Tag metaphor

This is your brain on metaphors.

 

Hello rethinkED..* !!! I’m back from my annual summer hiatus and excited to keep this blog in motion while Elsa explores the universe. I can’t wait to share the exciting new breakthroughs in my research, ideas from the courses I’m taking this semester, and stories from the trips I took this summer.

Today I’d like to talk about this interesting article a colleague sent me: Your Brain on Metaphors. The article provides some neurological evidence for embodied cognition – a hot new topic that we’ve mentioned HERE and HERE.  As a reminder, embodiment is the idea that our thoughts are integrally connected to our bodies and their movement and experiences in space.

The article discusses studies where people read sentences that are either literal, metaphorical, or idiomatic in an fMRI machine and researches see whether the motor cortex is activated. Research has shown that metaphor deeply affects the way we think. For literal phrases, such as “The player kicked the ball”, the brain reacts as if it were carrying out the described action, igniting memories of kicking.  For metaphorical phrases, such as “The patient kicked the habit”,  the brain’s motor cortex similarly lights up, giving evidence that metaphor is not abstracted from our sensory-motor brain regions.

Idioms are “dead metaphors” or phrases that are so commonplace as to become cliches. For these, such as “The villain kicked the bucket”, researchers have found that the more idiomatic a phrase, the less the motor system became involved, suggesting that how familiar one is with the metaphor can affect how the motor neurons fire.

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Beyond providing interesting evidence for embodied cognition, I love what this says about reading and metaphor. When we include metaphors in our writing, we are activating all sorts of parts of our readers’ brains. I told you I would keep this blog in “motion” earlier and according to this research, your brain activated the actual idea of motion. This research could support how a good metaphor can really provide depth and substance to one’s writing, and why certain types of sentences evoke such passionate emotions from a reader.

It also can explain how metaphor increases learning, by connecting an unknown or unexperienced fact to something one has experience and memory of seeing or doing. If I tell you that getting back into reading research articles this semester feels  “like riding a bike,” you can infer that its a skill that you never really lose and can pick up again quickly.

RoadNotTaken

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite classic poems, which uses the long-standing metaphor of roads representing choices in life:

The Road Not Taken

BY ROBERT FROST

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

 

{ Inspiration for Knowmads } Celebrating Our Endless Opportunities To Cross the Threshold Into “Real” Life …*

{ Inspiration for Knowmads } Celebrating Our Endless Opportunities To Cross the Threshold Into "Real" Life ...*  | rethinked.org

I think it’s fair to say that we have a collective metaphor of college graduation as a time when we cross the threshold into “real” life–working life, adulthood. The problem with this idea of “real” life is that it structures the notion of both time and living as linear–it presumes an official start to Life and Adulthood that simply do not exist. Having dabbled in said “real” life for several years now, I have become highly aware of the fact that living is anything but linear. Circular at best, but perhaps more zigzagy– lines of flight rather than circles. How one defines “real” life is, of course, highly subjective–financial independence, autonomy, starting one’s family, etc. Our real life is what we make it.

“Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.” -Haruki Murakami

In a sense, the quote above represents the dangers and consequences of a live lived believing in a single threshold into “real” life. I completely agree with Murakami, that those people who live their lives around imagined certainties, who believe they’ve found The Answer or The Way are truly fearsome beasts indeed. I also understand that it is human nature to try and reduce risk and uncertainty in one’s life. I do it all the time and find I have to be very intentional about staying productively within the tensions that inform my every day experience. I’ve started thinking more and more of myself as a knowmad. Knowmad is a bit of a trite play on words, but it symbolizes something essential in how I want to live my life. The knowmad is a perpetual w[o|a]nderer. Someone who seeks out the in-between spaces, the tensions, someone dedicated to living a life of questions and inquiry rather than one of linear certitudes. It’s about living in such a way that each day brings a renewed opportunity and challenge to create a “real” life.

Which brings me to my adoration of commencement addresses. Commencement speeches deal with some of the important tensions and questions that come up when we are faced with the formidable challenge of creating our “real” life. As celebrated cultural figures share the insights and struggles they have encountered in creating their lives, we are reminded that designing one’s life is an ongoing quest and it gives us the opportunity to check in with ourselves, to question our beliefs and behaviors and challenge the definition and path of our lives. You can therefore imagine my excitement yesterday, when I discovered NPR’s new app The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever:

We are now in a golden age of the commencement speech as a hilarious, inspiring form of popular art. And to pay our respects to graduations past and present, NPR Ed and the NPR Visuals team have built a searchable, shareable database of over 300 commencement speeches dating back to 1774. 

To help you explore this history, we tagged every speech with a few words that express its theme or take-home message. Here is a countdown of the dozen most popular tags — a tweet-length guide to life. Click on any tag to view all the corresponding speeches in our app.

I love the tags that they’ve created, which touch on topics dear to my heart and which I often write about here on rethinked* 

PlayYOLOInner VoiceEmbrace FailureRemember HistoryMake ArtUnplugWork Hard – Don’t Give Up Fight for equalityBe KindChange the WorldTipsBalanceDream

Source: What We Learned From The Best Commencement Speeches Ever via NPR, published May 19, 2014.

explore, question, rethink & create a “real” life worth living …*

Daniel H. Cohen On Why We Need To Rethink…* The Metaphors We Use To Think About Cognitive Arguments

In a recent TED talk, philosopher Daniel H. Cohen, challenges us to rethink…* the metaphors that we use to think about arguments so that we may shift our focus away from winning to deeper learning and understanding when we engage in argumentation. Cohen begins his talk by highlighting the three existing models for arguments that we hold:

1. Argument as War: There’s a lot of screaming and shouting and winning and losing. That’s not a very helpful model for thinking about argument, but it’s a pretty entrenched and common model for argument.

