The metaphorical concept of mind

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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.


    (44) The idea slipped through my fingers.

    (45) It's a slippery concept.

    Thus, we have yet another way of conceptualizing difficulty: "the idea objects can be slippery". Further, "manual handling" stands for the mental treating of idea objects:

    (46) That's an interesting idea, but not relevant to the matter in hand.

    (47) Abortion was an issue too explosive for him to handle.

To handle a matter properly, both manual dexterity and physical strength are required -"intellectual quality is

    physical strength and dexterity":

    (48) I'm all thumbs at algebra.

    (49) His mind is strong and supple.

    Due to the orientational metaphor "conscious is up" (see Lakoff-Johnson 1980: 15), understanding and conscious attention can further be conceptualized as regular picking up.

    122.2.3 "Understanding is picking idea objects up off the ground" (MIC2 c) ,

    This model-integrated component can be illustrated by the following examples.

    (50) This has not been raised as an issue by the West.

    (51) Where did you pick up such ideas?

    (52) I take up one problem at a time.

    As a metaphorical entailment of MIC 2c, "speed of understanding" corresponds to "speed of picking up". Thus, it is no wonder that in our culture the speed of this performance should serve as a measure of intelligence or intellectual grasp: "intelligence is speed on the uptake".

    (53) I tried to explain it to him, but he's rather slow on the uptake.

    (54) My little brother is quick on the uptake.

    Moreover the thinker can reject an idea by moving it downward again, the image of a forceful movement towards the ground being intensified by indicating the resulting state of "flatness":

    (55) She turned the idea down (flat).

    13At this stage, the important image-schematic metaphor "the mind (consciousness) is a container" needs to be

    introduced as it provides the orientational basis for the next as well as for all the remaining components of the idealized cognitive model of mental activity.

    (56) I'll put up the shelves if you tell me exactly what you have in mind.

    (57) Who put that idea in your head?

    Stupidity is expressed as emptiness of this container, as in examples (58) and (59), and the sensible owner of the mind container is seen as being inside this container (60), from which he can depart only into madness (61). (58) That boy hasn't a thought in his head.

    (59) He was putting on an act to impress an empty-headed girl.


    (60) Nobody in their right mind would enjoy this show.

    (61) He's gone out of his mind.

    With this prerequisite, the sequence of conceptualizations of a thinker's learning and understanding can be resumed. The spatially closest relation of thinker and idea object is reached in the following conceptual metaphor, MIC 2d.

2.2.4 "Understanding is taking idea objects into the mind container" (MIC 2d)

    Examples include:

    (62) They listened to my lecture, but how much did they take in, I wonder!

    (63) I can't get this Latin grammar into my head.

    (64) Taking everything into consideration, the result is better than I expected.

    Thus it seems logical that intellectual receptivity requires a thinker to open his mind container, as in examples (65) and (66), rather than closing it, (67). For the same reason, a spacious container (68) serves better for the purpose of taking in new idea objects than a narrow one (69): "intellectual receptivity is openness and spaciousness of the mind container".

    (65) Open your mind to some new thoughts.

    (66) She tried to keep an open mind on such subjects.

    (67) ... a closed mind.

    (68) She assured me that her parents were broadminded.

    (69) How stupid and bigoted and narrow-minded he had become.

2.3 Interior view of the mental workshop

    The linguistic evidence of the remaining sections suggests a more specific characterization of the consciousness container: "the mind is a workshop". This workshop has certain internal furnishings, which metaphorically represent the structure of our conscious mind. Thus, the idea objects taken in to be worked on can be placed in different parts of the workshop: (MIC 3) "Within the mental workshop, the idea objects are stowed away according to urgency" The general orientational metaphor, "importance is centrality" (cf. Johnson 1987: 124) and its opposite, "unimportant is peripheral", probably account for the conceptualization: "unimportant issues are given peripheral positions", as in:

    (70) Put aside for a moment the fact that the man has been in prison..

