/characteristics with the life-giving sun, a transference (Gr. metaphora) of those features/characteristics of the sun to Juliet, a transference from a familiar source of features to the person he wants to characterize.

For Romeo, who speaks the metaphor, Juliet turns night into day, dark into light, cold into warmth. Had Romeo sang to Juliet the song, "You are My Sunshine", he would have used 'sunshine' instead of 'sun' as the metaphorical word.

Note again that one claims falsely in claiming "Juliet is the sun", as clearly even Shakespeare's imagined Juliet did not reside some 93,000,000 miles from Earth and radiate energy through fusion of hydrogen nuclei. Some linguists make special note of such false claims in the literal interpretation of metaphors, a consideration we will explore later.

Additional examples and interpretations

For another example, the metaphor, a mountain of paperwork, not literally interpreted geologically, prompts the listener/reader to conceive of a tall, massive stack of papers requiring processing, implying perhaps the difficult job ahead getting on top of the stack of papers, or, to use another metaphor, the difficult job of whittling the stack down from a mountain to a molehill.

Another way to define metaphor considers the metaphorical expression, the specified comparator, as designating one domain (for example, mountain, sun), serving as a 'source' or 'vehicle' prompting the listener/reader to transfer (from the source) or transport (via the vehicle) certain elements from that domain to corresponding elements in a second domain, the latter serving as the 'topic' conceived as having those corresponding elements of the source (mountain: tall, large mass, imposing; sun: bright, warm, refreshing the psyche), or to state it differently, serving as the 'target' to which the 'vehicle' delivers those corresponding elements to — a tall, large imposing mass of papers; a bright, warm, refreshing young woman. The listener/reader has succeeded in interpretating the metaphor — apprehending the intention of the metaphor's composer — when she reconceptualizes the first domain (source, vehicle) as the second domain (topic, target).

In Shakespeare's metaphor, the sun provides the source or vehicle to its topic or target, Juliet.

As clearly evident in the above paragraphs, defining 'metaphor' often requires the use of metaphor.

"Metaphor is not simply an ornamental aspect of language, but a fundamental scheme by which people conceptualize the world and their own activities." [2]

Metaphors may take the form of a single word (for example, the word 'clearly' in the previous sentence, a statement A is B (for example, 'time is money'), a word string , or even simile (for example, 'her cheeks are like roses').[3] See also 'lunacy of metaphors'. As we will discuss later, whole narratives can serve as a metaphor, as can non-linguistic entities, such diagrams (think of the various diagrammatic models of an atom). Consideration of metaphor in terms of a process of reconceptualization, conditioned by the context embedding the metaphorical utterance, philosopher Patti Nogales writes:

....the metaphorical content of a metaphor is one which is different from the literal interpretation of the utterance but is related to it in that it is produced by a change in one's conception of some or all of the entities (literally) referenced by the utterance. [4]

In the second example given above, one mentally processes 'mountain' and its literal reference to a tall material mass of rock, and the non-trivial task of climbing to the top of it, reconceptualizing it as a large material mass of paper stacked tall, and the non-trivial task of dominating it. In the first example, one reconceptualizes 'sun', and its literal references to light, heat, and life-giving nourishment, to a bright, warm, life-giving Juliet.

Metaphors (from Gr. -pherein, to bear, to carry, and meta-, beyond) always extend meaning beyond their literal meaning. In addition to the types of transfers exemplified above, metaphors also often carry the literally specified/referenced/predicated entities into the realms of ideas, concepts, models, emotions, and actions, among many other realms.

The epigraph to this article — The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.[1] — aptly summarizes the meaning of metaphor, with emphasis on 'understanding' and 'experiencing' one thing in terms of another, a biological cell in terms of a factory, say, or the mind in terms of a machine.

