The social-cognitive dynamics of metaphor performance

Here is the into to Raymond and Lynne’s paper:

Any extended analysis of everyday talk reveals the presence of stretches of language that convey metaphorical meaning. Consider, as one example, the following remarkable conversation between Jo Berry, whose father, Sir Anthony Berry, was killed by a bomb in 1984, and Patrick Magee, who planted the bomb on behalf on the Irish Republican Army during their conflict with the British government. Jo Berry had asked to meet Pat Magee in order to understand more about why the bombing happened, and they first met in 1999, after Pat Magee was released from prison under a peace agreement. Extract 1 comes from the first of the conversations and shows Jo explaining why she wanted to meet Pat. She refers to moment of the bombing in line 91 and to meeting Pat in lines 103 and 104.

Extract 1
90 Jo …I knew,
91 …(2.0) backin the moment,
92 wh- what I wanted to do,
93 … was bring as much –
94 …(2.0) something –
95 … as much positive out of it as I could.
96 … you know,
97 Pat [hmh]
98 Jo …(1.0) [and] I –
99 and I saw very clearly.
100 …(1.0) that the –
101 …the end of that journey,
102 would be,
103 …sitting down and,
104 …talking to the people who did it.
105 Pat … hmh
106 Jo … that just camein a moment,
107 and then went away,
108 and then –
109 … there’s been a longlong .. 16 years of [getting to this point].
110 Pat [hmh hmh]

There are several instances of metaphorically used words and phrases in this excerpt, which we have underlined. For instance, “back in” in line 91 conveys the idea of Jo’s remembering the bombing as if she were physically moving back into a specific spatial location. The idea of being able to “bring” “something” “out of it” refers to Jo’s mental reconstructing the bombing in terms of movement from one physical location to another, but this time in the possession of an important object (i.e., a new understanding). We also see in lines 99–101 that Jo conceives this process of reconciliation, and sitting down to talk with Pat, as the endpoint of a physical journey along some path where the psychological goal is understood as a destination (i.e., endpoint) on the path.

Why do speakers, like Jo, talk in these metaphorical ways, and what motivates them to utter the particular words they do to achieve different communicative effects? Is the use of metaphoric words and phrases idiosyncratic or can it be explained in some principled manner? The vast interdisciplinary research on metaphor use and understanding suggests that there are multiple reasons for why people speak metaphorically. Quite roughly, the possible reasons for speaking metaphorically refer to bodily, cognitive, linguistic, social, and cultural variables. For instance, people may employ certain metaphoric words and phrases because they typically think about particular, usually abstract, domains in metaphoric terms (cognitive), because there is no way to express specific meanings in a language without using metaphor (linguistic), because they wish to impress or persuade another person by the words used (social), and/or because their cultural beliefs and norms are conventionally encoded in specific metaphorical themes (cultural). Much of the contemporary scholarship in metaphor studies debates these, and other, possible reasons for why people use metaphorical language and how they interpret metaphors in discourse. This has led to a vast complex of alternative methods, empirical findings, and theories of metaphor use, with individual metaphor scholars exhibiting the strong tendency to focus on certain aspects of metaphor and adopt one perspective on metaphor use (e.g., cognitive or linguistic) while downplaying or ignoring others (e.g., social or cultural).

We believe that all these varying perspectives on metaphor have the potential to offer important insights into the use and understanding of metaphor in discourse. But the vast number of possible factors involved in metaphor use, and their complex interactions, makes it difficult to adjudicate between competing theories. Our aim is in this article is to suggest a different way of looking at metaphor by embracing a dynamical systems approach that better captures the total ecology of human behavior, and more specifically metaphor performance. The key to this idea is the recognition that metaphor performance is shaped by discourse processes that operate in a continual dynamic interaction between individual cognition and the social and physical environment. Dynamical approaches to human action attempt to describe how the body’s continuous interactions with the world, including other people, provide for coordinated patterns of adaptive behavior. Simple and complex behaviors are higher-order products of self-organization processes that emerge from both intra and interpersonal interactions. We argue that the complexities of metaphoric language use (i.e., how people coordinate with each other through metaphor) emerge from self-organizational processes that operate along a range of different time-scales, from the millisecond to the evolutionary, and across a range of scales of social group size, from the individual and dyad to the speech community. The phenomena of metaphor performance are, we suggest, best studied in terms of continuously dynamic discourse processes. This framework for studying metaphor recasts some traditional questions about metaphor use and understanding and suggests the need for a closer link in characterizing social and cognitive processes in human behavior.


