What is it about metaphor?

In The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist explores the relationship between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. And it’s no accident that he’s used a powerful metaphor as the title of his book.

I’m still less than halfway through his book (after hearing McGilchrist speak at the NLP Conference last month) but already he’s helped me to make some important connections.

He really “gets it” about metaphor. Here’s part of what he says about the relationship between language, metaphor and thought.

“Language functions like money. It is only an intermediary. But like money is takes on some of the life of the things it represents.

“It begins in the world of experience and returns to the world of experience – and it does so via metaphor, which is a function of the right hemisphere, and is rooted in the body. To use a metaphor, language is the money of thought.

“Only the right hemisphere has the capacity to understand metaphor… Metaphoric thinking is fundamental to our understanding of the world, because it is the only way in which understanding can reach outside the system to signs of life itself. It is what links language to life.”

McGilchrist “gets” that metaphor is central to the way we think, and that it’s our physical embodiedness that provides many of our powerful common metaphors.

And he gets that “Metaphor… is what links language to life.”

He’s a very solid scientist – which means he’s adding masses to my knowledge of the brain and how it works. I’ve always been fairly skeptical of the right brain – left brain “metaphor”, but his careful, detailed analysis of research is making it much more “real” to me.

It’s also helping me to grasp why the material I know, do and teach, actually matters.

“Metaphor… is what links language to life.”

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