Exercise on Metaphors
Exercise on Metaphors: The ‘Embodied Mind’ and the Metaphorical Basis of Thinking
The notion of the ‘embodied mind’ helps us to think beyond the Cartesian split between mind and body. Lakoff and Johnson, influenced by Merleau-Ponty and Varela, Thompson and Rosch among others, consider that this also accounts for the profoundly metaphorical nature of our thinking. They argue that ‘the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment. The same neural and cognitive mechanisms that allow us to perceive and move around also create our conceptual systems and modes of reason.’ And, ‘Reason is evolutionary, in that abstract reason builds on and makes use of forms of perceptual and motor inference present in “lower” animals.’ (1999: 4). So, to understand reason we need to understand our sensory and motor systems, the human body and its relationships to space, its experiential learning as it moves around its environment. This gives us ways of understanding the categories and concepts that we have and why they are grounded in basic metaphors. They provide many examples which are worth exploring, such as:
Affection is warmth
Subjective judgement: Affection
Sensorimotor domain: Temperature
Example: ‘They greeted me warmly’
Primary experience: Feeling warm while being held affectionately
Difficulties are burdens
Subjective judgement: Difficulty
Sensorimotor domain: Muscular exertion
Example: ‘She is weighed down by responsibilities’
Primary experience: The discomfort or disabling effect of lifting or carrying heavy objects
Control is up
Subjective judgement: Being in control
Sensorimotor domain: Vertical orientation
Example: ‘Don’t worry! I’m on top of the situation’
Primary experience: Finding it easier to control a person of exert force on an object from above where gravity is working with you
Time is motion
Subjective judgement: The passage of time
Sensorimotor domain: Motion
Example: Time flies
Primary experience: Experiencing the passage of time as one moves or observes motion
Their theory of ‘embodied realism’ is argued in detail and grounded in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience, so it is only possible here to provide the briefest of introductions, but it is worth exploring and provides a good deal of food for thought and offers insights into the metaphorical language of ourselves and our clients.
Exercise: Make a habit of noticing metaphors in everyday language, in therapy sessions and in your reading. Play a ‘spot the metaphor’ game with friends or colleagues.
Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.
A shorter and more digestible introduction is:
Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
An interesting therapeutic perspective is provided by:
Rowe, N. (2000) ‘Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and dramatherapy’, Dramatherapy, 22(2): 13–17.