Metaphor is the basic stuff of thought.
Just as matter is made up of atoms, thought – whether it’s in our conscious awareness or not – is made of metaphor.
We’re constantly comparing one thing to another. Each new thing, each new experience, that we encounter, is categorised and assessed in terms of the experiences and things we have previously encountered.
When we see a chair we’ve never seen before, how do we know it’s a chair? Because “it’s like…” other chairs we have seen before. We’re making an metaphor. It’s an ordinary, everyday thing that humans do.
As Hofstadter and Sander put it: “Analogies spring up in our minds numerous times every second. We swim non-stop in an ocean of small, medium-sized and large analogies, ranging from mundane trivialities to brilliant insights…”
“This incessant mental sparkling, lying somewhere below the conscious mental threshold, gives rise to our most basic, humdrum, low-level acts of categorization, whose purpose is to understand the situations that we encounter (or at least their most primordial elements), and to let us communicate with others about them.”
They use the word analogy where I have tended to use the word metaphor. But the two ideas are so close as to be practically identical.
Just because we make millions of metaphors every day doesn’t reduce their power. A compelling metaphor carries a message further and faster than any other medium.
The words we choose to label things – some of our most striking metaphors – can have a massive impact. For an example, check out the story of how I named the Good Friday agreement.
All art is metaphor. All storytelling. All drama.
And when it comes to persuasion, as Aristotle said, “The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor.”
And when metaphors can have massive impact, and thought is made of metaphor, just as matter is made of atoms … what happens next? Perhaps that’s where X-Ray Listening comes in.
- What do you think? Please comment below.