    Problems may even be put away completely, as in (71), even to the remotest corner of the workshop (72), or be placed on shelves put up especially for this purpose (73):

    (71) He's had to put away all ideas of becoming a concert pianist.

    (72) She put the idea to the back of her mind.

    (73) I had simply shelved this awkward problem.

    (74) These crucial issues tend to get pushed aside and forgotten.


    (75) She brushed the thought away.

    Irrespective of whether the idea objects are removed in a rather rough (74) or in a more gentle (75) manner, the workshop must be kept clear to leave room for the thinker's real mental efforts.

2.4 The problem-solving scenario

    Before we can describe the processing of problem and idea objects inside the mental workshop, it is necessary to

    14introduce another ontological metaphor: "the mind (intellect) is a tool" . This gives rise to a conceptualization of

    alertness, in that the mind tool ought to be carried about by the mental workman:

    (76) It he hadn't had his wits about him, he might have been drowned.

    Within this frame, we find yet another way of conceptualizing intellectual qualities: "intelligence is sharpness of the mind tool":

    (77) He has a razor wit.

    (78) He has a very sharp mind.

    (79) He has a keen mind.

There is even a metaphorical honing of the tool:

    (80) The intrigues of court had sharpened her wits.

    (81) He used extensive reading to hone his intellect.

    Further, "self-control is holding the mind tool": Lack, of self-control can be pictured as temporarily letting go of the tool's handle, as in (82). While the total loss of the tool means real insanity (83), more harmless cases may just be in some need of repair (84):

    (82) He flies off the handle quite easily.

    (83) Perhaps I was losing my mind.

    (84) He has a screw loose.

But simply possessing an intact mind tool is not enough - it must be put to use:

    (85) She could do it if she triedthe trouble is she just doesn't use her mind half the time.

    These preliminaries yield the basis for the general structural metaphor: (MIC 4) "Thinking is working on problem objects with the mind tool"

    Within this metaphorical processing of problems, by which the workman hopes to finally produce solutions, a sequence of four phases can be established. Whereas the four subsections of MIC 2 provided four ways of metaphorically construing learning and understanding activities, the nature of problem-solving as investigated in MIC 4 can justly be described as a metaphorical scenario (see Lakoff 1987: 285-286) consisting of four steps in temporal order. We will follow this problem-solving scenario step by step in the next four subsections.

2.4.1 "Thinking starts with applying the mind tool to the problem object" (MIC 4a)

    The application of the mind tool to a workpiece presupposes a metaphorical conceptualization of attention: "intellectual concentration is turning the mind tool in the object's direction", as in:


    (86) Please turn your attention to something more important.

    (87) Have you turned your mind to the question?

    (88) He couldn't bend his mind to his studies.

Then follows the application, the tool is put into position:

    (MIC 4a) "Thinking starts with applying the mind tool to the problem object"

(89) apply one's mind to a problem.

    (90) The members of the committee set their wits to work.

    (91) If he would only put his mind to his studies, he could be a brilliant scholar.

Sometimes, the tool gets fixed on the object:

    (92) He fixed his mind on the question.

    There can also be lack of concentration, when the mind tool is not on the workpiece processed: (93) Her mind was not on the announcements she was making.

    (94) My mind was on other things.

    It is up to the workman to decide if he wants to keep the instrument on the workpiece, as in (95), or rather take it off (96), and set it at rest (97), in order to relax from his mental efforts:

    (95) He kept his mind on the problem.

    (96) There is nothing like a good book to take one's mind off one's troubles.

    (97) The children are safe so you can set your mind at rest.

2.4.2 "To solve a problem, the problem container has to be opened" (MIC 4b)

    Before embarking on the second leg of the metaphorical problem-solving scenario, we must specify the ontological metaphor MIC 1: "problems are solid objects". The material presented in this and the following subsections suggests that problems and their solutions are set in a concrete physical, image-schematic relation to each other: "problems are containers, solutions are hidden inside". Thus, in order to get at the solution contents, the mental workman is faced with the task of opening the problem container:

    (MIC 4b) "To solve a problem, the problem container has to be opened"

    Difficulty is conceptualized here in a further specification of the "difficulty is hardness" metaphor introduced above (cf.section 2.1): "the container puts up some degree of resistance".