Functions of metaphor

Metaphors can serve a variety of functions:

  • they can add ornamental or poetic flourish to language — as when William Shakespeare, in sonnet XVIII, refers to the sun as the eye of heaven and writes of variations in sunny days in terms of the state of the sun's gold complexion; in a certain context, one can conceive of the sun in the sky shining its light to see the Earth, the sun god keeping an eye on its territory, sometimes making it hot for us, so to speak;
  • they can give new meanings to words already in common use — as when a 'virus' has infected one's computer system, not a biological virus but by an encoded algorithm that behaves like one;[5]

We understand how a biological virus behaves, that it lays claim for itself to a copy-making apparatus external to itself for the purpose of instructing the copy-maker to make copies of itself, i.e., more biological viruses, the copies eventually commandeering other copy-makers, exponentially growing a population of viruses. That understanding enables us to use ‘virus’ as a linguistic metaphorical expression learn an important aspect of computer viruses, that it commandeers the computer as a copy-maker, instructing it to make copies of itself, the copies spreading through the network of computers, growing exponentially in numbers. Similarly, that understanding enables us to grasp the concept of memes, viruses of the mind, where an idea, for example, lays claim to the mind, a copy-maker in virtue of replicating it through thinking about it and planting copies of it in other minds, spreading it through a network of minds. —See: Richard Dawkins[6]; Richard Brodie[7]

If all language is metaphorical, or at least invested with a certain metaphor­ical potential, then it could also follow that we might want to say that all language is continually involved in a series of acts of translation: trans­lating things which are difficult to apprehend into things which we can apprehend, or conceptualise, or visualise, more easily.

After all, all uses of language, from the very simplest to the most complex, are acts of com­munication, or at least they set out to be acts of communication whether they succeed or whether they fail, and therefore there is some implied motivation behind them, at some level, which seeks to engage the reader or listener.

Metaphor seems to be integral to this need for engagement: even if we could conceive of a language without metaphor, which would be difficult to the point of impossibility, it would be a deeply drab and extremely restricted language.
David Punter[8]
  • they can reduce overload in mental storage of units of knowledge, thereby facilitating discourse — see Lexis.
  • they can express our experiences in rich and vivid language, which, through the emotional impact that accompanies a rich and vivid reconceptualization of domains, often fosters a communicative and/or explanatory role of metaphor;[9] just one of the miracles of metaphor. Aristotle says something to that effect in his Rhetoric:[10] "Liveliness is specially conveyed by metaphor, and by the further power of surprising the hearer; because the hearer expected something different, his acquisition of the new idea impresses him all the more. His mind seems to say, 'Yes, to be sure; I never thought of that'."
  • they can spark creativity;

When we experience radical metaphor, we can be aware of an initial double-focus effect, a blur produced when images from different realms of experience are suddenly superimposed on each other. In successful metaphor, such confusion quickly resolves itself into a startling new perception of reality. By bringing together images not previously combined, metaphor can spark a conflagration of thought that is the essence of creativity.[11]

  • they can underpin the cognitive function of conceptualizing — namely, generating or understanding concepts — by giving the concept a familiar and compact terminological framework, obviating the need for a more elaborate, intricate, convoluted, or elusive language in order to express the concept more concretely,[9] as when scientists refer to DNA as the blueprint of the cell, or as the database the cell uses to construct itself and function in particular ways;[12]
  • they can underpin the cognitive function of conceptualizing also by enhancing the listener/reader's ability to grasp an abstract, or unfamiliar or difficult-to-grasp concept using a more concrete, familiar, easy-to-grasp concept — as when cognitive scientists refer to the mind as a machine, as a telephone switchboard, or as a network, or to a biological cell as a miniature factory; to time as money; to life as a journey — "messengers of meaning".[13]
  • they can underpin the cognitive function of conceptualizing also by aggregating with other conceptual metaphors in the unconscious mind, where most thinking and remembering occurs, thereby constructing a conceptual system for an individual, or for social, political, commercial or professional groups, as manifested in the discourse of those groups.
  • they can generate new metaphors through their generation of insight into a phenomenon, which can generate additional insight leading to new metaphors, continuation of the process resulting in a network of metaphors offering fuller insight into the phenomenon through development of a conceptual system,[14] as when:

