Why I find embodied metaphors fascinating?
What is it to be conscious?
How do we know that we are conscious and alive?
And where exactly does this consciousness come from?
"Cogito Ergo Sum" or "I think, therefore I am",remarked the French mathematician and philosopher,Renee Descartes.
According to Descartes, the highest function of man, and the litmus test for his very existence was the ability to think.
Thinking defined consciousness, it was the evidence to man's very existence.A man thinks, therefore he exists.
Descartes was one of the most prominent advocates of the duality of the mind and body.
According to him, the body is just a receptacle and vehicle for carrying the mind around, and there existed a sharp boundary between them.
However studies in the fields of linguistics and neuroscience have been found to refute Descartes's ideas.
Consider the following conversation:
"I see what you did there, thanks for shining some light on this topic",said the student to his professor.
"I still don't get it, it goes 'over my head'",remarks another student.
Or this one:
"The visiting football team used a 'dirty' trick to win the game"
These sentences are examples of metaphors we use in our day to day lives.
In the first exchange:'Seeing' is equated with 'Understanding'
In the second,'Cleanliness' is equated with 'Morality'(a dirty trick).
Although such associations are a commonplace occurrence in our daily conversations, what is interesting about them is that the comparisons are 'systematic' and 'coherent'.
We don't compare anything with anything.
It's always an abstract thing that we describe in terms of a concrete thing.
For example, we don't say "he is moral" to mean that a person has bathed recently.
Metaphor is unidirectional.
The metaphors are also coherent.
Take the example of understanding and seeing.
There are plenty of relevant metaphorical examples.
- "I see what you mean"
- "Let's shed some light on that"
- "Lets put that under a microscope"
In all these cases the understood idea is seen as a seen object.
These observations led George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, two behavioural scientists to conclude that we don't just TALK about 'understanding' as 'seeing',you THINK about 'understanding' as 'seeing'.
If this theory doesn't convince you, here are examples of a few experiments that seem to agree with this explanation.
- Participants holding warm as opposed to cold cups of coffee were more likely to judge a confederate as trustworthy after only a brief interaction. Similarly, at the University of Toronto, “subjects were asked to remember a time when they were either socially accepted or socially snubbed. Those with warm memories of acceptance judged the room to be 5 degrees warmer on the average than those who remembered being coldly snubbed. Another effect of Affection Is Warmth.” This means that we both physically and literary “warm up” to people.
- Thinking about the future caused participants to lean slightly forward while thinking about the past caused participants to lean slightly backwards. Future is Ahead
- Squeezing a soft ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as female while squeezing a hard ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as male. Female is Soft
- Those who held heavier clipboards judged currencies to be more valuable and their opinions and leaders to be more important. Important is Heavy.
- Subjects asked to think about a moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth after the experiment than those who had thought about good deeds. Morality is Cleanliness.
The results of all these studies call into question the validity of the Cartesian idea of the body as merely a vehicle of the brain and hints at a deeper relationship between physical stimuli and our state of mind.