    Hence, "opening the container requires some force", the thinker has to crack a kind of shell: (98) This one is a hard nut to crack.

    As the resistance of a container has to be broken, superficial attempts will not do, as in (99). Instead, intensive thinking demands tenacity and hardness (100), and a difficult problem may even damage the mind tool (101).


    (99) So far you have only scratched the surface of the issue.

    (100) I thought long and hard about the problem.

    (101) ...mind-bending.

    A whole range of instruments can be used in this violent attempt at opening the problem container: teeth (102), a hammer (103), pliers (104), a grinder (105), a spade (106), or a knife (107) are metaphorically applied. (102) Now there's a theory you can really sink your teeth into.

    (103) I hammered away at the problem all afternoon.

    (104) Now we're dealing with the nuts and bolts of the issue.

    (105) We're still trying to grind out the solution to this equation.

    (106) He dug into the problem.

    (107) He always cuts to the heart of the problem.

Yet despite all efforts, a workpiece may prove too hard to conquer:

    (108) I found his explanation impenetrable.

    (109) He got (dead) stuck on the problem.

But in case the thinker succeeds in cracking the problem shell, as in (110), so that he can tear it apart (111), he will

    have come a good deal closer to the solution:

    (110) He has cracked one of the crucial problems.

    (111) He tore the problem apart looking for its solution.

    Eventually, he may find that all his drudgery was in vain because there is a more elegant and civilized way of opening the problem container:

    (112) He finally found the key to the problem.

2.4.3 "The open problem container has to be searched for its solution contents" (MIC 4c)

At the third stage in our scenario, the real investigations can begin:

    (MIC 4c) "The open problem container has to be searched for its solution contents"

    The inside of the container lies open to inspection (113), or access (114); but as the desired contents may be hidden deep down (115), the search may have to go right to the bottom of the problem container (116):

    15(113) We have to look deeply into this problem for its solution.

    (114) Now we're really getting into the problem.

    (115) The problem has a buried solution.

    (116) Now I want to get to the bottom of this problem.


    On the background of this idealized cognitive model component MIC4c difficulty metaphorically figures as depth of the problem container (117): and since the intellectual task is to reach deep into the problem container, this quality is also transferred to the thinker (118) and his probing tool (119): "intellectual quality is depth of thinking": (117) There's a deeper issue here.

    (118) ...a deep thinker.

    (119) He had a probing mind.

2.4.4 "Solving a problem is taking the solution contents out of the problem container" (MIC 4d)

    With the problem container successfully opened and the hidden solution contents located, the latter can now be brought out into the open:

    (MIC4d) "Solving a problem is taking the solution contents out of the problem container"

(120) a. Have you found a solution?

     b. I won't tell you - you'll have to find out for yourself!

    This final stage completes the problem-solving scenario: After his descent into the depths of the problem container (example 116), the thinker now comes up to light again, bringing with him the solution contents: (121) He finally came up with a solution.

    (122) The solution finally was brought to light.

    Facts can be extremely difficult to extract from the container; quite often, some kind of salvage equipment is needed in this attempt:

    (123) We fished out a number of unpleasant facts.

    (124) We dredged up a load of sordid facts about her.

In comparison, conclusions are simply drawn from the container into the open:

    (125) Only one conclusion can be drawn from that.

    (126) What did you gather from his statement?

    In matters of opinion, different thinkers passing judgment on an idea object will not necessarily take the same item from the container:

    (127) He took a different view of it.

    Finally, in case the thinker is not content with the results, he can repeat the investigation: (128) If you are not satisfied with the answer, look into it again.

2.5 Mental craftsmanship

    Whereas so far ideas were pictured as a kind of natural object, they can also be conceptualized metaphorically as products of a manufacturing process:

    (129) He produces new ideas at an astounding rate.

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