Pinker represents the research on conceptual metaphor as follows: "Conceptual metaphor, according to Lakoff, shows that all thought is based on unconscious physical metaphors." I have actually argued the opposite
He then gives several references in which, he claims, he says the exact opposite. I will admit that Pinker has worded this poorly. He hasn't used cognitive linguistic jargon with the phrase "unconscious physical metaphors." I mean, Lakoff's theory says that our concepts are structured by unconscious metaphors that are ultimately grounded in physical experience. How on earth could Pinker have come up with the phrase "unconscious physical metaphors?" If only he'd said the same thing, but phrased it in 21st century non-Cartesian/Chomskyan terminology, Pinker would see that the the unaddressed criticism about irrelevant information misses the mark. This is how Lakoff operates, people. He never, ever addresses the criticisms of his work (either empirical or theoretical), he just dismisses or ignores them. He probably does this because to address those criticisms would mean abandoning conceptual metaphor theory for good as falsified, but since I don't have access to Lakoff's thoughts, I can't say for sure.
Laboratory experiments show that people don't think about the underlying image when understanding a familiar metaphor, only when they are faced with a new one.
Lakoff says, not so, and for the first time, cites actual research by someone other than himself. The problem is, the research he cites doesn't actually say anything about Pinker's claim. Raymond Gibbs' books a.) are out of date and b.) don't really present any empirical work on dead metaphors, and Boroditsky's work (which I've discussed before) a.) doesn't license conclusions about conceptual metaphors, and b.) concerns only one fairly unique and highly abstract domain, time. Actual work on metaphor in general has, in fact, shown that conventional metaphors (often called dead metaphors) are interpreted literally, rather than metaphorically, just as Pinker says. For examples of up-to-date research on the topic, check out these two papers [Warning: both are PDF] by Dedre Gentner and Brian Bowdle. In them you'll find experiments showing that over time, metaphors shift from be interpreted through mappings between the two domains (e.g., ARGUMENT and WAR) to categorical statements. In other words, Pinker was right, and Lakoff's just talking out his ass.
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