....the metaphor of "the genetic code" kicked off several related metaphors such as "genetic translation," "words," "genetic reading," "transcription," "making sense," "making nonsense," "dictionaries," "libraries".... [14]

  • they can accomplish metaphor-related pedagogical goals using a constructed fictional, sometimes fantastical, novel concept — as when Kosslyn and Koenig, in their book, Wet Mind: The New Cognitive Neuroscience,[15] construct a fictional scenario of rows of octopi unknowingly generating information output about local fish density to overhead seagulls through interactions of their tentacles, a metaphor Kosslyn and Koenig constructed to explain the nature and operation of a connectionist neural network;[16]
  • they can influence the frame or cast of mind of the listener/reader regarding an issue, perhaps leading to action[17] — as when politicians use expressions such as right to life, war on terror, and surge.
  • they can, by diffusion from one domain of discourse (for example, science) to another (for example, economics, popular culture), each of which have their own codes or conventions of discourse, acquire new variants of meaning, potentially producing new knowledge in the invaded domain or even changing the domain's perspective of reality — a creative or innovative role of metaphor.[18]
  • they can occupy the minds of mind-scholars, from many different intellectual fields of study, in the study of the nature of metaphor and its relevance to understanding the nature of the mind.

Those functions of metaphor are elaborated upon in:[9] [17] [1]  [5]  [19]

Rendering the abstract concrete

Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish-a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action....We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. — George Lakoff and Mark Johnson[1]

Often the literal meaning of the metaphorical expression gives a concrete or familiar or readily visualized image — the 'source' — whereas often the referent of the metaphor — the 'target' — is more abstract.[1]  [5]  [19]  When Shakespeare´s depressed Macbeth laments, "And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death", he does not refer literally to a lighted pathway leading to a destination of oblivion, but instead refers to something different, something more abstract, something related to the futility of life and the inevitability of death, more specifically perhaps to our past as a journey that we traveled foolishly, futilely, only to arrive at death as our final destination.

Metaphors then require the listener/reader to render an interpretation of the intended comparison, or transfer, of source to target, an interpretation of how the metaphorical expression maps to the intended target. Interpretations will always depend on context, on socio-cultural factors, and personal psychological factors. In context, Macbeth's "Out, out brief candle" invites the listener/reader to interpret the brief life of a candle's flame as the brief period the flame of life burns in a human being, as a mapping of a burning candle to a living (combusting) human. But not everyone may interpret the metaphor the same way. Think of the different ways people might interpret you can't see the forest for the trees.

This article discusses, among other things, the reasons we so frequently employ metaphor in speech and writing, why it is, as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson state in the accompanying textbox, "....that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action."

Metaphor history

  History of the nature and role of metaphor

Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion. Thus from genus to species, as: 'There lies my ship'; for lying at anchor is a species of lying. From species to genus, as: 'Verily ten thousand noble deeds hath Odysseus wrought'; for ten thousand is a species of large number, and is here used for a large number generally. From species to species, as: 'With blade of bronze drew away the life,' and 'Cleft the water with the vessel of unyielding bronze.'….It is a great matter to observe propriety in these several modes of expression, as also in compound words, strange (or rare) words, and so forth. But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. —Aristotle, Poetics[20]

As he did on many aspects of language, Aristotle wrote on metaphor.  In his Poetics, Aristotle recognized metaphor as a transference of a 'alien' name from one taxonomic class (species, genus) to another or the same, giving specific examples (see left sidebar). In the context of the Poetics as a whole, he evidently viewed metaphor as an ornamental, poetic form of expression, and attributed no other particular value to it other than to consider the creation of "good metaphors" a mark of genius.

