Concepts We Live By
Most of us know “metaphor” only as an aspect of language that allows us to comprehend one concept in terms of another concept that is known to us. We think of metaphor as a matter of words only; not as a matter of thought and action.
SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) has found that “metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”
This theory developed by SGCS represents a revolution in our comprehension of why humans do the things that we do.
Our conceptual system is generally not something about which we often think; we are inclined to just think and act without any comprehension of the underlying reasons for this thought and action. We have been generally taught by our educational system to view only appearances as being worthy of our critically notice. We have been taught to view reality much like an iceberg, we see (metaphorically KNOW IS SEE) only the ten percentages that appears to the eye as being worth of critical comprehension.
If we examine various scientific groups, both natural science and human science, we might find the often used metaphors KNOW IS ANALYZE or perhaps KNOW IS TEST. Our general culture uses KNOW IS SEE and SEEING IS BELIEVING. If we examine these metaphors we can see or perhaps analyze the fact that the culture and the metaphors we use within the group highlight the very nature of the intellectual nature of that group.
Categorization, the first level of abstraction from “Reality” is our first level of conceptualization and thus of knowing. Seeing is a process that includes categorization, we see something as an interaction between the seer and what is seen. “Seeing typically involves categorization.”
Our categories are what we consider to be real in the world: tree, rock, animal…Our concepts are what we use to structure our reasoning about these categories. Concepts are neural structures that are the fundamental means by which we reason about categories.
Human categories, the stuff of experience, are reasoned about in many different ways. These differing ways of reasoning, these different conceptualizations, are called prototypes and represent the second level of conceptualization.
Typical-case prototype conceptualization modes are “used in drawing inferences about category members in the absence of any special contextual information. Ideal-case prototypes allow us to evaluate category members relative to some conceptual standard…Social stereotypes are used to make snap judgments…Salient exemplars (well-known examples) are used for making probability judgments…Reasoning with prototypes is, indeed, so common that it is inconceivable that we could function for long without them.”
When we conceptualize categories in this fashion we often envision them using spatial metaphors. Spatial relation metaphors form the heart of our ability to perceive, conceive, and to move about in space. We unconsciously form spatial relation contexts for entities: ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘about’, ‘across from’ some other entity are common relationships that make it possible for us to function in our normal manner.
When we perceive a black cat and do not wish to cross its path our imagination conceives container shapes such that we do not penetrate the container space occupied by the cat at some time in its journey. We function in space and the container schema is a normal means we have for reasoning about action in space. Such imaginings are not conscious but most of our perception and conception is an automatic unconscious force for functioning in the world.
Our manner of using language to explain experience provides us with an insight into our cognitive structuring process. Perceptual cues are mapped onto cognitive spaces wherein a representation of the experience is structured onto our spatial-relation contour. There is no direct connection between perception and language.
The claim of SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) is “that the very properties of concepts are created as a result of the way the brain and the body are structured and the way they function in interpersonal relations and in the physical world.”
"To change the very concept of a category is to change not only our concept of the mind, but also our understanding of the world."
Quotes from Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind George Lakoff and from Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff