Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Metaphors everywhere?

Definition: the word metaphor itself is a metaphor, coming from a Greek word meaning to "transfer" or "carry across." metaphors "carry" meaning from one word, image, or idea to another.

Every new theory or invention needs to be sustained by a preexisting concept. This concept is used to conform the new metaphor that defines the novelty, Following some examples are presented.

The meme metaphor: Meme is similar to "idea," but not all ideas are memes. A passing idea which you do not communicate to others, or one which fails to take root in others, falls short of being a meme. The important part of the "meme about memes" is that memes are subject to adaptive evolutionary forces similar to those that select for genes. Heir variation is subject to selection in the environment provided by human minds, communication channels, and the vast collection of cooperating and competing memes that make up human culture. The analogy is remarkably close.

The Black Swan metaphor: Nassim Taleb said that from the knowledge management viewpoint, his book isn’t about what we know, or about what we know we don’t know, but rather is a book that focuses attention on the un- or ill-conceived, on what we don’t know we don’t know, Donald Rumsfeld’s famous “unknown unknowns.” and prepare and position ourselves for them, so that we live in a state that is more robust relative to their possible occurrence and impact.

The Stream metaphor: The Stream is what the Web is thinking and doing, right now. It's our collective stream of Consciousness. The Stream is the dynamic activity of the Web, unfolding over time. It is the conversations, the live streams of audio and video, the changes to Web sites that are happening, the ideas and trends -- the memes -- that are rippling across millions of Web pages, applications, and minds,

The Twitter metaphor: Twitter is like a huge cocktail party with:
Following and Followers: you can say you invited people to the party when you followed them. People who are not online now have not arrived at the party. But like all good parties, there are party crasher who also appear but were not invited.
Timeline: full of many individual conversations, and skimming the timeline is like walking through the room, eavesdropping on conversations as you walk past people.
Replies:. are like walking up to someone, and using their name to start a new conversation, or turning to include someone new by using their name.

The Metaphor cognitive function metaphor: Pinker sees human intelligence itself as consisting of a repertoire of concepts -- such as objects, space, time, causation and intention -- which are useful in a social, knowledge-intensive species, whose evolution you can well imagine, and a process of metaphorical abstraction that allows us to bleach these concepts of their original conceptual content -- space, time and force -- and apply them to new abstract domains, therefore allowing a species that evolved to deal with rocks and tools and animals to conceptualize mathematics, physics, law and other abstract domains.
He said that verbs, for example – to cause, to make, to go – can be seen as an alphabet of the basic concepts with which we’re born. He said we comprehend more complexity through metaphor – or simple comparisons. We weren’t born with ideas about physics, chess and love affairs, but probably with a smaller stock of ideas like cause and go and make and goal, and metaphor allows us to co-opt simple concrete thoughts to deal with complex abstract situations.

"The logic of the emotional mind is associative; it takes elements that symbolize a reality, or trigger a memory of it, to be the same as that reality. That is why similes, metaphors and images speak directly to the emotional mind. ... If the emotional mind follows this logic and it's rules, with one element standing for another, things need not necessarily be defined by their objective identity: what matters is how they are perceived; things are as they seem. ... Indeed, in emotional life, identities can be like a hologram in the sense that a single part evokes a whole. " - Goleman


medicatedlady said...

If I could think of a metaphor for brilliant, I would leave it here, Dear Mariana. You continue to inspire me.

jinjir minjir said...

The only reservations I have centre on the Black Swan. Not because it is reminiscent of Donald Rumsfeld and his stand-up comedy talent, but because in a scientific framework this line of thought is very similar to its political application: it runs a serious risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Unlike "known unknowns" (which can be translated as "scientific hypotheses" f.ex.), "unknown unknowns" are unknowns - full stop. By attempting to expect and predict them you confer knowledge, which, as the semantics of "unknown unknowns" imply, is pure imagination. And if you start fixating on imaginary things, you end up being another Don Quixote.

I think....

Uncle Tree said...

Hello, Mariana! I'm not sure how to respond to this one. Are you saying that the way to complex thinking is through the use of simple metaphors? And that these metaphors are natural, in that there is no need to invent them? And where do the basic concepts come from? Is it an attempt to interpret reality in a new way, like putting old wine in new bottles?

All I could think of today was the man J. Krishnamurti, and the discussions he had with D. Bohm. The thought is about our perceptions, and how we project our own fake, or simulated reality, and fail to see the real one, causing us to make improper decisions. Krishnamurti would have us do away with concepts, and all the like, so that we may see things as they are, instead of how they seem. To me, it seems the opposite of what your article is about. I know it'll take up space, but I'd like to leave a couple of quotes. You may edit as need be. It was just a thought.
J. Krishnamurti Oct 1961?: Through complete rest the brain is made fresh, to respond without reaction, to live without deterioration, to die without the torture of problems. To look without thought is to see without the interference of time, knowledge and conflict. This freedom to see is not a reaction; all reactions have causes; to look without reaction is not indifference, aloofness, a cold-blooded withdrawal.
Jiddu Krishnamurti 14 Dec 1958: Seeing all this, that thought is the result of memory, of collected experience which is very limited, and that the seeking of Reality, God, Truth, Perfection, Beauty is really the projection of thought - in conflict with the present and going towards an idea of the future - and seeing that the pursuit of the future creates time; seeing all this, surely it is obvious that thought must be suspended. There must be something, surely, which thought cannot capture and put into memory, something totally new, completely unknowable, unrecognizable?