Prose-writers must, however, pay specially careful attention to metaphor, because their other resources are scantier than those of poets…. Metaphors must be drawn, as has been said already, from things that are related to the original thing, and yet not obviously so related -- just as in philosophy also an acute mind will perceive resemblances even in things far apart…. We will begin by remarking that we all naturally find it agreeable to get hold of new ideas easily: words express ideas, and therefore those words are the most agreeable that enable us to get hold of new ideas. Now strange words simply puzzle us; ordinary words convey only what we know already; it is from metaphor that we can best get hold of something fresh. When the poet calls "old age a withered stalk," he conveys a new idea, a new fact, to us by means of the general notion of bloom, which is common to both things. —Aristotle, Rhetoric[21]

In his Rhetoric, Aristotle concentrated on his view of metaphor use in prose, wherein he emphasized metaphor's importance for elegant and effective prose as well as its importance in communicating new ideas(see right sidebar). In particular he recognized the cognitive function of metaphor. He wrote:

And let this be our beginning: to learn easily is naturally pleasant to all, and words mean something, so that those words that produce knowledge for us are most pleasant. Exotic words are unfamiliar, and pertinent ones we know, and so it is metaphor that particularly has this effect. For when the poet calls old age a reed, he produces understanding and recognition through the generic similarity; for both have lost their flower." [22]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also notes Aristotle's recognition of the cognitive function of metaphor:

While in the later tradition the use of metaphors has been seen as a matter of mere decoration, which has to delight the hearer, Aristotle stresses the cognitive function of metaphors. Metaphors, he says, bring about learning (Rhet. III.10, 1410b14f.). In order to understand a metaphor, the hearer has to find something common between the metaphor and the thing which the metaphor is referred to. For example, if someone calls the old age “stubble,” we have to find a common genus to which old age and stubble belong; we do not grasp the very sense of the metaphor until we find that both, old age and stubble, have lost their bloom. Thus, a metaphor does not only refer to a thing, but simultaneously describes the respective thing in a certain respect. This is why Aristotle says that the metaphor brings about learning: as soon as we understand why someone uses the metaphor “stubble” to refer to old age, we have learned at least one characteristic of old age.[23]

Early on then, the philosophy of language recognized the knowledge-producing effect of metaphor, through Aristotle, who appears, though, never to have attempted to develop a full theory of that cognitive aspect of metaphor.

Metaphor as style in speech and writing

Viewed as an aspect of speech and writing, metaphor qualifies as style, in particular, style characterized by a type of analogy. An expression (word, phrase) that by implication suggests the likeness of one entity to another entity gives style to an item of speech or writing, whether the entities consist of objects, events, ideas, activities, attributes, or almost anything expressible in language. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph, the word ´viewed´ serves as a metaphor for ´thought of´, implying analogy of the process of seeing and the thought process. The phrase, "viewed as an aspect of", projects the properties of seeing (vision) something from a particular perspective onto thinking about something from a particular perspective, that ´something´ in this case referring to ´metaphor´ and that ´perspective´ in this case referring to the characteristics of speech and writing.

As a characteristic of speech and writing, metaphors can serve the poetic imagination, enabling William Shakespeare, in his play "As You Like It", to compare the world to a stage and its human inhabitants players entering and exiting upon that stage; [24] enabling Sylvia Plath, in her poem "Cut", to compare the blood issuing from her cut thumb to the running of a million soldiers, "redcoats, every one";[25] and, enabling Robert Frost, in "The Road Not Taken", to compare one´s life to a journey. [26]

Viewed also as an aspect of speech and writing, metaphor can serve as a device for persuading the listener or reader of the speaker-writer´s argument or thesis, the so-called rhetorical metaphor....