 

2. Argument as Proof: Think of a mathematician’s argument: Here’s my argument–does it work? Is it any good? Are the premises warranted? Are the inferences valid? Does the conclusion follow from the premises? No opposition, not necessarily any arguing in the adversarial sense. 

 

3. Argument as Performance: Arguments in front of an audience. We can think of a politician trying to present a position, trying to convince the audience of something. But there’s another twist on this model that I really think is important, namely, that when we argue before an audience, sometimes the audience has a more participatory role in the argument. That is, arguments are also in front of juries who make a judgement, decide the case, let’s call this the rhetorical model.

 

By far the most dominant and pervasive of the three models is the metaphor of argument-as-war.

 

It dominates how we talk about arguments, how we think about arguments, and because of that it shapes how we argue–our actual conduct in arguments. Now, when we talk about arguments, we talk in very militaristic language: we want strong arguments, arguments that have a lot of punch, arguments that are right on target; we want to have our defenses up and our strategies all in order; we want killer arguments. That’s the kind of argument we want. It is the dominant way of thinking about arguments. 

 

The issue with this model for argumentation, as Cohen points out, is that it has deforming effects on how we argue.

 

1. First, it elevates tactics over substance–you take a class in logical argumentation, you learn all about the subterfuges that people use to try and win arguments, the false steps. 

 

2. It magnifies the US vs. THEM aspect, it makes it adversarial, it’s polarizing.

 

3. And the only foreseeable outcomes is glorious victory of ignominious defeat.

 

I think those are deforming effects, and worse of all, it seems to prevent things like negotiation, or deliberation, or compromise or collaboration. Think about that, have you ever entered an argument thinking, let’s see if we can hash something out rather than fight it out? What can we work out together? I think the argument-as-war metaphor inhibits those other kinds of resolutions to argumentation. 

 

Perhaps, the most negative impact of the argument-as-war metaphor with its either-or framework–either I win or I lose–is that we begin to equate learning with losing.

 

If argument is war, then there is an implicit equation of learning with losing. Let me explain what I mean: suppose you and I have an argument. You believe a proposition–P–and I don’t. I say why do you believe P? And you give me your reasons. And I object and say, “well, what about…” and you answer my objection. And I have a question, well what do you mean? How does it apply over here? And you answer my question. Now, suppose at the end of the day, I’ve objected, I’ve questioned, I’ve raised all sorts of counter considerations and, in every case, you’ve responded to my satisfaction. And so, at the end of the day, I say, “you know what? I guess you’re right.” So I have a new belief, and it’s not just any belief, but it’s a well articulated, examined, battle tested belief. Great cognitive gain. Ok, who won that argument? Well, the war metaphor seems to force us into saying you’ve won, even though I’m the only one who made any cognitive gain. What did you gain cognitively from convincing me? [,..] The war metaphor forces us into thinking that you’re the winner and I lost, even though I gained.

 

What we need then, is to think of new ways to frame arguments that would yield more positive outcomes.

 

What we need is new exit strategies for arguments but we’re not going to have new exit strategies for arguments until we have new entry approaches to arguments. We need to think of new kinds of arguments.

 

Put in different terms, what Daniel Cohen is urging us to do is to shift from a fixed mindset understanding of arguments to a growth mindset appraisal of argumentation. This idea of mindsets comes from Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck’s research, which I was just writing about last week. Dweck’s big idea is that there are two basic mindsets: the fixed mindset, which sees ability as limited and static–you’re either good at something or you’re not–and the growth mindset which views ability as dynamic and changing over time with effort. Which mindset we hold in any given situation has a wide range of implications on the beliefs we carry and the ways in which we behave. For example, if you believe that ability is fixed and does not change over time, your primary focus is going to be proving your ability, proving that you do have it or, at the very least, hiding that you don’t. The fixed mindset leads to a primary framework of judgement–how good am I at something and am I better than others? Meanwhile, if you think that ability can change over time with effort, you’re going to have a framework that is oriented towards growth and you will develop a  deep desire and excitement for learning. The argument-as-war model puts us in a fixed mindset: this is an either-or model in which you are either a winner–you have talent and ability when it comes to arguing– or you don’t and you’re a loser. If we framed argumentation as fertile ground for growth and learning however, we would be able to place ourselves in a growth mindset from the get go and in doing so, redress many of the distorting effects of the argument-as-war metaphor. Our focus would not be on winning but rather on deepening our thinking and understanding, on discovering new perspectives, on pushing ourselves to keep iterating and refining our beliefs and assumptions.

 

If we want to think of new kinds of arguments, what we need to do is think of new kinds of arguers. So try this, think of all the roles that people play in arguments–there’s the proponent and the opponent in an adversarial dialectical argument, there’s the audience in rhetorical arguments, there’s the reasoner in arguments as proofs, all these different roles. Now, can you imagine an argument in which you’re the arguer but you’re also in the audience, watching yourself argue. Can you imagine yourself watching yourself argue, losing the argument and yet, still at the end of the argument, say ” wow, that was a good argument.” Can you do that? […] I think if you can imagine that kind of argument, where the loser says to the winner, “Yeah, that was a good argument”, then you have imagined a good argument. And more than that, I think you’ve imagined a good arguer. An arguer that’s worthy of the kind of arguer you should try to be. 

 

Oh, and one more thing:

 

It takes practice [effort over time–hello, growth mindset] to become a good arguer, in the sense of being able to benefit from losing. 

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