Re: [biopoet] Re:Lakoff and Johnson
Re: [biopoet] Re:Lakoff and JohnsonThere’s at least one Berkeley dissertation that involves a neural networks simulation (of physical movement) building up to cognitive metaphor (you can find the reference in Philosophy in the Flesh). So some bottom-up work has been done, but I don’t know how much. And, in any event, that work doesn’t make into literary criticism based on cognitive metaphor.
On the whole I think there’s probably something profound about cognitive metaphor, but that Lakoff & Johnson et. al. haven’t really isolated it. They’ve been too busy pushing cognitive metaphor as a Theory of Everything. For example, I don’t think they’ve got a very good handle on the mappings based on Journey, which is one of their central examples. I’ve got some notes on that particular example that I wrote up a couple of years ago that I’d be willing to send to anyone who’s interested.
on 6/5/07 7:12 PM, Tom Dolack at tdolack@... wrote:
>> But I'm confused as to what exactly Lakoff and Johnson are saying - how exactly they think metaphor work.
Mike: You’ve hit on the big problem I have with their work, they don’t know how it works in terms of actual information processing, brain anatomy and so forth. I think they are sitting on something important, but because they work from the top down (taking behavior and working down to the underlying cognition), so to speak, and not from the bottom up (starting with neuroanatomy and such and working up), I don’t feel that their conclusions are anchored very well, and from what I know of the bottom up stuff (connectionism is my best example), their work is not as promising as it seemed at first. It’s something I’d like to get more into over the next year, to see to what extent the top-down and bottom-up approaches can be reconciled, if at all. I have my doubts.
- Dear Mike and all,
I believe that metaphors are mainly forged by the brain overlaying graphics/images of the source and target - how does "the sky is crying" arise? - by a visual and plastic overlapping of tears and raindrops. It must be stressed though that it is a complex multi-sensory process - so "cool as ice/ cucumber" derive from kinaesthetic not visual comparisons.
As I believe most of you know, I'm a writer, not a scientist or academic, so I may look at the matter a bit differently than most of you. For example, I read Mike's metaphor, "the sky is crying" very differently than he seemed to intend it, with its literal rain-tears mapping. I didn't consider rain or tears at all on my first impressions. Indeed, I read-saw-mapped a couple of different images with "cry" as a semi-verbal cry (but *not* thunder; rather an *emotional* cry of pain or sorrow). Yes, now as I unpack it more, I read it as a somewhat abstract, emotional metaphor, with "sky" being superimposed with "mind," and "cry" being more an emotional that sensual phenomenon. As if, say, Prometheus were crying out in rebellion and pain, enchained on Olympus, with Olympus being the sky, and Prometheus being but a wisp of cloud.
I say all that because I think the process of unpacking the way a metaphor works is very complex. But all too often, analysis tries to strip reality of its complexity for the sake of ... what? definable results? We cannot study the life of a butterfly by killing it and pinning it on a board. All we study then is the shell that contained the life.
Just the other day (6/2) I posted a brief essay to my blog. The essay is part of an ongoing discussion of poetics, but you may find that it has some relevance to this discussion (altho it may not sit well with some of you). I explore the issues of embedding complexity into language, and thus, why I don't use standard English in my poetry. It's entitled " Literary Complexity and its Antithesis, Ambiguity." You can find it at http://shivvetee.blogspot.com/
please excuse my wordiness...
- BB:Conceptual blending originated in the work of Fauconnier and Tuner. It¹s
closely related to conceptual metaphor, but allows for interaction between
multiple domains and is about temporary constructs rather than permanent
ones (metaphor mappings are regarded as permanent). Blending is also a
notion of structural mapping between domains.
> This whole area, I believe, lies bang at the current crossroads of
> science and the next cognitive revolution.The NEXT cognitive revolution? Will that be #3 or #4?
Bill,V. interesting - have you got any refs. for where they actually go into structural mapping notions? Like I said, I don't believe that structural mapping of symbolic propositions will produce much of any value. It was good to get Tom's reaction too - i.e. confirmation of the foundational vagueness of their ideas. This is often the way. People in this area often lack the nerve and the ahem vision to harden up their ideas - and deliberately leave things vague. Harnad's ideas about symbolic grounding are much the same, to my mind - he should be saying something much more concrete - much closer to my idea of the brain as a picture tree, processing all info. simultaneously as symbols & graphics & images - but he isn't, he's vague.Yes, please send your ideas re "journey" etc. - I think "goal seeking"/ "finding the way to goals"/ "journeying to goals" is the predominant framework, both literal and metaphorical, for all human activities - both in our culture and in the brain.I agree, if I've understood you, that their metaphorical networks/ domains/whatever are somewhat arbitrary.Er,Gawd knows whether it's 3/4 or 5 - but one can be v. confident that here broadly lies the next cognitive revolution - cog. sci. is currently "senseless" - conception without sense [a la Kant] - & AI is stalled because of it - in drawing analogies, visual object recognition, and natural language processing, and artificial general intelligence. The next rev. lies in a thoroughgoing restoring of mind to body, intelligence to its senses, and airy symbols to grounded images.
- on 6/6/07 9:07 AM, Mike Tintner at tintner@... wrote:
>I suspect we've got a semantic issue. Apparently "structural mapping" is the
> V. interesting - have you got any refs. for where they actually go into
> structural mapping notions?
specific term that Genter et al have adopted for their conceptual framework.
But structures are quite general and so is the notion of mapping. What L&J
talk about IS structural mapping, in the general sense; and, for the most
part, it is mapping between symbols of some sort.
> Like I said, I don't believe that structuralWell, your notion of "the brain as a picture tree . . ." is pretty vague
> mapping of symbolic propositions will produce much of any value. It was good
> to get Tom's reaction too - i.e. confirmation of the foundational vagueness of
> their ideas. This is often the way. People in this area often lack the nerve
> and the ahem vision to harden up their ideas - and deliberately leave things
> vague. Harnad's ideas about symbolic grounding are much the same, to my mind -
> he should be saying something much more concrete - much closer to my idea of
> the brain as a picture tree, processing all info. simultaneously as symbols &
> graphics & images - but he isn't, he's vague.
too. You need to specify how that processing is done.
>Here it is:
> Yes, please send your ideas re "journey" etc. - I think "goal seeking"/
> "finding the way to goals"/ "journeying to goals" is the predominant
> framework, both literal and metaphorical, for all human activities - both in
> our culture and in the brain.
The Journey Mapping and the Brain
I've had problems with the use of journey as a source domain for some time,
but it's only recently that I've had anything useful to say about it. I've
been working on music and ended up reading some of the literature on
navigation (human and animal) and spatial cognition (see citations below).
I now have a few comments that folks might find useful.
1. What's A Domain?
In thinking about language, cognition, mind, etc. I invariably end up with
the brain. So, one of my concerns about the journey domain is: Where do we
find it in the brain? It is not at all obvious just how to go about
locating the various source domains in the brain. It could be that at least
some of them correspond to more or less functionally distinct neocortical
regions. It could also be that a bunch of them are overlapped and
intermingled in the same (possibly distributed) volume of neural tissue. And
there's no a priori reason why we shouldn't expect both.
However, consider what you have to do to actually execute a journey. You've
got to move the body from one place to another. All by itself that requires
quite a large chunk of cortical and subcortical tissue. You also have to
navigate from your starting point to your finishing point. And you have to
eat, drink, sleep, and be merry on the way. It thus seems that, to execute
a real journey, you have to use the whole brain.
That's not a very useful conclusion--hence one of my problems with the
journey domain. However, maybe our primary interest is in the control
structure that pulls it all together. That would seem to be a more limited
set of neural structures. The navigation system would seem to be in limbic
cortex, the hippocampus and associated structures. Of course, the
navigation system is not the top-level control structure for journeying.
The top-level control system is the one that tells as when to perform a
navigational computation (fix current position, establish next line of
travel), when to move, and when to eat, drink, sleep, and be merry. But the
general idea is that we're interested in how all this stuff is controlled.
This line of thought occurred to me as I was thinking about how a brain
would improvise jazz. Of course, there could be a special music module,
with jazz attachment, but I happen to think the whole mental modules line
is, at best, not helpful, but more likely it's dangerous nonsense. I'd
rather think about how to make used of existing equipment. So, the scheme
that occurred to me is that the brain could treat the chord changes (e.g.
the standard I IV I V IV I blues progression) as a landscape. The act of
improvising then becomes one of navigating through the landscape.
Thus, during a real journey navigational control is normally mapped to
visual, auditory, olfactory, sensors tracking the external world. Similarly,
the locomotor control is mapped to the legs. But, during a jazz journey, we
map navigational control to both the internalized memory of the chord
progression and to the auditory world of sound actually being created. And
we map locomotor control to the muscles playing the instrument.
Note that, in suggesting this, I'm NOT talking about the CONCEPTS we use to
talk and think about jazz improvisation. That's a whole other discussion,
one that doesn't interest me at the moment. I'm talking about how we
actually perform an improvisation, or, by implication, how we understand an
improvisation someone else is performing. So, we have the neural
configuration required to execute a real journey in the external world, and
we have the neural configuration required to execute a (virtual) journey in
the musical world.
It's not clear to me just how these two configurations are related to that
required to use and understand the LIFE IS A JOURNEY or LOVE IS A JOURNEY
mappings. I observer, however, that the Berkeley group's neural modeling
makes use of a model of human locomotor control. And it's the control
structure of that model that is, e.g. determining verb aspect.
This brings me to my second problem:
2. What's Concrete And What's Abstract?
It seems that one of the primary things we want from those two mappings is
the capacity to see life/love problems and achievements/goals as analogues
to physical obstacles and goals in a real journey.
So, what's the image schema for the prototypical obstacle? There isn't one.
There's a whole mess of them. Lots of things can be an obstacle in a
physical journey -- a log across the road, a pack of wolves, an avalanche, a
fallen bridge, etc. Each has it's own prototypical form and image schema,
but there is no "covering schema" for the lot. If that is the case, then how
can the notion of an obstacle be a concrete notion? And if it isn't
concrete, then it's useless as the ground for an abstraction. You can run
through the same drill for goals -- landmarks and destinations come in all
shapes and sizes, and even for whole journeys.
Sure, real journeys are physical events in the physical world. You can see
and hear and smell them. Etc. But the notion of a journey itself, its
goals and obstacles, that would seem to be abstract.
Unless, once again, we focus on control structure and control events. What
does an obstacle mean to the control structure? No matter what the obstacle
is, you have to stop and you have to do something. Similarly, landmarks, no
matter what they are, require that you fix your position, check it against
your itinerary, and plot the next leg (if there is one). Finally, what all
journeys have in common is a control structure.
So, the journey domain that serves as the source domain in metaphor mappings
is a control structure. And, when you consider evolutionary matters, it's
obvious that this control structure must be very flexible and powerful.
Primates are foragers. And my colleague Valerius Geist maintains that what
turned a bunch of clever apes into human beings was a long march across the
ecologically demanding African steppes.
This gets at one of my general difficulties with cognitive metaphor. The
whole thing seems like a giant passive data structure that takes the human
body as its template rather than set theory or predicate calculus. Well,
that's a difference. But a data structure is a data structure. It's
passive, it's static.
Once you start storing control structures and processes in your database --
as you have to do in order to make the journey mapping work -- you've got a
different ball game. You have to start thinking about processes. There is
no doubt a pile of recent literature here and there that speaks to this
issue, but I'm not up on it. So I suggest two ancient texts, Norman and
Rumelhart, 1976 (pp. 35 - 65), which I'm sure some of you read back in the
Jurasic era, and Hays, 1981 (pp. 5 ff., 84 ff).
Now for a bonus:
3. Cognitive Domains And Mental Spaces
As I understand it, cognitive domains are more or less permanent mental
structures. Mental spaces are temporary structures, constructed on-the-fly
during thought and speech. We've got metaphor theory constructed in terms
of permanent cognitive domains and blending theory constructing in terms of
temporary spaces. It would be nice to put them together in a uniform
That's certainly more than I can do, much less do in a brief and informal
email. But at least some of the neural machinery involved overlaps with
that involved in controlling journeys.
The hippocampus is part of the limbic cortex; that is to say, it is
phylogenetically old tissue, older than the neocortex. The rat hippocampus
has been classically associated with spatial cognition. There are
hippocampal cells called place cells which are active only when the rat is
at a certain position in its world. Different place cells are sensitive to
different locales. So, there's a been a great deal of experimental work on
the role of the rat hippocampus in spatial cognition and navigation.
The human hippocampus, at least superficially, seems to be a different
beast. When it is destroyed the person is unable to learn anything new (at
least in so-called episodic memory). They have normal recall for events
that happened before the injury, but no recall for events that happened
after the injury. Patients can carry on a normal intelligent conversation,
and 30 seconds later they've forgotten it. They thus seem unable to
transfer the content of a temporary mental space to long-term memory.
Long-term memory is not necessarily, of course, the world of all those
cognitive domains, which would be part of so-called semantic memory (rather
Now, what, if anything, do spatial cognition and episode retention have in
common? That's a tricky question, though I observe that journeys typically
have many episodes, etc. David Redish (1999) has recently reviewed the
hippocampal literature and reported on some computer simulations of his own.
He thinks the common link is control of context and the ability to segment
the experiential stream into discrete chunks. I can't summarize his
argument here, but it's worth thinking about.
My general point is that it now seems to me that an inquiry into the neural
underpinnings of journeying will also be an inquiry into the neural
underpinnings of the relationship between mental spaces and permanent
C. R. Gallistel, ed., _Animal Cognition_, MIT Press 1992. This is a reprint
of _Cognition_, 37 (1990). See Gallistel's introduction and papers by Gibbon
and Church, Church and Broadbent.
Reginald G. Golledge, _Wayfinding Behavior_, Johns Hopkins Press, 1999.
David G. Hays, Cognitive Structures, HRAF Press, 1981.
