Literature Review // Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (2003) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
This was a really delightful reading we did that argued that we really understand our world in terms of metaphors. Lakoff & Johnson explain that these are different from the metaphors we’re used to thinking that serve a more artist purpose, but they actually do work and influence our understanding of the world. Lakoff & Johnson are expanding metaphor away from merely language to be descriptive, but talking about how these metaphors frame our thought and our thinking.
“The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to people. Our conceptual system thus place a central role in defining our everyday realities.”
Lovely, right? He’s arguing that, because talk about and frame something like argument is war, we perform arguments as if they’re war. We talk about arguments as if they are a battle that can be won or lost. We recognize arguments as war like. Compared to, for example, a culture that uses a dance metaphor for arguing that implies collaboration and turn taking. We might not even recognize this activity was an argument because it doesn’t have the qualities we associate with war. It’s unconscious but persistent. This is called a structural metaphor.
Orientational metaphors deal with direction. For instance, we have this idea that up means good/happy and down means bad/unhappy.
Ontological metaphors describe a situation where we have made someone and entity and can now refer to and categorize them by that entity. The two types are metonymy (when one things stands in place for another) and synecdoche (where a part stands in for the whole to put emphasis on certain qualities). This also helps us quantify them as things that can be discretely bounded. Examples are (26-27):
- Referring: “working towards peace”
- Quantifying: “a lot of patience”
- Identifying Aspects: “pace of modern life”
- Setting goals and motivating actions: “find true happiness”
Container metaphors: can bound and area that does not such clear boundaries or does not bound at all. “Are you in the race?” This lets them be quantified as an amount of substance that might not actually exist.
Metaphors have the power to highlight and hide things of the speakers choosing. Michael Reddy calls this a “conduit metaphor” and structures such rhetoric this way (pg 10):
- Ideas (or meanings) are objects
- Linguistic expressions are containers
- Communication is sending
Lakoff & Johnson still emphasize context and speaker in order for a metaphor to be successfully performed and understood.
Towards the end of his paper he argues from a greater collaboration from those who are objectionists and subjectivenists. He offers a third option which he calls “experientialist synthesis.” He feels that metaphor best combines reason and imagination (193). “Reason, at the very least, involves categorization, entailment, and inference. Imagination, in one of its many aspects, involves seeing one kind of thing in terms of another kind of thing–what we have called metaphorical though. Metaphor is thus imaginative rationality” (193).
Why I think this is relevant:
I was excited about this paper when I first read it was such a good marriage of language, thought, and our interactions with the world. I think about how much design might be influenced by these metaphors. Or, alternative, how much design is pushing for new metaphors where they might not have exist. I think about the infinity screens where you’re pulling down from the top (to refresh) and the information pours down. Once you get to the bottom, you can click to load older posts. Top means new, bottom means old. Does it stem from top means good? Have we created something new in our minds now? What does swiping left and right mean to us now? Naturally, it doesn’t mean anything to me. That’s why I always have to figure out which one saves and which one deletes. Some go left and some go right. We don’t have a clear metaphor in our minds about how that works. But hopefully we can fix it.
But then this made me think, are we getting in to the old skeuomorphism debate? I asked Cameron about this and he said wasn’t import. Haha. I found it fascinating and really well written.