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George Lakoff: How Brains Think: The Embodiment Hypothesis

George Lakoff: How Brains Think: The Embodiment Hypothesis


Most thought is unconscious, and the usual
estimate is around 98 percent. But if you believe the work that Stan Dehaene talked
about the other night, it is more than 98 percent. Consciousness is the tip of the iceberg
of thought. It is there that things are put together in an interesting way and the interesting
way is the following, that before consciousness, what happens is that your brain unconsciously
changes what you perceive or what you think. This is something remarkable.
I think one of the best papers I heard on this was by Shin Shimojo who is a vision scientist
at the Caltech. He came to Berkeley a couple of months ago and gave a truly remarkable
overview of experiments that showed this, many of them which were his. Let me give you
a sense of this. Suppose you know that if there are flashing lights and they are going
along and they are going fast enough, they look like a single stream. No problem. You
all know that. But, if the same thing happens with touch, say little machines that will
touch you along your arm very closely, very quickly and it will feel like someone’s
stroking your arm. Fine, then they set the machine to hit you here and then underneath
the first one and then to the right of the first one. What you feel is the second one,
not underneath but in the middle. That is you don’t feel what was actually done. You
assimilated to a pattern you already know. That means not recognizing what was presented
to you on your arm through touch but only representing something and you feel on your
arm something that was not touched there. Okay. This is like the McGurk effect which
I’m sure you probably all know and if you don’t, you didn’t take a phonology course.
Basically, it goes like this. You have a picture, a video of someone saying ba and the same
person saying ga. You show those and then you show the picture of them saying ga while
he sounds like ba. That’s what people are presented with and what they hear is da with
the D which is in the mouth in between. It’s the same thing. You’re creating something
that was not either presented to you visually or orally and you’re hearing something that
wasn’t there. This is completely normal and it happens in other kinds of cases.
There’s a classic case where they present you with a black dot and underneath the black
dot is a flash that moves to the right. What people see always is next to the black dot,
the flash is to its right then moves to the right. It’s not underneath. If you tell
them that, they still see it that way. The same thing happens in another case. There
will be a beep and a flash at the same time. There will be two beeps and a flash with each
of the beeps, fine. Then there are two beeps with a flash with the first beep and people
see two flashes and then you tell them that this is the case and they still see two flashes.
This is perfectly normal and it happens in politics which we’ll get to, I hope. But
it happens all the time when you’re thinking about things as well as when you’re perceiving
things. This is normal. It’s just the kind of thing that Stan Dehaene was talking about
when he talked about the difference between what’s unconscious and what’s conscious.
We’ll try to explain what’s going on in these cases and there’s a reason for it.
The next thing is that all meaningful thought is embodied. Now, there’s a very simple
way to think about this. First of all, you have connections to your body and all parts
of your brain, but more on the periphery sort of below and above and around within connections
going front toward the prefrontal part where there are more generalizations toward the
front. That is there’s a result that’s very cool. If you learn two rules, one of
which is more general than the other, it’s more to the front for reasons we will talk
about in a while. It follows from other principles and that’s why they studied it. They knew
it follows from other principles. This was done at Berkeley. Go Berkeley.
The idea is this. Imagine that you had a complete brain map of all of the connections in the
brain that were not connected to the body. They’re just connected to each other. Could
you have meaningful thought? No. There will be nothing to think about. Think about that.
There will be nothing to think about. You can only have meaningful thought through connections
to the body. That is absolutely necessary. There’s no chance that it could just be
connections among themselves. The next thing to realize of course is that
when you see brain maps and they show you all of these networks connected to each other
that of course is a computer model because nothing in the brain touches like that. There
are synapses and everything is going across the synapse. There are occasional cases of
touching on the side. There are a few cases like that but they’re rare. The real cases
are you’re going across a synapse. So all the pictures where things are, quote, connected
are not connected. They’re working through chemistry and physics. It’s very important
to know that for reasons we’ll talk about, because those models of networks actually
are interesting for a number of reasons that we’re going to get to.
Then there’s another part that we will get to which is that all the circuitry we’re
going to be talking about is there in animals. We’re going to point out that the circuitry
needed to run thought and language is all there in animals too and it has been what
is called exapted or repurposed for thought and language. That’s cool. I like that.
I like knowing that this is a case and that this is an important part, an important feature
of what our thinking is. Of course, it suggests animals think, which they do. That’s the
next part. Then there are a few basics to know about.