Dynamic empathy: A new formulation for the simulation theory of mind reading

The intro to Teed Rockwell’s paper:

There are currently two popular theories for explaining “mind reading” i.e. our ability to become aware of what other people are feeling and thinking, and to predict (and/or respond skillfully to) behavior on the basis of that awareness. The first, known as the theory-theory (TT), claims that we have a theory of mind, which we use to make sense out of both our own and other people’s behavior. The second, known as the simulation theory (ST), has taken on two importantly different meanings.

(1) The first meaning is “equated with… imaginatively ‘putting oneself in the other’s place”’ (Gordon, 2004). Because the words ‘imaginative” and “imagine” are different forms of the word “image”, this definition seems to imply something like “creating an image in the mind”, and could include all five sensory modalities, not just audio-visual. There are arguably problems with thinking of this diverse range of qualities in the pictorial terms implied by the word “image”. However, this is very much in line with the traditional British Empiricist view. The Empiricists usually used visual examples like triangles and patches of red as their prototypes for “ideas”, and then used that word to refer to all sorts of sensations and feelings, including more qualitatively complex feelings such as thirst, hunger, disgust, fear, etc.

(2) Gordon also points out that ST refers to simulations of mental states where the pictorial connotations of “image” are much more problematic. These interpretations rely on the association of the word “simulation” with pretense or hypothetical “acting out”.

One’s own behavior control system is employed as a manipulable model of other such systems… The system is first taken off-line, so that the output is not actual behavior but only predictions or anticipations of behavior (Gordon, 2004).

According to this view, any aspect of our mental life can be turned into a simulation by taking it off-line—not just images and feelings, but abstract thoughts such as beliefs, desires, and decisions. Abstract thoughts of this sort include what are called the propositional attitudes, because they are focused towards a claim expressible in a proposition. (I believe/desire/ have decided that Paris is the capital of France, the war in Iraq must end, etc.) Because theories are ordinarily thought of as being sets of propositions, many people argue that there is no important difference between “simulating” these kinds of verbalizable thoughts and thinking them yourself, and thus the Simulation Theory collapses into the Theory Theory. (This requires the plausible assumption that thinking about something requires having a theory about it.)

It would take at least another whole paper to paraphrase and respond to the detailed and ingenious replies made by ST theorists to this objection (see especially Goldman, 2006, pp. 30–40). Most of them involve accepting what Goldman calls a hybrid theory, which describes mind reading as requiring both theories and simulations. The debate then continues as each side either defends or attacks claims that all alleged simulations in such a hybrid system can actually be reduced to theories, which in turn requires arguing over exactly what a theory is. The problem has become so complex that some have argued that we ought to drop the term “simulation” altogether (Stich & Nichols, 1992).

I personally find the criticisms made by TT theorists to be reasonably convincing, and agree with Stich and Nichols that the current defense of ST has made it hard to tell the difference between a theory and a simulation. I do believe, however, that the Simulation Theory got something importantly right, which would be lost if we retreated to a pure Theory Theory. The goal of this paper is to preserve these essential insights with a redefined Simulation Theory, which returns to an idea inspired by the first of Gordon’s descriptions of simulation, i.e. as a kind of “movie” consisting of perceptual sensations. I think the hybrid TT/ST theory does explain much (perhaps most) of what can be called mind reading. But I also believe that there is a kind of mind reading which is in a certain sense purely “perceptual” and unaided by any verbal theoretical elements. I understand why Gordon, Goldman and the other defenders of the Simulation Theory have not taken this route. There are excellent reasons, with a distinguished lineage, for rejecting pure ST. In the following section, I am going to trace that lineage. I will then argue that something like a pure ST is possible, if we greatly expand our concepts of “simulation” and “perception” by using conceptual resources from connectionist neuroscience. However, once these concepts are taken out of the brain and put into the world, there is no longer a compelling reason to always refer to our awareness of other minds as being a simulation. In certain circumstances, it arguably makes more sense to say that I share the same emotion with another person, rather than make a simulation of their emotion in my own private mind.

1. The Kantian objection to the simulation theory

In many ways, the argument between the Theory-Theory and the Pure Simulation Theory is the same argument that Kant and Hume had about the true nature of ideas. Hume and the other British empiricists thought that an idea was a particular ‘image’ in one of the sensory modalities, such as a red triangle or the taste of chocolate. These images were also capable of being shaped in a variety of ways by the faculty of imagination once they were received by the mind. Hume apparently believed that imagination was all that was needed to give these particular images the powers rationalists attributed to generalized abstractions.

Kant, however, argued that no image could ever do the work of a concept. The concept of triangle applies to triangles of mutually exclusive shapes and sizes, and therefore such an image of a “Universal Triangle” would be self-contradictory. The later Wittgenstein raised a similar objection to his earlier picture theory of language by pointing out that a picture of a man walking down a hill could just as easily be a picture of a man walking up a hill backwards. It is only our interpretation of the picture that makes it one or the other, just as it is our interpretation that decides that an image of a red triangle is an example of a triangle, rather than an example of a red thing. Jerry Fodor labeled this Humean position the resemblance theory and raised this objection to it.