Metaphor as foundational to our conceptual system

Cognitive linguists emphasize that metaphors serve to facilitate the understanding of one conceptual domain, typically an abstract one like 'life' or 'theories' or 'ideas', through expressions that relate to another, more familiar conceptual domain, typically a more concrete one like 'journey' or 'buildings' or 'food'. [1] [19]

Within Cognitive Linguistics the term metaphor is understood to refer to a pattern of conceptual association, rather than to an individual metaphorical usage or a linguistic convention. Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 5) describe metaphor as follows: "The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another." When Robert Frost refers to the "road less traveled." he uses the words 'road' and 'traveled' in metaphorical ways; in conventional usage, this phrase is "the metaphor," but for cognitive linguists the more important object of study (and, according to typical usage within the discipline, "the metaphor") is the underlying pattern of thought which allows the phrase to have the meaning it does. Since this pattern involves associations at the conceptual level, it can be expressed by many different lexical means—metaphorical uses of 'path', 'fork in the road', 'direction', and numerous other terms reflect the same basic set of associations, between traveling and making life choices.[27]

  • Food for thought: we devour a book of raw facts, try to digest them, stew over them, let them simmer on the back-burner, regurgitate them in discussions, cook up explanations, hoping they do not seem half-baked.
  • Theories as buildings: we establish a foundation for them, a framework, support them with strong arguments, buttressing them with facts, hoping they will stand.
  • Life as journey: some of us travel hopefully, others seem to have no direction, many lose their way.

A convenient short-hand way of capturing this view of metaphor is the following: CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (A) IS CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (B), which is what is called a conceptual metaphor. A conceptual metaphor consists of two conceptual domains, in which one domain is understood in terms of another. A conceptual domain is any coherent organization of experience. Thus, for example, we have coherently organized knowledge about journeys that we rely on in understanding life.[19]

A conceptual metaphor reveals a set of correspondences between two conceptual domains. How does that relate to the nature and importance of our conceptual system, and to metaphor as foundational to our conceptual system?

  Nature of our conceptual system

Our conceptual system comprises a system of concepts. The word 'concept' nominalizes a physiological activity, namely that of conceptualizing, a physiological activity performed by the human living organism. Thus our conceptual system comprises the system whereby we perform the physiological activities of conceptualizing. Therefore, we need to understand the nature of the physiological activity of conceptualizing.

Conceptualizing targets things: we conceptualize about things, things fall under the processes whereby we conceptualize them. We conceptualize about material things — books, stars, people — and non-material things — love, beauty, happiness, time. Most of our thinking involves performing the physiological activity of conceptualizing things.

The verb 'to conceptualize' does not reside among the 60 or so pan-language universal semantic primitives, but the verb 'to think' does. We cannot define 'thinking' with terms simpler than 'thinking' itself. We understand 'thinking' on an elemental, intuitive, primitive level, with no description of its meaning expressive in words more simple, more fundamental than 'thinking' itself. As we grow physically and develop cognitively from infancy, we learn what it means to think from the way the community we live in uses it. Defining non-semantic-primitives such as 'conceptualizing' non-circularly requires basing the definition on indefinable semantic primitives, of which only 'to think' fills the bill for defining 'to conceptualize'. We may ask about the details whereby the living human organism performs the physiological activities of thinking, and we find that in many instances we need to know the details whereby the living human organism performs the physiological activity of conceptualizing.

Conceptualizing provides a way of applying thinking to things, of abstracting, or reifying, the performance of the physiological activity of thinking characteristic of conceptualizing. We thereby 'thingify' what we think about in the active process of conceptualizing, thinking that we have discovered a 'thing', specifically a concept. We give concepts a life of their own, speaking of there 'being' concepts and/or of our 'having' concepts. We should keep in mind that concepts have no reality except as abstractions, nominalizations, or reifications of physiological activities performed by human living systems applying thinking to material and non-material things.

