virus: Lakoff lecture: Q & A period

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Thu, 13 Mar 1997 00:02:30 -0800 (PST)

Q: I read _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things_, and the study of anger
metaphor at the end. But aren't conventionalized, metaphors a
different process from spontaneous ones?

A: Yes. Some metaphors are unconsciously used, understood automatically,
like Love Is a Journey; some require learning, as for a field of science;
and some are spontaneously created, as in poetry. But anger as a fluid
heating in the body is a universal, consistent metaphor, with a consistent
event sequence in any phrasing of it. It's not just linguistic.

Q: About your different family models--What about broken homes? Would
that experience create a different model? Adaptability, for instance,
being a survival skill? What are the implications for morality and

A: I don't know. It's interesting. I haven't seen any research on it.

Q: About the idea that light=good. What about conditions that reverse
that? What about skin color? And Piaget's and others' research seems to
show that people become more creative via experiencing joy--would it be a
good idea to encourage play and joy for better thought?

A: The light metaphor is based on fear of the dark, not on skin color. In
several African languages, having a black belly is a way of referring to
having evil thoughts. In Japan it's a black liver. And different models
we have of teaching are based on different models of the mind: teaching as
the conduit metaphor, as feeding, as guiding....

Q: Can you tell us more about the conservative and liberal differences?

A: Take the death penalty: Conservatives tend to be for it, because
they're using the reward and punishment model, part of their Accounting
metaphor of morality. Liberals tend to oppose it because restitution, not
retribution, is their form of Accounting. Nurturing parents are very
protective of their children; they want lots of safguards, against
dangerous toys, impure food, pollutants--liberals favor such protections.
Conservatives tend to oppose them, favoring self-discipline and freedom to
pursue self-interest.

Q: What happens metaphorically with reversals such as "blessed are they
who hunger"? How does that work with the embodiment of moral concepts?

A: Liberal Christianity emphasizes empathy, nurturance, love: Grace--you
can't earn it or buy it, you can only be fed by it. "Blessed are they who
hunger", because God will feed them. Nurturing parent. Conservative
Christianity, on the other hand, emphasizes God as authority figure
(father) who tells you the rules; you obey and are rewarded, or disobey
and are punished.

Q: Your work is indisciplinary, and you're ultimately trying to understand
how humans work. Given the ways science tends to go, do you think that's
a good idea?

A: One of the things I study is morality, and how we can use the things we
learn for the best. I do think it's good to understand each other and how
we think.

Q: What about Eastern philosophies?

A: I've been doing Tai Chi for 20 years, I've thought a lot about Taoism
and Buddhism; I haven't done a thorough analysis by any means!
Zen Buddhism is set up to create nurturers, empathetic people, our
of people raised in a Strict Father tradition (Japan). It has to
_use_ the Strict Father tradition to achieve it, but with koans which
deconstruct the whole system at the same time. Zen teaches empathy: beign
the rock or the tree. The system doesn't work so well in the US--need a
more nurturant approach. Which drives Japanese viewers of American Zen
practice nuts.
Tibetan Buddhism is very different: you learn trust by giving in
to hierarchy. Very different from Zen.
Zen claims you can get beyond your own conceptual system and
perceive directly. This is empirically false--you can't perceive without
a conceptual system. But you _can_ NOTICE your own conceptual system, and
change it.

Q: What about propriaception?

A: In propriaception, one thing you do is pay attention to bodily
experience that's usually unconscious, and to metaphors about, say,
emotions.. Attending to your own emotions is very important.

Q: I'm working on software analysis of emotions in dreams. Have you
worked with dreams?

A: See my article in the _Journal of Dreaming_ from a few years ago.
Dreams work with pressing issues in your mind, metaphorically. The random
firings in your brain stem in REM sleep activate what's already there in
your mind. The visual cortex is fully activated, even in the congenitally
blind. Understanding metaphors in your dreams can help you understand
your life. An example--I had a friend who'd just had a breakup with his
girlfriend. The next night, he dreamed the two of them had set out in a
car to a bridge, when a storm came up and the bridge went down. It's all
there, Love is a Journey, Emotions are Weather.

Q: How does metaphor relate to second-language learning?

A: Some teachers use metaphor theory. It's very important, there's a vast
untapped potential. Languages differ in what images get used in their
idioms. Knowing the image, the pattern of metaphor in the language, makes
the idioms much easier to learn.

Q {Eva}: Reading your books and seeing the metaphors we use to shape our
view of the world, and that they're basically wrong, makes me feel rather
helpless. What would you recommend to deal with that? Should we seek
better metaphors, or can we? Should we just use a lot of different
metaphors and switch around all the time?

A: The first thing to do is notice. Understand it, know what metaphors
you have. It doesn't necessarily mean you can _change_ it; some metaphors
are deeply embedded in our culture, like TIME is MONEY. I happen to
think that's an awful metaphor. But it's a deeply ingrained part of our
culture that has been _made_ true.
A fair amount is made of various metaphors for the Internet, but
not much is mentioned about the Internet's metaphors for us. The main one
is that people are information managers, and computers are tools to help
us manage the information. But computers keep providing us more
information, and so more to manage. There's also this implication
that you're a Bad Person if you don't manage your information
adequately. This is a nutty, bad metaphor, and it's important to resist
metaphors like this one.

Q {Eva}: As someone who spends a fair amount of my time managing
information from the Net, much of it from a mailing list I'm on where we
argue about things like this, I understand what you're saying. One of the
things we argue about is the conduit metaphor, because I went and brought
it up, because it had brought itself up; what would you suggest as an
alternative to the conduit metaphor, to suggest to people who don't see
why it's a problem to use it all the time?

A: I don't know whether you read the article in _Metaphor and Thought_ on
the conduit metaphor {I had, but haven't been able to get the right
edition, with the article in question, out of the library again to reread
it}. In that there's the model of the Tool-makers. People are in
separate enclosures, and make tools that they send to each other in an
attempt to communicate. Unbeknownst to them, the enclosures have
different environments, so we understand and send messages differently,
based on those environments. We can see clues to the differences,
somtimes, and that leads us to better communication.
You can see the results of different environments on a show like
the former McNeil-Lehrer hour, where a conservative and a liberal just
talk past each other--having different metaphor systems, and not being
aware of it, means we can't communicate.

Q: Are there implications for the concept of death?

A: Yes. See _More Than Cool Reason_ {: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor}.
Death can be seen as the end of Life-as-Journey, or as the beginning of
another. Death can be a departure from Life-as-Place, possibly going to
another place, possibly to return again. Other metaphors show up in
poetry--In Shakespeare's sonnet #73, a lifetime is seen as a year, with
autumn as old age. This comes from Life-as-fire, Life-as-cycle. You'll
see life as a year, or life as a day, but you'll never see life as a week
or a fortnight. Lots of religions are based on our metaphors for life and
death. We don't have to posit a Jungian collective unconscious to explain
similar myths; they arise from similarity of bodily experience.