October 1, 2012

Metaphorically Speaking (x over/line through speaking) Thinking

Lakoff and Johnson make the claim that we do not just allude to metaphors when they are useful, but that our very thought process is shaped by metaphors. The clearest example used is the all-powerful claim "ARGUMENT IS WAR". Many would attempt to break down this metaphor beginning with the popular phrase "metaphorically speaking, it means....". However, metaphors are not just in speech, they are in our very thought process, and they are not but one way to look at things,  but the main way we look at things. This is why we "shoot down arguments" and "defend our stance". We inevitably - as a culture and society - think of argument as war. Lakoff and Johnson make an excellent point when explaining how differently we would attack approach argument if we instead saw it as a dance.

However, if our society saw another society practicing discourse in a form that reflects the word choice and artistic style of dance, we wouldn't even see it as an argument, even though it is one. As Lakoff and Johnson claim, "Most of our ordinary conceptual system is metaphorical in nature". The very fact that we would not be able to recognize argument if it was practiced according more to dance than to war shows the dangers of thinking metaphorically as opposed to just speaking metaphorically on both parties behalf. If we can only think of argument in terms of war, we can not change our perceptions and we will be in constant defense (this is obvious in any political debates going on right now). However, if just thinking about argument in forms of dance causes the entire discourse to change its direction and meaning, then the definition of argument has failed us.

Here we see just one of the many problems with language. Too often we think in our own terms of a word instead of remaining true to the definition. On the other hand, definitions are also just a series of word as defined by another human, so is there any true nature to a word as vague as "argument"? Lakoff and Johnson claim, ""Since communication is based on the same conceptual system that we use in thinking and acting, language is an important source of evidence for what that system is like".  This claim brings back memory of John Locke's assertion that there are two forms of language- the one we use to think and act within our own brain and the one we use to communicate these thoughts and actions to others.

So, if we begin to think metaphorically instead of just speaking metaphorically, we are bringing the language of the outside and letting it inside, where it confuses and reshapes the way we think about things. As a child viewing an argument with no shaped metaphor in his/her head yet, the child may see some war-like traits in an argument, but they are not thinking in terms of war and are able to see an argument as conversation between two people. However, if a child is told "ARGUMENT IS WAR" they will not simply think of ways to speak about arguments similarities to war but actually view the argument as a form of warfare. As they grow these "metaphorical" feelings will grow and become so deeply embedded in the being that they will be in constant defense and become cold and merciless. In just one example, we can see many dangers in the way metaphors can alter how the mind thinks, communicates, and reacts to the world around it.
Joel Bergholtz

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