The difficulty with the resemblance theory is that any portrait showing John to be tall must also show him to be many other things: clothed or naked, lying standing or sitting, having a head or not having a head, and so on. A portrait of a tall man who is sitting resembles a man’s being seated, as much as it resembles a man being tall. On the resemblance theory, it is not clear what distinguishes thoughts about John’s height from thoughts about his posture (Fodor, 1981, pp. 127–128).

The resemblance theory is the genus of which the pure simulation theory is a species, and the latter is thus vulnerable to all of these objections. Kant claimed that the only way to deal with this problem was to see an idea not as an image, but as a verbalizable theoretical rule. To have a concept of a triangle or dog is to have some sort of criteria or set of definitions that identifies all the different triangles or dogs. Even though a picture of a particular dog may be similar to all other dogs, It is also similar to countless other things. The only way you can make a distinction between relevant and irrelevant similarities is with a rule that connects the image to other members (and only other members) of the same category. Similarly, being able to simulate someone else’s emotions or beliefs is not going to help you “read her mind” unless you have some sort of theory that enables you to classify the simulated emotions and beliefs into some kind of category, such as fear or pain.


Cosmos & Taxis: Launch

Today marks the start of the Cosmos & Taxis conference to launch the associated journal. In attendance will be philosophers, economists, political scientists, sociologists, English profs, complexity theorists, computer scientists, urban geographers and more besides from North America, the Far East, Australasia, and Europe. Please consider submitting a paper, a review or discussion piece to C&T – it is an open access but fully referred journal, and given the nature of the subject matter, is very ecumenical. To keep apprised of developments, see the C&T Facebook page.


The socially extended mind

Spot on Shaun!!! This is exactly what I’ve been banging on about over the past six years – very nice validation from a top-notch theorist. The fruits of my labour will be available in its full form next year as a book entitled Stigmergic Cognition.


Consciousness and the social mind

Here is the intro to Phil’s piece.

Emotion is a hot topic, getting hotter all the time. The reasons for this enthusiasm are various, but the growth of neuroscientific interest in the area surely ranks high among them. The same goes for another hot topic: social cognition. Within the last two decades, two subfields of neuroscience have emerged: affective neuroscience, the study of the neural mechanisms underlying emotion and emotional feeling; and social neuroscience, the study of the neural mechanisms underlying social cognition. The parallel development of these new brain sciences is no accident. As Damasio (1994) makes clear, emotional and social functioning are deeply intertwined, since practical rationality is scaffolded by the ability to feel one’s way through the world, the social world included. This is now a familiar theme in cognitive science. Less familiar is the idea that the link between emotional and social functioning identified by Damasio forms part of a constellation of connections between consciousness (in the phenomenal, ‘what it’s like’ sense; see Nagel, 1974) and social cognition. In this paper, I try to identify some of these other connections, and to explore their implications for how we think about the conscious mind in general.

The plan of the paper goes like this. In the first part, I argue that a wide swath of consciousness is a product of the social mind, as it arises from cognitive operations dedicated to processing information about the domain of persons. I begin by describing two phenomena that have attracted considerable attention in the empirical literature. The first is social pain: the affect associated with the perception of actual or potential damage to one’s interpersonal relations. The second phenomenon of interest is affective contagion: the tendency for emotions, moods, and other affective states to spread from person to person as a consequence of social perception. Neuroscientific investigation of these phenomena suggests that affective consciousness depends on perception of the social world in much the same way that it depends on perception of the body. It appears, in short, that consciousness is a ‘socially embodied’ capacity, in two senses of the term (articulated below). In the second part of the paper I look at the flip side of this thematic coin. Here I argue that the distinctive sociality of our species, especially its moral dimension, rests heavily on our ability to represent the conscious states of others. In closing, I try to connect the two main claims of the paper – the claim that consciousness is essentially social, and the claim that thinking about consciousness is socially essential – by showing how they jointly point to a kind of circular causal-mechanistic nexus between consciousness and social mindedness.


Oakeshott on the Character of Religious Experience: Need There be a Conflict Between Science and Religion?

Here is the intro from Tim Fuller’s essay from Zygon.