Mariana Soffer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mariana Soffer said...

Jinjir:You where right about the Black Swan, Completely right. I fixed that and a few other errors I had. I did not review it properly.
I do not get what you mean exactly about becoming self-fulfilling. Is it that the unk-unk are going to appear and cause a disaster?
I am sorry to tell you but I wouldn't do an analogy with a scientific hypotesis instead of unk-unk; I would use something really really unknown, for example the number zero before it was conceived. I am not sure that you can confer knowledge cause you have no knowledge in the unk-unk.
What I completely agree with is that imagination can go ashtray and do disasters in real life, and if you search obsessively for the extraction of knowledge of the unk-unk you are going to end up marring a mill.
Let's continue this talk about unk-unk and imagination, I find it quite interesting,
Thanks a lot for coming.

Mariana Soffer said...

Uncle:You are right it is an attempt of interpreting reality, one of the millions. But this reality was not propose by me, It was proposed by Mr Pinker.
Metaphors are an artifice as language is, they where both invented/created by humans and evolved in time.
What I understand from Pinker's idea is that in order to overcome
the complex structure of interpretation we have in our heads, metaphors help us to address in a more direct way to the basic things without having to go through the complex mental wire system.
Regarding Were do basic concepts come from, well, I guess we can try and ask mr wolfram.

I read that Krishnamurti story, it is very enlightening, the problem
is too deep dough, is it possible for things to be without being interpreted? On the other way reminds me of Nietzche's idea of unlearning everything to become a wise person.

Thanks a lot for sharing the en lighting Krishnamurti stories. Their ending is perfect for
the post.

Mariana Soffer said...

Patient: Do not worry, eventually it will come, just don't push it.
Thanks for coming

poeticgrin said...

"Every new theory or invention needs to be sustained by a preexisting concept." Which is precisely why I adore metaphor. What would I be, Mariana, without the option to descibe one thing as another? Great post as always.

valbrussell said...

Perhaps our consciousness is a metaphor God uses to understand his/her/it's consciousness. As always, I leave your blog with new and valuable knowledge. Thanks mariana for your many fascinating perspectives.

Mariana Soffer said...

Poeticgrin: You adore metaphors cause metaphors are metaphors of reality, am I right? I guess we play the metaphor game as if we where kids which make us feel free.
Thank you very much for your compliment my friend.

Mariana Soffer said...

Valbrusell: Very interesting the idea of consciousness being a metaphor, never thought about it, makes sense what you say because metaphors make things easier to understand.

Anyway what consciousness is it is an incredibly complex question which I am not going to get near to, although I am a little tempted.

It makes me incredibly happy exchanging knowledge with other people. Specially if they have so many things to share as you do.

RDC said...

Hi Mariana. Nice to see at my blog.

Metaphors!!! I read once ago ‘where’s mathematic’s come from’ by Lakoff and Nuñez. Since then I'm kind interested on this stuff.

Ei guys, what's up with this Krishnamurti! I don't know who is him but in few days some people is talking to me about his thoughts.

Anyway, I don't believe in mysticism... it's not even superficial.


Mariana Soffer said...

Hi guy, I do not know your name yet, you left me completely astonished with "Lakoff and Nuñez", I do NLP nowadays applied to opinion mining, I read some of those guys papers, but mostly the ones related to my area I am mainly following the lines of P. Turney and also Liu & Hu (or something like that).

Your final line is slightly ironical, although I am sure you did not meant it to be.

Come more often and let me know what you do.

chicaenminifalda said...

hola Mariana: me encanta este blog! te escribo para que combinemos libro marcado que veníamos postergando. Beso!

Uncle Tree said...

Concise and direct
Straight to the point
Word mincing not allowed
Get it through your head
Fuzzy math, fuzzy logic

Fuzzy Bear met a fore gone conclusion
"Blessed is the man who says what he means, and means what he says."
What's so mystical about that?
Were we talking about Art?
Or, the art of explaining oneself?

Mariana Soffer said...

Muchas gracias Cecilia, sabes q no encuentro tu email ahora me fijo mejor igual. Como bienen tus tardes de fin de semana? para mi es buena opcion.


Mariana Soffer said...

Medicated Lady: I do not know if you realized that I address you as patient, sorry, my mistake, I guess a medicated person is also a patient in general.

Mariana Soffer said...

Uncle: as usual you read my mind, I did this blog in order to learn to write properly, which for me translated into saying what I mean.
You put another name to it which I like more "The art of explaining myself".
Thank you very much for your collaboration

Basurero Usurero said...

Nice post, that's all I'm gonna say. Good luck.

paulandrewrussell said...

A very interesting post mariana.

Mariana Soffer said...

