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metaphors be with you
October 27, 2008 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Link found between physical and emotional warmth l Metaphors of the Mind: Why Loneliness Feels Cold and Sins Feel Dirty. "Our mental processes are not separate and detached from the body". Sensory metaphors l The Metaphor Observatory, top 10 metaphors of 2007.
posted by nickyskye (45 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also: Grounded Cognition an Annual Review of Psychology article on embodied cognition which also touches on metaphors.
posted by tybeet at 4:22 PM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hoping any synaesthetic MeFites can weigh in on this thread.
posted by not_on_display at 4:29 PM on October 27, 2008


Honorable Mention - Shell Oil?
As a synaesthetic metaphor for 2007 I prefer 58008.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:52 PM on October 27, 2008


Some interesting stuff here. From the Scientific American article:

A recent paper of yours looked at the power of "negational racial identity" to influence votes. You showed that making Asian and Latino voters think about race in negational terms (thinking of themselves as "non-white") made them more likely to vote for Obama than Asian and Latino voters who were primed to think about their identity in affirmational terms (being Asian or Latino). You conclude that "negational identity is a meaningful source of social identity" and that "whether one thinks about 'who one is' versus 'who one is not' has far-reaching impact for real-world decisions." [...]

Whether people see themselves through the affirmational or negational lens has significant social consequences, even though such effects may not be consciously noticed. Affirmational identity tends to assimilate people to their in-group and drive in-group favoritism. Negational identity, on the hand, defines individuals by contrasting individuals to a common non-membership. It may create a broad basis for building a coalition, uniting all who do not belong to the same group. In the meantime, however, it may increase hostility towards the common out-group. By highlighting the fluidity of identity and how easily it can be manipulated by campaigns, advertisements, and speeches, we hope to increase the likelihood that voters will consider specific issues rather than simply relying on group categories.

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:13 PM on October 27, 2008


Is that an icy can of soda in your pocket or are you just unhappy to see me?
posted by stavrogin at 5:20 PM on October 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


But wait, this metaphors and the body thing is not necessarily about synaesthesia.

It's that metaphors express emotional states, which also express physical sensations or that physical sensations also express emotional/mental states. Left out in the cold emotionally can actually feel cold physically.
posted by nickyskye at 5:25 PM on October 27, 2008


not necessarily about synaesthesia

Related, in that sensations in all modalities are preprocessed by specialized units, then handed off to one central unit for evaluation. So intermodal metaphors and synaesthesia are both supported in hardware.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:33 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is this about cold or about discomfort? Did they try it with other things? Holding a piping hot turn vs holding a kitten?
posted by jimmythefish at 5:41 PM on October 27, 2008


It may be related but it's not about synaesthesia. The gist of the articles is about the connections between mind-body and metaphor, not about a mix up or confounding of the senses, like tasting a color, which is what defines synaesthesia.
posted by nickyskye at 5:43 PM on October 27, 2008


RTA.

"To their surprise, they found that people who held a cup of hot coffee for 10 to 25 seconds warmed to a perfect stranger. Holding a cup of iced coffee had the opposite effect."
posted by tybeet at 5:44 PM on October 27, 2008


er...that should be 'piping hot turd'.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:44 PM on October 27, 2008


My favorite pun! Thanks, nicky!
posted by grobstein at 5:48 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I still hold that having a central evaluative organ mandates metaphor on every level.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:50 PM on October 27, 2008


Shocking... Reminds me of Nietzsche cheering up in Italy. I don't even wanna know about the implications of this for living in Scotland in winter. [cranks heater]
posted by yoHighness at 5:53 PM on October 27, 2008


RTA.

I did read the article.

"To their surprise, they found that people who held a cup of hot coffee for 10 to 25 seconds warmed to a perfect stranger. Holding a cup of iced coffee had the opposite effect."


Hot physical connected to warm emotional. Not synaesthetic.
posted by nickyskye at 5:58 PM on October 27, 2008


My comment was directed at jimmy.
posted by tybeet at 6:18 PM on October 27, 2008


If you wanted to determine if this was a low-level, hardwired effect, and an artifact of the basic mechanisms of perception (such as synesthesia probably is), rather than cognition, an experiment could be designed to determine that.

