virus: Lakoff lecture, part 5

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Wed, 12 Mar 1997 23:14:00 -0800 (PST)

Metaphors for Thinking:

Eve Sweetser speaks of the general metaphor of the mind as a body that
functions in space, so that thinking is seen as:

MOVING (Ideas are places: "reach a conclusion" "thinking in circles" "I'm
stuck"...and communication is guiding, along a line of thought which is a

PERCEIVING (Ideas are objects we sense: "I see" searching, noticing, light
source metaphors, being blind to something, "pulling the wool over your

OBJECT MANIPULATION (Ideas are objects; we pack them into containers made
of language and send them to others who undo the packaging and take out
the meaning--this is patently ridiculous, yet it's the way we talk about
it: retrieving, recalling, getting across, taking apart an idea)

{note: this is the infamous conduit metaphor}

EATING (Ideas are food, and understanding or accepting them is eating
them: "hungry for ideas" "that's a rather bland way of putting it" "let me
chew on that" "you expect me to swallow that?" "I'll cook something up"
"That's a half-baked idea" "that chapter was indigestible" "what are they
feeding their students" "here's a meaty concept"...French has many times
more ideas-as-food metaphors, including one for particular choice ideas,
'with little onions')

LANGUAGE (Ideas are linguistic phenomena: they can be spelled out, made
note of, misread, heard, translated, eloquent or not, be part of a
vocabulary; we can speak different languages, follow the letter of a rule.
This metaphor implies that ideas are, like language, external, public,
structured linearly, and that all ideas are expressible neatly in

MATHEMATICS (Implies that thought is the performance of systematic,
step-by-step rules, as in arithmetic: summing up, adding to that, working
out a formula)

MACHINERY FUNCTION (thinking as the production of thoughts like objects on
an assembly line)

What happens when you put all these common metaphors for thought together?
You get Anglo-American philosophy:
Thoughts are independent of the body, involve step-by-step manipulation of
objects, are objective, analytical (taking apart), like language, external
& public, all representable in language and math, etc.

"The Mind is a Computer" is the logical combination of all these smaller

Philosophers use metaphors we already have. The classical model of what a
person is is all based on these metaphors, and all empirically false.

Reason is not transcendent: it's shaped by bodily experience. It's
largely UNconscious, imaginative, grounded in physical metaphors.

DeMassio (_Descartes' Error_) found that mental patients who lack emotion
are in fact irrational. Reason is emotional engaged, not something

All the results are inconsistent with existing philosophies.

--Descartes was wrong: the mind and body are not separate. Reason is
shaped by the body.
--Kant was wrong: a person is not radically autonomous (free will)--reason
is not transcendent, but based in the body and derived from it. Reason is
not universal. Morality is not independent from experience.
--Utilitarians are wrong: They say reason is the maximizing of personal
benefit. But no one thinks that way--most thinking is metaphorical and
unconscious. Since the metaphors used contradict one another, there are
conflicting goals and actions, conflicting ideas of self-interest.
--Phenomenology gets only the tip of the iceberg, the conscious part.
--Post-structuralism is false--conceptual systems are based in the body,
not arbitrary but in fact largely universal.
--Analytic philosophy (which says thought is separate from the body) says
that meaning is in the relation between words and the world, and mind and
body don't enter into it. False! False!
--The computational model of a person (mind as program, manipulation
meaningless symbols and somehow producing meaning from them) is
wrong--people get meaning from bodily experience.

So, what if we start with the results and make a philosophical model from

The Embodied Person:
Reason is bodily based, largely unconscious. Perception is active.
Thought is metaphorical.

Truth requires mediation of embodied understanding--there are no
disembodied truths. We are not separate from the environment. We have
conceptual systems that are inconsistent with one another. There are thus
constraints on reasoning. We are not radically free--we can't think and
do just anything. Most of our thought is unconscious, and we don't choose
what conceptual models to use. We can consciously decide what models to
use, but we usually we function unconsciously, not maximizing
self-interest. Morality is derived from metaphor and bodily experience.

We are a different kind of creature than philosophy has told us
for two thousand years, and what do we make of that?