Anatomy of a Metaphor

This week’s post are likely to be mainly about my recent book reading.

Essences and Surfaces argues that analogy is the basis of all thinking. This was an idea I already entertained, so maybe that’s why I have found the book to be a bit too repetitive although some of the examples were fun (ex. the zeugma: “You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit.”). I will probably still finish the book, but it’s really #2 reading priority, usurped by the aggressive (and interesting!) histrionics of the Origins of Consciousness.

The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind argues that analogical thinking, enabled by complex language, is the basis of consciousness [which has a chapter devoted to what it is not, coming soon], and that while our ancestors were often capable of a kind of logic, they were not conscious, not capable of narrativizing their inner lives, until roughly three thousand years ago after a certain linguistic threshold (and I will run through how this is not exactly the Whorfian hypothesis at another time). Before this consciousness was possible, there was a two-tiered proto-consciousness, wherein verbal hallucinations (“Gods”) were the key experience in complex executive decision-making. The breakdown of this bicameral mind occurred around 1200BC, due to “chaotic social disorganizations, to population, and probably to the success in writing in replacing the auditory mode of command.” Needless to say, it’s a tall order.


Parts of a Metaphor

Metaphor was an important concept to both books. Origins spends some ink breaking down the idea of metaphor into parts.

A metaphor is comprised of an understood metaphier and a less understood metaphrand. A metaphor intends to give that target metaphrand some of the attributes of the metaphier (the vocabulary is modeled off of the multiplier/multiplicand). Deeper still, metaphiers have paraphiers (connotations and attributes), and metaphrands have paraphrands (target connotations).

Consider the metaphor that the snow blankets the ground. The metaphrand is something about the completeness and even thickness with which the ground is covered with snow. The metaphier is a blanket on a bed. But the pleasing nuances of this metaphor are in the paraphiers of the metaphier, blanket. These are something about warmth, protection, and slumber until some period of awakening. These associations of blanket then automatically become the associations or paraphrands of the original metaphrand, the way the snow covers the ground. And we thus have created by this metaphor the idea of the earth sleeping and protected by the snow cover until its awakening in spring. All this is packed into the simple use of the word ‘blanket’ to pertain to the way snow covers the ground.

A cardinal property of an analog is that the way it is generated is not the way it is used — obviously. The map-maker and map-user are doing two different things. For a map-maker, the metaphrand is the blank piece of paper on which he operates with the metaphier of the land he knows and has surveyed. But for the map-user, it is just the other way around. The land is unknown; it is the land that is the metaphier, while the metaphier is the map which he is using.

And so with consciousness. Consciousness is the metaphrand when it is being generated by the paraphrands of our verbal expressions. But the functioning of consciousness is, as it were, the return journey. Consciousness becomes the metaphier full of our past experience, constantly and selectively on such unknowns as future actions, decisions, and partly remembered pasts, on what we are and yet may be. And it is by this generated structure of consciousness that we understand the world.


Let me summarize as a way of ‘seeing’ where we are and the direction in which our discussion is going. We have said that consciousness is an operation rather than a thing, a repository or a function. It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog ‘I’ that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it. It operates on any reactivity, excerpts relevant aspects, narratizes and conciliates them together in a metaphorical space. Conscious mind is a spatial analog of the world and mental acts are analogs of bodily acts. Consciousness operates only on objectively observable things. Or, to say it another way with echoes of John Locke, there is nothing in consciousness that is not an analog of something that was in behavior first.

Tomorrow: Jayne’s delineation on what consciousness is/isn’t.