As in “Another new theory of consciousness: Your brain on metaphors (“It is unlikely that idioms are imagined in the brain. Most people are not in fact aware, most of the time, what common idioms reference”).
From Noel Rude, an expert in American Indian languages:
I say it’s just another attempt to limit the mind to a tangle of neurons woven together by chance and necessity.
The gist of this piece is that we use concrete imagery for abstract thought and never really escape the concrete. If we say that prices have risen we cannot escape the concrete sense of “risen”. I say this is bunk on several counts.
It overlooks the fact that the most fundamental semantic concepts are volition and consciousness. These are so basic to our experience that they are implicit in a child’s grammar before he ever resorts to metaphor. Of course we know that in official materialist dogma there is no place for volition and consciousness and therefore I should not bring this up. I would wager that no reputable linguist would dare bring it up in disputing the premise of this piece.
Also, words and expressions that are or that originated as metaphor are not all equal. Even if they are able to show (which I doubt) that when we hear or say the word “understand” our brainwaves betray some echo of “stand” and “under”, there are other words where the etymology of the original metaphor is opaque to all but linguists. Remember that the word “science” shares a common origin with the Nordic word “ski” and our Anglo-Saxon four letter “sh*t”–the ancient root being *skei- ‘cut’.
Are we to assume that there is no difference between the “embodied” concreteness of a metaphor and the abstraction to which it refers? Even after the original metaphor is now opaque?
This article (“Your Brain on Metaphors”) makes no mention of what linguists call “grammaticalization”–something that should be put center stage.
Grammaticalization is not exactly a Darwinian process. It is not an account of the evolution of language from non-language, but rather the refurbishing of language with grammatical distinctions as those distinctions are lost. The process is both phonological and semantic. What begins as a full word becomes an affix, and what begins as a metaphor goes through a process of “bleaching” until the concreteness is lost and only the grammatical concept remains. Such is the true history of all grammatical affixes (suffixes, prefixes).
Would they say that because grammar arises via metaphor it remains so and there are no abstract grammatical categories?
George Lakoff’s embodiment thesis may be “as anti-Platonic as it’s possible to get”–which explains his and Rafael Nuñez (2001) Where Mathematics Comes From: How The Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being . Somehow I doubt that Eugene Wigner (“The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”) or Roger Penrose would be impressed. Man’s thought really can reach great heights of abstraction. Man really can comprehend certain deep aspects of reality–this even when he does it via metaphor. Surely language gives us an edge over the beasts.
Lakoff was well received in his earlier work on metaphor and I have benefited from his insights. I think there are two extremes. One is that “embodiment” is all there is–it’s all neurons and no mind. Another extreme might be to deny that embodiment and subjective qualia have any bearing on understanding (but who would do this?). Those born blind, for example, cannot understand fully what “red” means. Yet the blind can speak and you might not know you are speaking to a blind person over the phone. Helen Keller wrote quite intelligently.
So there you have it–my two cents (is that a metaphor?).
See also: What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness
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