Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Inside our heads

From Wikipedia

From the National Science Foundation we have an interesting abstract of a paper on the neural basis of metaphor published in September last year.

Metaphors are not just ossified expressions in grammar books. Rather, they are living, evolving expressions that pepper our language far more heavily than one might think. Many expressions that we take for granted are actually metaphorical, that is, they represent one concept by referring to another. For instance, the sentence 'He was feeling down' actually involves metaphorical usage of the spatial word 'down.'

The researchers are studying links between areas of the brain that process aspects of the physical world such as colour, texture and spacial location and our use of metaphor. For example, is the same area of our brain activated when we touch something rough and when we use the metaphor rough?

I find this kind of research mildly interesting, but I'm never quite convinced of the practical implications - or applications for that matter. Long-term knowledge-building I suppose we might call it, yet these brain activities always have to be calibrated against what we already know.

We already know there is a physical basis for many of our metaphors and the additional knowledge that we may link this to specific forms of brain activity may add something extra, but I'm not sure how much, or how important it may turn out to be. 

I suppose what bothers me is that findings such as this will eventually be turned around and some scientists and their backers will lay claim to arcane knowledge about what is really going on in our heads. We of course will already know what is going on, but if history is any guide, somebody in a white coat will one day claim to know more.

In a sense, this is the assumption behind psychotherapy - that the therapist understands you better than you understand yourself. It isn't expressed in that way of course, but claimed or implied access to arcane knowledge has been a feature of most human societies, so we shouldn't be surprised when we come across it. So it seems to me that arcane knowledge is exactly what therapists must lay claim to, however covertly they do it.

Maybe it's a problem we ought to sort out before we let people loose on the inside of our heads. Not so much because of what they may find, but what they may claim. 


James Higham said...

Visions of MK Ultra.

A K Haart said...

JH - I'd be amazed if the military aren't pursuing or funding research like this.