Basurero Usurero: Thanks for the compliment, there is nothing else to say.

Paul: I love when you come here (I know who you are, but I am not telling anybody)

jinjir minjir said...

Self-fulfilling = IF (like Don Quixote) you only see windmills, then the problem consists of windmills; not the wind, OR its direction.

Por decirlo en otra manera: if you don't know what you're looking for, but you THINK YOU HAVE AN IDEA about it, your idea will dictate your findings.

Mariana Soffer said...

Jinjir: I realize you are not a native Spanish speaker, hep, but good try:
1.I get you! excelent. Is like starting from the wrong premises. Which is the problem with so many things in science, life and so on..

Besides:"If you do not know what you are looking for you don't know what you get"

theperceptionpoint said...

I've been fascinated by memes for a while, especially in how they work within transference of culture and the role they play in evolution of the mind, I think. And, of course, as a poet I've always been fascinated by metaphor. Freud said the subconscious mind moved in metaphor, like dreams do (visual metaphors), and used this concept to go about doing his psychoanalysis with patients. Having said that,he was a chauvinist pig who thought all artists suffered from delusion and psychological problems! One of his favorite students & patients was a woman by the name of Hilda Doolittle (HD was her pen name) and she went as far as to say that poets rely on metaphor to reach complex ideas through this technique, similar to what Pinker says. I think metaphor speaks to both the conscious and unconscious mind, that is why it is a powerful tool.

PS Who has the time for Twitter?!?! Hope you're well.

jinjir minjir said...

I am not a native English speaker, either. Ciudadano del mundo, ¿quizas? :)

Anonymous said...

Met a fore
Meet a world
Meat a for
Meta phone

Mariana Soffer said...


I love the idea of memes. Do you know Blackmore, she said: "memes are little bits of knowledge, lore, habit that seem to
spread themselves using human brains as mere carriers. She's exploring the existence of a new class of meme,
pread by human technology. It's temporarily named the "teme.". She can clarify the idea about twitter and memes relation.

I was reading Saussure ,Froid and Lacan thought about metaphors, it is pretty intresting, I thought about adding some of that in this post, but it did not fit quite right, beside I am also not that fond of Froid, and I can not understand Lacan theory properly. Maybe for a future post. By the way intresting fact the HD one.

I hope you are great to, txs for sharing your thoughts.

Mariana Soffer said...

Jinjir: I am really intrigued. Voce fala portugueish? Parla Italiani? Parla Catala?
But I am pretty sure you are in the UK.

Anonymous: Thank you, nice memetic poem. Maybe also
Meat a fork
Met a forge

utopianfragments said...

wonderful post and great dialog in the comments. i envy and thankful for you bring together so many good voice to share their minds.

Mariana Soffer said...

Thank you very much utopian, don't envy me you have a pretty good audience to. The thing is that it takes time to develop a relation and understand what your readers mean.
Take care

Lucy in the Sky said...

I cannot believe my eyes. What an interesting blog!

I just love metaphors but what struck me most here is "We weren’t born with ideas about physics, chess and love affairs, but probably with a smaller stock of ideas like cause and go and make and goal, and metaphor allows us to co-opt simple concrete thoughts to deal with complex abstract situations."
I feel completely captivated when it comes to finding out how much we bring along and how much is triggered out by exposure.

I'm glad I've found this place. :)

Mariana Soffer said...

I am really happy you stepped by, I need to go now, but you know that the idea you quoted about what metaphors are, was a big mind opener for me.
The famous nature/nurture, me too, I have several posts related with that issue.

Take care

mi otro yo said...


Leo y pienso. pienso en decirte y me digo para terminar no diciendote ja

En fin leerte en ingles y estar haciendo esto de escribirte con mi forma o idioma me intima, podría decirse, un poco pero bueno quería que sepas que te leo, que estoy.

Mariana Soffer said...

Me parece que es super sincero, y me encanta de tu parte que me lo digas, mi teoria de porque no me escribe la gente del mundillo blog "cool" de bs as es porque les averguenza, no se si es por no entender idioma, escribir mal o ignorar el tema y no animarse a equibocarse en publico.
Mil gracias y a mi me parece copadisimo lo que escribis, el tema es que se me desajustaron los tiempos dedicados a blogs.

Mariana Soffer said...

We talk with "my otro yo" about the difficulties english language present for most of our argentinian bloggers, and how to deal with that.

jofr said...

There is a classic book from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson named "Metaphors we live by". They argue that all of us, not just poets, speak in metaphors when we use abstract terms.

Mariana Soffer said...

jofr: I know those guys, I read part of what they wrote about metaphors, they have very interesting thoughts.
What I remember most about their writings is that they stated that metaphors structure our perceptions and understanding. But I also like what steven pinker says about them, and also peter turney and mr hofstadter. Peter has an intresting blog that talks a lot about it:
I hope you like it, and I hope you keep coming here.

Anonymous said...

Stunning, absolutely stunning essay. I could have never written such an essay myself.

Anonymous said...

Glad I found this on google .

Anonymous said...

Hope to receive some assistance from you if I will have any questions.

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