Michael Oakeshott rarely acknowledged specific intellectual debts. In Experience and Its Modes (1933), however, he cited as major influences on his thinking G. W. F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and F. H. Bradley’s Appearance and Reality (1893). Oakeshott was invoking the tradition of Hegelian/British idealism, knowing that he was swimming against the tide of philosophic fashion. What did he get from this philosophic tradition? Human experience is our world: “Experiencing and what is experienced are, taken separately, meaningless abstractions. . . . The character of what is experienced is, in the strictest sense, correlative to the manner in which it is experienced. These two abstractions stand to one another in the most complete interdependence; they compose a single whole” (Oakeshott 1933, 9). For Oakeshott “there is nothing whatever which is not experience,” and “there can be no experience which does not involve thought or judgment” (1933, 251).

A number of things follow, for Oakeshott. He sought to understand arguments by uncovering the assumptions or postulates on the basis of which each party to an argument seeks a coherent understanding of experience, thereby clarifying how each makes sense of its experience. He pursued not refutation or advocacy but rather descriptions that show the assumptions at work to support conclusions reached on each side; he preferred to turn debate toward conversation and to treat arguments as conversational gambits. Talk is interminable so long as there are human beings. The aim of the philosophic inquirer is to understand better the voices offering accounts of what is already given in experience. The philosopher does not resolve disputes but gives an account of why they are the way they are, and also why from the perspective of each participant the alternatives may seem mistaken or irrelevant. He did not think that victories inevitably deepen insight or that defeats reveal lack of insight. The philosophic quest is for experience as a whole “unmodified.” “Thinking,” he said, “is not a professional matter. . . . It is something we may engage in without putting ourselves in competition; it is something independent of the futile effort to convince or persuade” (1933, 7).

Oakeshott was of a stoic disposition, disinclined to engage in quixotic ventures to change the world or set it right, whatever that might mean. He once remarked to me that Don Quixote was the prototype of the modern rationalist, that Cervantes’ great work was both the anticipation and the critique of modern rationalism. Oakeshott did not always attain detachment, but his disposition was to do so. He saluted Montaigne, who had seen that reasoning is the faculty that makes us human but also produces the ordeal of consciousness that makes us problematic for ourselves. We self-conscious beings impose snares and traps on ourselves and then have to figure out how to deal with them. We continually interpret—well or ill—the world. Our reason leads into difficulties and then to contrivances to escape them. There is no reliable definition of progress. Thus Oakeshott identified himself as a skeptic: one who would “do better if he only knew how” ([1951] 1991, 44).

He recognized as unending the task of comprehending the whole of experience. Given that, grasping the order of reality would ever elude us. We usually settle for abridgements—interpretations of experience through which visions of order from various perspectives may be attained. Some of these interpretations (arrests in thought) get sufficiently elaborated—even equipped with a method of inquiry that may be taught and learned—to turn into modes of experience. A mode is a powerful human invention (although its emergence may take a long time) for making sense of the world to its adherents, binding together individuals in associations that explore the world from their chosen modal perspectives. Each of these modes makes sense in its own terms but can at most achieve the appearance of universality by marginalizing experiences that threaten the coherence (and thus the satisfaction) of the understanding its adherents have come to defend. The coherence of each is abstract—that is, abstracted from the whole it seeks to understand. Imperial tendencies lurk among the adherents of each of these modes, tempting claims of methodological competence to assess critically the alternative modes and experience as a whole; each mode will tend to explain all of experience in terms of its own assumptions.

In Experience and Its Modes (1933) Oakeshott discussed the “historical,” “scientific,” and “practical” modes of experience. He thought they currently “represent the main arrests or modifications in experience,” coexisting as abstractions from the whole of experience, attempting, each in its own way, to abate the mystery of human self-understanding (p. 84). The historical mode knows experience as past experience; the scientific mode knows it as stable, quantitative relationships; the practical mode lives by the tension between what is and what ought to be.

As long as a mode remains content within itself it remains coherent to itself. When it steps out into other realms it begins to confront its own abstractness:

It belongs to the nature of an abstract world of experience to be self-contained, sovereign and to lie beyond the interference of any other world of experience, so long as it confines itself within the limits which constitute its character. Of course, if it oversteps itself, an abstract world of experience immediately becomes vulnerable, and of course, in the end, it must overstep itself, demand to be judged as embodying a complete assertion of reality: but so long as it remains faithful to its own explicit character, even the concrete totality of experience itself cannot compete with it on its own ground. History, Science, and Practice, as such, and each within its own world, are beyond the relevant interference of philosophic thought. (p. 332)

In short, as long as a mode enters no dialectical engagement with other modes, or with a philosophic inquirer, it is protected from subversion by excluding what it wants to consider extraneous.



Born on this day in 1899. It’s to analytical (social) epistemology’s (and philosophy of mind’s) impoverishment and shame that Hayek is not that well-known beyond the tiresome caricatures. For all my Hayekana see here. The featured image was very generously given to me by the highly exceptional Walt Weimer.