You would do that, (and I can't formulate an example experiment here,) by registering whether the sustained presence of this correlated experience would give rise to an opposite after effect. If so, it is hardwired at a low level, so to speak. If not, it is a cognitive effect.

Experimental design can be very creative.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:18 PM on October 27, 2008


I still hold that having a central evaluative organ mandates metaphor on every level.

I think Dennett has got a reductio of this position. Roughly, he claims that you're committed to an infinite chain of internal representations and internal mental observers. You won't find this convincing if you think the mind may be transfinite in some way, but then you're off into Penrose space anyway.

Or would you call it 'metaphor' simply that the mental experience of a thing is not identical to the thing itself? Then you are certainly right.
posted by grobstein at 6:29 PM on October 27, 2008


Hot physical connected to warm emotional. Not synaesthetic.

True. A synaesthete who held a cup of hot coffee for 10 to 25 seconds would be more likely to tangerine-f-sharp-major to a perfect stranger. Holding a cup of iced coffee would have the opposite effect.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:56 PM on October 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


These seem relevant.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:36 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


nickyskye: It's that metaphors express emotional states, which also express physical sensations or that physical sensations also express emotional/mental states. Left out in the cold emotionally can actually feel cold physically.

nickyskye: It may be related but it's not about synaesthesia. The gist of the articles is about the connections between mind-body and metaphor, not about a mix up or confounding of the senses, like tasting a color, which is what defines synaesthesia.

Your FPP (especially the list of metaphors) made me think, well, danged if we don't all experience certain emotions via more senses than we are always aware of! and how neat it is that language has evolved parallelllly; and that synaesthetics probably are much more aware of this on a conscious, everyday level.
posted by not_on_display at 8:05 PM on October 27, 2008


Left out in the cold emotionally can actually feel cold physically.

Which is probably where the words for expressing these emotion came from in the first place.
See also: hot for teacher, drunk with love, butterflies in the stomach, and human language et al.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:15 PM on October 27, 2008


So how does this explain the "bonding over a cold one" situation? Shouldn't it be hot toddies?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:21 PM on October 27, 2008


The Light Fantastic: So how does this explain the "bonding over a cold one" situation? Shouldn't it be hot toddies?

The alcohol makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside...
posted by not_on_display at 8:23 PM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


My comment was directed at jimmy.

I did read the article. I also fail to see how they can separate cold and discomfort from warmth and comfort. It could be a spurious correlation. Unless I'm missing something, they'd need to isolate those hot/cold variables in a more convincing way and/or explain in more detail how they did this.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:26 PM on October 27, 2008


Every year, English teachers from across the USA can submit their collections of actual analogies, similies, and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are some of the bizarro winners . . .

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking
at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

There's more. Just check out the link.
posted by netbros at 9:08 PM on October 27, 2008 [10 favorites]


omg netbros, I love those metaphors! Great link. Wonderful, thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 9:17 PM on October 27, 2008


Excellent post, thanks for the comprehensiveness nickyskye! Metaphor is really where it's at these days, and I have been getting super excited over recent years reading about cognitive linguistics and the kind of research and theory which is becoming possible. George Lakoff has wrote a lot about these, most relevantly in Philosophy in the Flesh. It's fascinating, the accretion of dead metaphor. When you break down the etymology, the origin of most all our words for interacting with the world end up as body parts, metaphors of the body. Hands: tenable, manageable, slippery, grasp an idea. We are really only physical creatures, all we have to reason with are the biological necessities and capacities we develop.
posted by kaspen at 10:51 PM on October 27, 2008


Well done nickyskye.

While Lakoff and Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh is a key work (mentioned by kaspen), their Metaphors We Live By is a more manageable introduction to the idea of metaphors and embodied cognition, at 250 pages rather than 550. I can heartily recommend them both.
posted by foodmapper at 11:06 PM on October 27, 2008


Of course, etymology reveals "metaphor" itself to be a metaphor: from the Greek metapherein (to transfer) from meta- + pherein (to bear), ie metaphor is the bearing, or carrying across, of meaning from one thing to another; that corporeal physicality again that kaspen mentioned.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:11 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read the article while holding a bowling ball, and that lent the arguments therein presented a lot of weight.
posted by dirty lies at 11:13 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some relevant terms here: Anchoring and Priming. (sorry they're both Wiki links, but they are actually very good ones)

What these articles are hinting at is the idea of the Embodied Mind; book excerpt from Philosophy in the Flesh here. This concept was developed and defined by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. The book is excellent, and forever changed the way I viewed the world.

I was lucky enough to take George Lakoff's Metaphor class during my time at Cal. It was pure fun and linguistic indulgence. We spent the time talking about things like why you roll a carpet up and not in, or what our language and conceptual understandings would be like if we were flying creatures that lived in the sky and fell to the earth when we died. Or Boroditsky's work and figure/ground reversals in our linguistic expressions of time (Christmas is almost here; We are approaching Christmas). And my favorite, the Conduit Metaphor vs. the Toolmaker's Paradigm. Some days we'd start big, but end up getting lost in the most meta of details, such as an hour or so spent quibbling over the meaning of the word 'a'. But mostly it always came back to how the metaphors we live by are grounded in our human experiences.

Like I said, I was forever changed. The concepts are ridiculously simple and transparent, yet absolutely complex and mystifying.

Also, have some nerdfun at George Lakoff's database of Conceptual Metaphors!

*My friend and classmate at the the time, we'd get into such heated discussions. Eventually our brains would crash, burn, fry, buffer overload, whatever. Then we'd revert to telling the absolute dumbest and unfunniest jokes we could think of...it was pretty much all we could handle after all the heavy processing. My favorite joke at the time was, "Hey John! What's a meta-for? ... "


(dig deep, like third grade..."Hey dickfor!" "What's a dickfor?" "Hahaha, he doesn't know!")

posted by iamkimiam at 11:50 PM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was planning to recommend Lakoff and Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh to anyone who's interested in cognitive science and metaphor theory, but I see others have beaten me to it.

That book kept me sane throughout my academic studies in philosophy, and deepened my interest in cognitive science enough to get me to apply to graduate school. The fact that several MeFites have already mentioned this book makes me squeal with geeky delight.

I heart MeFi.
posted by velvet winter at 1:35 AM on October 28, 2008


Somewhat related, I remember this episode on Radiolab where they talked about how important the body's state is to your emotions. There was a whole bit about how when you're afraid of something (say a big bear suddenly stands roaring in front of you), it's not so much the case that you see the bear, thing "oh no, scary" and that adrenaline starts pumping through your veins, but that you see the bear and your higher thinking gets bypassed, the body starts reacting and since your brain notices all the adrenaline etc, it starts thinking "oh no, scary".

Also, people who are paralysed from the neck down apparently (according to radiolab) feel less emotions. Less happiness, less sadness, less anger.
posted by bjrn at 1:38 AM on October 28, 2008


I agree with the general trend of these comments (i.e. it's not synaesthesia and it relates to embodied cognition). The point that abc123xyzinfinity makes is I think the main 'result' of this kind of research. The rightness of these metaphors comes from their grounding in the actual experience of emotions. This gives us one more source of evidence that emotions are essentially constituted by bodily feelings (rather than say disembodied conceptual judgements that something is good/bad/dangerous, which may or may not accompany them).

So we can hypothesize developmental stories that have then been cemented by linguistic practice. For example to feel the 'pressure' of a stressful situation literally feels similar to pressure because some of the earliest instances of stress in one's life involved real experiences of increasing pressure (i.e. the sense that one's body has insufficient or less and less energy to resist) then anticipating pressure, then things experientially associated with anticipated pressure, such as being given lots of work to do when you have less and less time and energy to do it.

What this general picture of emotions gives us is the greater awareness of how our emotions are affected and how they can be regulated. Why for instance, stroking a cat makes you feel calmer. Our physical sensations, including tactile sensations, and yes potentially cross-modal synaesthetic associations, can all be directly incorporated within the emotional experience because emotions are in fact feelings of the status of the body.
posted by leibniz at 2:40 AM on October 28, 2008


Is this about cold or about discomfort? Did they try it with other things? Holding a piping hot turn vs holding a kitten?