  Role of metaphor in conceptualizing

For example, we apply thinking to tangible valuable resources, things like money. We conceptualize money, developing it as a concept in the way described in the previous section, developing it as a "coherent organization of experience", a conceptual domain, the domain of valuable resources.. The concept of money as a valuable resource thus becomes a familiar one, a concept that informs the activities of our daily lives. When we come to a point when we want to apply thinking to something less tangible than money, time, say, our experiences with money and time lead to a creative insight, that the two have something in common, both valuable resources. We develop a theme, TIME IS MONEY, TIME IS A VALUABLE RESOURCE, often unconsciously. Cognitive linguists refer to such themes as 'conceptual metaphors', or 'primary metaphors'. The source, or vehicle, VALUABLE RESOURCE, as a metaphorical linguistic expression, carries or transfers its concept, its conceptual domain, over to the target, or topic, TIME. Whereas the conceptual metaphor — the conceptual metaphorical theme or primary metaphor — may remain unconscious, it reveals its presence in the way we conceptualize time, in sentences such as the following secondary manifestations of the primary conceptual metaphor, of the cross-domain mapping of the domains of valuable resources and time:

  • "Doing it that way will cost you time." [You will have to use up some of your valuable resource of time.]
  • "We're wasting time procrastinating like this." [We are wasting our valuable resource of time.]
  • "We can save time if we take this route." [We can use our valuable resource of time ore sparingly.]
  • "I don't have the time to give you right now." [I can't spare some of my valuable resource of time.]
  • "I will pay you for your time." [I will give some of my valuable resource of money for some of your valuable resource of time.]
  • "How much time have you invested in the project?" [How much of your valuable resource of time have you allocated to the project?]
  • "I've spent a lot of time on it."
  • "He's living on borrowed time."
  • "That turned out to be a profitable expenditure of time."

The conceptual metaphor, TIME IS MONEY, enables us to conceptualize time in a certain way that actually influences how we act, what decisions we make. Yet, our cognitive abilities are rich enough that we can develop other conceptual metaphors for time, allowing us to conceptualize time in other ways depending on circumstances. For example, we operate sometimes under the conceptual metaphor, TIME IS MOTION. Time flies when you're having fun. Where did the time go? The package arrived just in time. "Time and tide wait for no man, but time always stands still for a woman of 30." —Robert Frost.

Lakoff[28] (and see Afterword in[1]) asserts that conceptual metaphor constitutes the contemporary theory of metaphor, not the old poetic theory of metaphor.

.... seen as a matter of language not thought. Metaphorical expressions were assumed to be mutually exclusive with the realm of ordinary everyday language [as opposed to poetic language]: everyday language had no metaphor, and metaphor used mechanisms outside the realm of everyday conventional language....[Instead] The generalizations governing poetic metaphorical expressions are not in language, but in thought: They are general map pings across conceptual domains. Moreover, these general principles which take the form of conceptual mappings, apply not just to novel poetic expressions, but to much of ordinary everyday language. In short, the locus of metaphor is not in language at all, but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another.[28]

  Metaphorical reconceptualizing influences our behavior

Note that the conceptual metaphor TIME IS MONEY has transferred the concrete and familiar concept of money beyond itself, over to the more abstract concept of time, giving us a way to think about time, at least one way to think about time. Consider thinking about time as money a 'transconceptualization'. In thinking about time in that way, we also organize our lives in relation to time in that way: we regretfully waste time, budget time, do things to save time, spend spend time with our friends and family, lament about how fast time seems to disappear. We cannot view the metaphor as simply giving us a literary base to speak or write about time, but a way to think about time and a particular way to organize our behavior, the actions we take in our daily lives. It defines our concept of time and therefore defines an aspect of our culture. In our culture, many if not most of us regard time, consciously or unconsciously as a treasure, treating it one way or another depending on the part played by other conceptual metaphors in determining our attitude toward treasures.

  Conceptual metaphor and subjective experience

Some types of conceptualizations apply to the most subjective aspects of our mental life, subjective experiences such as experiencing affection for another person, desire for something, difficulty meeting a challenge, pride in accomplishing a difficult task, sadness over the plight of someone having a difficult time. Another subjective aspect of our mental life consists of the abstract judgments we make — of the character of someone, of the truth or falsity or likelihood of a proposition, of beauty, of priority or importance.

