N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Anti-news (or “assorted gibberish”)


Time, importance & you

What’s your first thought after waking? I don’t mean “impressions”, memories, dream fragments, etc – but rather your first “active” thought. I would guess it might involve a notion of “your” “self” in time, according to some criterion of “importance”. For example: “I’d better get up or I’ll miss the train”. Or: “Oh, shit, I shouldn’t have said that to her over dinner”.

Much of our basic-level thinking seems to take this form: personal self in time, with its priorities. Meditators might call it “needless projection into past and future” or “mental noise”, with the implication that it sucks (“normal consciousness”, that is – ie what Buddha called “suffering”, or the near-equivalent in his language).

This compulsive personal-self-in-time thinking seems metaphorical, by necessity. And the “enlightened” take on it (or at least the way this is communicated) also seems metaphorical by necessity. The difference lies in the type of metaphorical conception.

For example, consider all the things you have to do (or think you have to). It’s endless – one thing after another. If you think of your self doing those necessary/important (but mundane) things in time, it probably seems like a burden, a struggle – ie physical (muscular) metaphors. It doesn’t help that we routinely conceive of importance as weight, and time as space – eg “the weighty issues I have to tackle in the week ahead of me”. The gravity of the situation. It’s heavy, we need “light relief”, and we need to “let go”.

Just reading the various metaphorical conceptions for “normal” daily work seems enough to depress – a bit of a downer. So, I’ll stop there and move up to the more  “enlightened” framing. Here are some possible variations and alternatives for the “enlightened” metaphor: illuminated, light or clear / spacey, spaced-out or high, in high spirits, walking on air / stillness, tranquility, serenity, “peace” or silence / “presence”, “awakened” / acceptance or “surrender” / “non-attachment”, wholeness, unity, melting, relief, etc.

If “enlightened”/”transported”-frame language doesn’t trigger “shifts in consciousness”, then everyone who has ever read a “spiritual” or “mystical”/religious book, or listened to a guru, swami, priestess, shaman, etc, has “wasted their time”. (Over the centuries, that’s a lot of time-wasters – and a colossal amount of wasted time, if you add it all up. Use a calculator, and be sure to count double if two people were wasting the same time-period). Maybe a systematic shift in metaphorical framing “alone” can, and does, alter “consciousness” – sometimes drastically. But perhaps you already knew that if you regularly watch TV “news”?

State-metaphor non-translation (or “gibberish”)

Headlines_24_to_28_Jan_2014WARNING: Gibberish alert! I have notebooks of ideas that I jot down whenever my mental state seems sufficiently “altered” that burden, struggle and anxiety have disappeared from my view. (I don’t mean drug-etc extremes, just a “shift” from “normal” mental distraction/”noise” to noticeably different “quiet”, “clear”, “luminous”, and/or “still”, etc, experience – select whatever metaphors you prefer. This more often, and more effortlessly, happens to me in extended news-free and work-free zones).

These jotted ideas don’t translate easily into “reasonable” “logical” discourse – unless you start with premises which turn conventional notions of “time”, “self” and “importance” upside-down. Which is to say that conceptions of my personal self’s past and future (and the accompanying thinking) lose importance relative to a more “direct” experience of what the present moment “contains” (with no importance given to any inclination to alter it or “move” to the next moment).

That sounds kind of academic/abstract/trivial until you consider that the near-complete “dissolving” of a sense of burden, struggle and anxiety accompanies this distinct metaphorical-conceptual shift. Whenever I try to write some coherent piece based on these ideas, I feel dissatisfied with the result, as if the act of writing it down has turned it into gibberish. If you’ve read this far, you probably know what I mean.

To compensate for the above lapse, I suppose I’d better write something serious/respectable, so…

“Metaphorical genome project”

philosophy_in_flesh-blurb“Their ambition is massive, their argument important… the authors engage in a sort of metaphorical genome project, attempting to delineate the genetic code of human thought.”The New York Times

That’s from the back-cover of Philosophy in the Flesh, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. It refers to the notion that we think in metaphor, that “Metaphors construct our realities” (as the NYT reviewer puts it), and the book’s main theme: that because our basic conceptual metaphors and frames (the “building blocks” with which we think) derive from bodily experience, we must regard our minds as necessarily “embodied” – not in the trivial sense that you need a physical brain in order to think, but in the profound sense that the structure of our thinking (its categories, linguistic forms, “logic”, etc) comes from the body. To give one example, our fundamental concept of causality is shaped by the way we use our muscles to exert force. Much of what we regard as conceptual inference is built from basic metaphors arising from sensorimotor inference (eg the stuff that goes on in our nervous systems as we swing through the trees or aim the catapult in Angry Birds).

Based on some of the research that’s been going on in cognitive science, this has fairly radical implications for the “Western philosophical tradition”. Or to borrow the words from another blurb for the book (I’m lazy that way), it follows that:

“The Cartesian person, with a mind wholly separate from the body, does not exist. The Kantian person, capable of moral action according to the dictates of a universal reason, does not exist. The phenomenological person, capable of knowing his or her mind entirely through introspection alone, does not exist. The utilitarian person, the Chomskian person, the poststructuralist person, the computational person, and the person defined by analytic philosophy all do not exist.”

Talking of metaphorical genome projects, there’s an Index of conceptual metaphors available listing some of the Lakoff-type research mapping metaphorical domains.

Graphics by NewsFrames

Written by NewsFrames

January 28, 2014 at 2:06 pm

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I have the feeling you’re saying something quite interesting and important here regarding how we think metaphorically on metaphysical matters, but a lot of it goes over my head I have to say. I have been reading it at work, however, which isn’t conducive to comprehension of this type of thought, if I understand what you’re saying.


    January 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    • Hello, Stef. Sorry some of it went over your head (nothing too clever intended really), but I think you’ve read it right when you say “regarding how we think metaphorically on metaphysical matters”. Thanks for taking the time to post some feedback.


      January 28, 2014 at 7:14 pm

  2. I ordered the book. Cant’ wait!. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    David Porter

    January 29, 2014 at 12:04 am

    • Another book on a similar theme is Lakoff & Johnson’s earlier ‘Metaphors We Live By‘. It’s a sort of intro to the new field of conceptual metaphor. ‘Philsophy in the Flesh‘ expands on it, in a long, academic (but very readable) treatment. I found both books mind-boggling in their implications.


      February 3, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: