The metaphorical concept of mind

By Dawn Rodriguez,2014-06-23 11:30
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The metaphorical concept of mind


    The metaphorical concept of mind:

    1"Mental activity is manipulation"

    Olaf Jäkel

    Socrates: Well now, what names are needed for catching

    any piece of knowledge one wants, and having taken, for

    holding it, and letting it go again?

    Plato, Theaetetus

    1. Introduction: Construing a world within

    What kind of terms does everyday language hold in store for discourse about the mind? In an application of the

    2cognitive theory of metaphor as developed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, the abstract domain of mental

    3activity can be profitably investigated. The results of this investigation show that, to a large extent, this domain is conceptualized metaphorically in terms of the physical manipulation of solid objects.

    The purpose of this paper is to describe the conceptual metaphor "mental activity is manipulation" as a complex cognitive model in which several submetaphors form a coherent system. The explanatory value of this metaphorical

    idealized cognitive model lies in its accounting for the semantic motivation of a host of conventional English expressions that give voice to cognitive processes such as learning and understanding, problem solving and judging, remembering and forgetting. As a whole, this cognitive model, having been reconstructed from linguistic evidence,

    4might be regarded as representing a kind of folk theory of mental activity, i.e., a folk epistemology.

    This model is described in section 2. The language data presented consist of only a fraction of the corpus analyzed

    5in the original study. A more finegrained analysis of some of the linguistic material as well as of the invariance issue (cf. Lakoff 1990) will be provided in a more comprehensive study (Jakel, to appear). The aim here is to introduce the folk theoretical model "mental activity is manipulation" as a highly productive option for construing a world within. Following a short summary of results (section 3), the motivation of the metaphorical idealized cognitive model will receive some attention (section 4). Alternative models of construing the intellectual domain are then discussed briefly (section 5), before a section on etymological evidence takes us back to our main idealized cognitive model. The paper concludes with some remarks on the assessment of competing models and on cross-linguistic evidence.

2. "Mental activity is manipulation": The idealized cognitive model of a folk epistemology

Our reconstruction of the idealized cognitive model of a folk epistemology will not yield the folk theory of all

    6mental phenomena. Apart from the fact that there are alternative models (see below, section 5), the idealized cognitive model "mental activity is manipulation" does not include passions, affections, or intuitions, which are conceptualized as "passivity". Furthermore, the interpersonal realm, though it also contains "mental" phenomena such as conversation, will be excluded. We will be looking at the conceptualization of active, intrasubjective thought processes.

    Our examination of "mental activity is manipulation" will reveal a rather complex model made up of a large

    7number of systematically linked conceptual metaphors. The idealized cognitive model is subdivided into eight

    model-integrated components or MICs, basic conceptual metaphors each of which structures a whole segment of the

    overall model. Although these segments could be seen as forming submodels of the idealized cognitive model, there is no real generic-specific hierarchy (cf. Lakoff 1990: 68-72 and Lakoff-Turner 1989: 80-81) involved. The system of the folk model is that of a loose sequence in which each component focuses on a different aspect of mental activity. For example, one component may have a stronger accent on


    learning processes, while another will focus on judging. However, such clear distinctions as those of a scientific theory should not reasonably be expected of the folk theory. The overall metaphor "mental activity is manipulation" supplies the conceptual linkage between the segments, each of which utilizes a different kind of physical object manipulation. The eight model-integrated components will be treated one by one in the following sections.

2.1 The stuff that thoughts are made of

    The conceptualization of mental activity as manipulation starts from the basis of a reification of abstract problems, issues, and ideas as concrete, solid objects: an ontological metaphor par excellence in Lakoff's and Johnson's (1980:

    25) terminology. Indeed, the metaphorical concept (MIC 1) "Ideas are solid objects" is substantiated by weighty

    8linguistic evidence:

    (1) What's the matter?

    Here the concrete term for matter is used most naturally to refer to abstract issues. These can be given some of the essential qualities of solid objects: abstract idea objects can be multidimensional as in (2), difficulty can figure as hardness (3) or toughness (4), and importance as physical weight (5):

    (2) It is difficult for unilateralists to admit there is another side to the missile question.

    (3) That is a very hard question to answer.

    (4) It's a tough problem.

    (5) Let us turn to less weighty matters.

    These and similar expressions are motivated by conceptual metaphors which can be phrased as "complexity is dimensionality", "difficulty is hardness", and "importance is weight". We will encounter these metaphors again in our treatment of the various aspects of mental activity.

2.2 Gathering material

    Once ideas and problems are conceptualized as solid objects, mental activity can start with the thinking subject's attempts at spatially approaching an idea object. Within the general structural metaphor (Lakoff-Johnson 1980: 14)

(MIC 2) "Understanding an idea is establishing physical closeness"

    Four phases can be distinguished by which the metaphorical distance between thinker and object is gradually reduced. From searching and hunting (MIC 2a) to seizing (MIC 2b) and picking up (MIC 2c) to taking in (MIC 2d), physical actions are utilized in the transfer to the domain of learning and understanding. We will follow this chain of action step by step in the next four subsections.

    The idea objects become goals to be reached by the thinker: "ideas and problems are targets". With this, the metaphorical search can begin:

2.2.1 "Understanding starts with attempts at finding and hunting idea objects" (MIC2a)

    An example of this model-integrated component (MIC 2a) is (6).


    (6) Sally searched for an idea all day.

If still unsure, the thinker gropes his way in metaphorical space:

    (7) Economists started to grope around with increasing desperation for explanations of the recession.

    These and the following examples suggest a conceptualization of difficulty: "the objects can be hidden or out of reach". If lucky, the groping person in search of an idea object can all of a sudden hit upon it: (8) I've struck on a plan.

    (9) He hit on the idea of cutting a hole in the door to allow the cat to get in and out.

    Both mental closeness, as in examples (10) and (11), and distance, examples (12) to (15), are set in spatial dimensions:

    (10) The solution is close at hand now.

    (11) I think the problem is within my grasp.

    (12) That concept was beyond my grasp.

    (13) Nothing was further from my mind.

    (14) That theory is out of my reach.

    (15) That concept was above me.

    These expressions are based on the orientational metaphor "mental closeness is spatial closeness / mental distance is spatial distance". The sentence pair (11) and (12) in particular suggests a conceptualization of the thinker's capacity to understand: "intellectual quality is physical range of action". Example (15) shows that cognitive inaccessibility can not only be expressed in terms of horizontal, but also of vertical distance. Difficulty may even be due to objects in

    9motion: "problems can be mobile entities" .

(16) It went over my head.

    (17) It flew by me.

    10(18) It went by me.

    If problems can act so animal- or birdlike, it is only logical for under-standing to be described as catching, and attempts at problem solving as hunting:

    (19) I don't quite catch the idea.

    (20) He took a stab at the answer.

    (21) He took aim at the problem.

    (22) Have a shot at solving the problem

    (23) It's a long shot but I think John must have known about the murder.


    (24) It was a complete shot in the dark but it turned out to be the right answer.

Apart from knives (example [20]), guns ([21] to [24]) are used, especially by somebody just guessing (23), (24), to

    11get hold of a solution. In case the target is assumed to be hidden in metaphorical depths, we find metaphors relating

    to the domains of fishing, examples (25) to (27), or farming and gold digging, examples (28) to (32): (25) He cast about for ideas.

    (26) He'd been fishing for the answer for weeks.

    (27) I couldn't fathom his meaning.

    (28) Much of the information he gleaned was of no practical use.

    (29) He unearthed the answer.

    (30) It's hard to sift out the truth from the lies in this case.

    (31) The reporter had raked out some interesting facts.

    (32) We'll have to go over it with a fine tooth-comb.

The fact that it is possible to wrestle with a problem as with some kind of living opponent, as in examples (33) to

    (35), takes us back to the image of wild animals suggested by the hunting metaphors: (33) I grappled with this moral dilemma.

    (34) For decades, mathematicians have wrestled with this problem.

    (35) He struggled with the subject.

    Once the idea objects have been caught, the handling of the bag is important:

2.2.2 "Understanding is seizing idea objects firmly" (MIC 2b)

    Understanding is described by a number of expressions from the domain of grasping at bodies: (36) The concepts were difficult to grasp.

    (37) We have not yet come to grips with it.

    (38) It's not that easy to seize upon an idea.

    (39) I take your meaning.

    (40) Once one has got hold of certain basic facts the rest is comparatively easy.

    In a complementary fashion, misunderstanding is conceptualized as reaching off the mark and getting hold of an idea object different from the one intended: (41) You've got it wrong.

    (42) Don't get the wrong idea: I really like her.

    If the thinker does not know for sure or has forgotten, the object slips away from his grip: (43) He lost his grip and things got away from him.