We conceptualize such subjective experiences through metaphors that arise during development beginning in infancy, by associating, or conflating, those subjective experiences with sensorimotor experiences, as when we conflate the subjective experience of affection, early on in life, with the sensorimotor experience of warmth, the warmth we feel when, as a child, our mothers held us close and we felt her warm embraces. The conflation of the subjective experience and the sensorimotor experience occurs automatically and unavoidably, unconsciously, remaining in our unconscious minds, emerging in later life in such metaphorical expressions as, "He greeted me warmly", and "She gave me a warm smile." Thereby we generate, store, and employ the primary metaphor, AFFECTION IS WARMTH.[29]

Metaphor and science

It seems impossible to do science without metaphors.
   — R.C. Lewontin[30]



NB:Unfinished section...

Theories deal with the world on its own terms, absolutely. Models are metaphors, relative descriptions of the object of their attention that compare it to something similar already better understood via theories. Models are reductions in dimensionality that always simplify and sweep dirt under the rug. Theories tell you what something is. Models tell you merely what something is partially like.[31]


...a long tradition of using the pinnacle of technology as a metaphor for the universe. In ancient Greece, surveying equipment and musical instruments were the technical wonders of the age, and the Greeks regarded the cosmos as a manifestation of geometric relationships and musical harmony. In the seventeenth century, clockwork was the most impressive technology, and Newton described a deterministic clockwork uni­verse, with time as an infinitely precise parameter that gauged all cosmic change. In the nineteenth century the steam engine replaced clockwork as the technological icon of the age and, sure enough, Clausius, von Helmholtz, Boltzmann, and Maxwell described the universe as a gigantic entropy-generating heat engine, sliding inex­orably to a cosmic heat death. Today, the quantum computer serves the corresponding role. Each metaphor has brought its own valuable insights; those deriving from the quantum computation model of the universe are only just being explored.[32]

Holding references:

Alternative to 'genetic blueprint': 'developental encoding'[33]


References and notes cited in text as superscripts

Many citations here include blue links that open variously to full-text or to a publisher's description of the work. Links to Google books often offer an extensive preview of the text.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Lakoff G, Johnson M. (2003,1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. New paperback printing with 2003 Afterword by authors. ISBN 0226468011.
    • From the publisher's synopsis: Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"-metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them....In this updated (2003) edition...the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.
    • Author Biographies by Publisher: George Lakoff is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of, among other books, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things and Moral Politics, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Mark Johnson is the Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon. He is the author of The Body in the Mind and Moral Imagination, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Johnson and Lakoff have also coauthored Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought.</li>
  2. Gibbs RW Jr. (2008) Metaphor and Thought: The State of the Art. Pages 3-13. In: The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought. Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., editor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84106-1. |(pdf)</li>
  3. Geary J. (2011) I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. EPub Edition. ISBN 9780062041777; ISBN 9780061710285. | Google Books preview.
    • "...a simile is just a metaphor with the scaffolding still up...”</li>
  4. Nogales PD. (1999) Metaphorically Speaking. CSLI Publications: Stanford.</li>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Knowles M, Moon R. (2006) Introducing metaphor. Routledge. ISBN 9780415278003. | Google Books preview</li>
  6. Dawkins R. (1991) Viruses of the Mind.</li>
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    • Scientists continue to search for the apposite metaphor that can give a student or non-scientist a realistic way to think about DNA. Other linguistic metaphorical expressions for DNA:
      • Chemical building block; Alphabet of life; Book of life; Computer code of life; Symphony of life; The web that spins the spider. Trevor Spencer Rines, who invented that last metaphor, explains: "If you look at a DNA molecule down its axis it looks like a spider web; then again, the idea of the molecule that unzips itself and puts itself back together reminded me of spiders consuming their own web and then re-spinning it." Strauss comments: "As our understanding of DNA has matured, the idea of a molecule that is both the spinner and the spun now seems perfectly apt."</li>
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