That's exactly what I'm wondering. I notice that the research was carried out by a lab in Boulder, Colorado. It would seem likely to me that in terms of climate, people in that area would be more likely to associate discomfort with cold weather rather than hot. I wonder if you would get the same results if you ran the experiment in a tropical population that rarely experiences uncomfortably cold weather, but regularly experiences oppressively hot and humid weather?

Also, on the metaphor interpretation, I notice that most of the cited work seems to be exclusively in English (although Boroditsky's work linked by iamkimiam above contains some comparison of English and Mandarin). It seems fairly convincing, but it would be interesting and more rigourous to compare such metaphors across a variety of languages and see if the effect can be replicated. Are the same physical concepts mapped to the same emotional states in all languages? For any exceptions, can the emotional state be manipulated by supplying the appropriate stimulus suggested by the native language, by the English metaphor, by neither, by both?
posted by Jakey at 4:36 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's exactly what I'm wondering. I notice that the research was carried out by a lab in Boulder, Colorado. It would seem likely to me that in terms of climate, people in that area would be more likely to associate discomfort with cold weather rather than hot.

In a complete reversal of the normal order of things, I read about this study in the mainstream press a day or two before it appeared on MetaFilter.

The story was that it's not about weather at all, but about infancy & deep-seated memories. Being picked up & hugged & suckling your mother = warmth & intimacy. Being left on your own, relatively cold in comparison = the opposite.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:18 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


nthing reading "Metaphors We Live By" for an intro to this topic. I read it in a 2-credit cognitive science introduction and it's very easy to read, even if you don't have virtually any background.
posted by ejaned8 at 7:08 AM on October 28, 2008


The story was that it's not about weather at all, but about infancy & deep-seated memories. Being picked up & hugged & suckling your mother = warmth & intimacy. Being left on your own, relatively cold in comparison = the opposite.

Well, that's just the point I was trying to make - it's a postulated story. The researchers have noted a phenomenon and pulled an explanation out of their asses. I actually don't think that their explanation is unlikely, I just think it's completely unproven. From the various links in the FPP and comments it seems that variants of this phenomenon have been noted multiple times - enough to take it seriously. So maybe now would be a good time for the psychologists to go beyond the stamp-collecting and test some of these postulates that they seem so enamoured of throwing out there.
posted by Jakey at 9:53 AM on October 28, 2008


Chen-Bo Zhong, the assistant professor/scientist researching reasons people often use temperature metaphors “icy stares,” “cold shoulders,” etc doesn't seem to be pulling anything out of his ass, lol. Interesting metaphor choice. You could give him a call and request citations? Or more details of the experiments he performed? If you click on his name in the second link, it offers more work he's done on the topic and links that show that scientists are working on this genral topic in a number of places around the world.
posted by nickyskye at 11:15 AM on October 28, 2008


He has shown (for English speakers) that people not only use coldness-related terms to describe social rejection (for example, “cold shoulder”), but also experience rejection as physical coldness. However, he then goes on to postulate that this interconnection may be ascribed to the infant experiences of loneliness and cold coinciding. This latter part is a just-so story. I stress again that I don't find this unlikely, but I don't see any support for it in the linked papers.
It all seems a very interesting concept, and makes for a good FPP, but there's a lot more work still to be done on it.
posted by Jakey at 11:52 AM on October 28, 2008


but there's a lot more work still to be done on it

You're right.
posted by nickyskye at 12:30 PM on October 28, 2008


So maybe now would be a good time for the psychologists to go beyond the stamp-collecting and test some of these postulates that they seem so enamoured of throwing out there.

Good point. We should buy up a number of babies - some will be raised in a cold, artificial environment with a warm "mother" (made, say, of papier mache with a mild heating element inside) and some we'll raise in a warm environment with a cool mother (similar, but with refrigerated gases pumped through her).

For control, we should also have some cool climate / cool mother kids, as well as warm climate / warm mother.

For added rigour, we could randomly change the environment & mother for another group.

A possible extension would be to have the mother give the kid electric shocks, either randomly, according to a regular pattern, or else in response to something the child does or doesn't do.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:13 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


disclaimer: i stole that idea from Brangelina.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:24 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Chicks dig, dig, d-i-g, dig metaphors!

~The Mael Brothers.
posted by Chuffy at 5:04 PM on October 28, 2008


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