Donald A. Norman and David E. Rumelhart, Explorations in Cognition, WH
A. David Redish, _Beyond the Cognitive Map_, MIT Press, 1999.
4. Syntax As Journey
Now that I've had a chance to think about my previous email it seems to me
that if we combine the thrust of section 1 (WHAT'S A DOMAIN?) and section 3
(COGNITIVE DOMAINS AND MENTAL SPACES) we arrive at the notion of syntax as a
virtual journey. Consider this brief passage from the end of section 1:
...during a jazz journey, we map navigational control to both the
internalized memory of the chord progression and to the auditory world of
sound actually being created. And we map locomotor control to the muscles
playing the instrument....So, we have the neural configuration required to
execute a real journey in the external world, and we have the neural
configuration required to execute a (virtual) journey in the musical world.
What is a speech string but the trace of a journey through syntactic space?
The jazz musician treats the current chord progression as a space through
which to take a (virtual) journey. Similarly, the speaker treats semantic
structure as a space through which to take a journey. But the semantic
structure is no more unbounded that the jazz musician's sonic space.
Rather, it is bounded by the pragmatic and rhetorical considerations
governing the current speech situation, speech to a certain person (or
group), who know certain things, on a certain topic. That constrains
semantic choice in the way a chord progression constrains melodic choice.
The point, of course, is the possibility that we may be dealing with the
same neural structures in all cases:
1. A real journey through physical case
2. A jazz journey through musical space
3. A syntactic journey through semantic space
And this, of course, brings us to mental spaces. Didn't Fauconnier invent
mental spaces as settings for syntactic journeys through semantic space?
>I don't follow. The literature on visual perception is huge, and there's
> I agree, if I've understood you, that their metaphorical networks/
> domains/whatever are somewhat arbitrary.
> Er,Gawd knows whether it's 3/4 or 5 - but one can be v. confident that here
> broadly lies the next cognitive revolution - cog. sci. is currently
> "senseless" -
quite a bit on sound as well. Less so on touch and taste and smell, but
there is work.
> . . . conception without sense [a la Kant] - & AI is stalled because
> of it - in drawing analogies, visual object recognition, and natural language
> processing, and artificial general intelligence. The next rev. lies in a
> thoroughgoing restoring of mind to body, intelligence to its senses, and airy
> symbols to grounded images.
- Re Lakoff there seems to be a pretty good exposition of his theories re cognitive grammar at v. end of Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant Fire - and at the level of theory, Lakoff is one confused bugger. (His particular observations re metaphors are stimulating). If anyone wants to say a good word for him here, please do.Edelman who clearly knows his work in detail and aligns with him strongly offers the all-important confusion re his cog. grammar:"in proposing embodiment as the origin of meaning, it does not show HOW this might come to pass. Nor does it show how symbolic idealized cognitive models of language arise as a result of the mechanisms of perceptual and conceptual categorization."
- Bill,There's a lot of interesting ideas in your exploration of journey. The missing key I think is to think of journey as applying to ACTIVITIES, or COURSES OF ACTION. Then you realise it is more or less fundamental to life and behaviour and you don't need to pin it down to any neural area.We have drives - we learn to make journeys (take steps) - to reach goals (literally as crawling, tottering infants) - overcoming obstacles/ problems.to satisfy those drives.We start literally taking physical, navigational steps through physical landscapes and overcoming physical obstacles - then we learn to take "journeys" and "steps" through higher-level landscapes towards higher-level goals - social, informational, erotic etc.. - as we engage in more complex, higher-level activities and make conversation, search for information, have sex etc.And the higher-level activities are based on the lower-level navigational journeys and never lose their metaphorical and to some extent literal connection either in culture or in our mind.I believe that conceiving of an activity/ course of action as a journey to a goal is the basis of general intelligence - which Artificial General Intelligence is striving for. It's the common framework that enables us to learn new activities. And, I suggest, we do learn new activities by being told the goal and given a rough idea of how to get there - so you learn soccer by being told - "the object is to kick the ball into the goal..." "and you can run with the ball, or pass it to other members of your team"...etc.One of the interesting ideas in your essay - and one of the most important truths about our nature - is that we are designed to "improvise" that journey (your word) to a considerable extent - - literally every journey/ activity. We never know the whole way, and always have to find it - even in say writing a post like this. I would use the word "compose" - we always compose our activities/ journeys (albeit often out of many programmed routines) rather than being executors of programs. We are free composers rather than determined executors. The dramatic/narrative arts are stories of our journeys/ compositions.P.S. The drives, steps and journeys and even problems are all of many different kinds - and engage many different areas of the body - so no point in trying to pin any of this down to particular neural areas. We are like all animals - a goal-seeking, wayfinding, journeymaking SYSTEM. Any comments?