The first is this. We’re born, as you probably know, with about 100 billion neurons. Each
connects to between 1,000 and 10,000 to others so if you multiply that out, it’s about
a quadrillion connections. That’s a lot of connections and they’re all over the
brain. Now, the other part is that we’re born with all sorts of embodied structures
in place. When we’re born, we have topographic maps of the visual field. That’s there.
It’s there as you’re developing in the womb. You have topographic maps of the visual
field. You have all sorts of other things. For example,
a fetus in the womb will move its arms, will move its legs, will put its thumb in its mouth,
will turn over. In order to do that, it has to have a neural system that enables him to
put his thumb in his mouth, to move his arms, to move his legs. That means there have to
be some neural connections that allow that to happen. Every time they move their arms
in the same way, those neural connections get strengthened via Hebbian learning. Every
time they put their thumb in their mouth, those connections get strengthened by Hebbian
learning. Every time they turn over, that is in the womb, the child is developing something
rather important. Developing – starting probably in the sixth month or so, if Dehaene’s work
is right and other people’s work is right – developing those connections that allow
the baby when born to have already all sorts of neural structures in the brain ready to
go. That’s quite remarkable. These are embodied structures. They’re there in the body.
Now, the way they get there is called neural recruitment. That is if in the womb, you can
put your thumb in your mouth and you do it over and over, what happens? The neurons for
doing that have to be used over and over and strengthened and then they at birth, you can
put your thumb in your mouth. The neural structure has to be there and it is, quote, recruited.
That is it’s strengthened because it’s used. This happens whenever you learn anything.
What happens is it already has to be there in order to be recruited, if it isn’t already
there and firing, nothing can get strengthened. That’s a remarkable fact. Everything you
have learned depends upon both the structure that’s there that you’re born with. Things
like topographic maps of the visual field and other parts of things that you’re born
with. Things like a motor cortex that allows you to move your body, a somatosensory cortex
that allows and connects you to everything in your body that feels anything. All of those
things are there and they structure what you learn next. You don’t randomly learn anything.
There’s a not very interesting paper that was published recently that claim that all
categories are all ad hoc categories because everything you do changes. It doesn’t just
change randomly. It changes relative to what you already have. That’s a big deal and
you need to know that. The name for this is called Neural Darwinism. It says if your connections
are in the right place to be able to do it, they will be strengthened and then you’ll
learn those. That’s what Neural Darwinism is about. It’s a very, very important principle.
So next, basic, there are certain constraints on the brain’s neural system so here are
some. We have the embodiment before you’re born and certain primitives for controlling
force and space. We’ll go through a list of those primitives in a while. You have synaptic
changes and some of them are Hebbian where you, you know, neurons that fire together,
wire together as you know, but some work by STDP. That is spike-time-dependent plasticity.
What is that? You got a neuron with an axon, another one with an axon. If they happen to
come together like that, the one that regularly fires first to strengthen in its direction,
the other is weakened in the opposite direction. That allows you to do things in sequence.
You can’t do anything in sequence if it doesn’t have an asymmetry. You can’t move
anything if it doesn’t have an asymmetry. Spike-time plasticity is allowing you to do
anything at all in sequence and you’ll see in a minute, it also permits metaphor. We’ll
get to that in a while. But that is crucial. You need to know how synaptic changes work
and it’s not just Hebbian. These are sort of like an extension on Hebbian learning.
Then there’s the issue of energy maximization which happens in two ways by either rate coding.
Rate coding just means things fire at base rate normally, but then they fire above or
below. They get strengthened if they fire above and weakened if they fire below, but
that also is time coding because of spike-time-dependent plasticity as well. So time coding also changes
these things so you have energy minimization. What happens is the least energy it takes
to fire the more likely the firing will take place, and that means the easier it is to
recruit. It’s easier to recruit things that can fire more easily. That’s a very important
principle for language and thought which we’re going to get to.
Next, there is the neural reward system. Dopamine, norepinephrine, good and bad rewards, which
are there and very, very important for the moral system which we’re going to get to
for understanding what morality is and we’ll talk about that after a while. That’s a
very, very basic set of constraints. What that means is you don’t just acquire any
random circuitry. What is permanently acquired is constrained by these mechanisms and these
are commonalities that we all share. Now, they allow you to learn a certain set of ideas
that appear to be universal, that appear to be there, and then there are others that combine
differently in different cultures. You’ve seen lots of examples of cultural difference
in this conference and they’re real examples. This is a very important thing to understand.
You don’t just learn anything at random. You learn things on the basis partly of what
is already there even at birth and partly of what’s used. Also, many of these cases
are things that you learn because everybody lives on earth. You live in a gravitational
field. The sun rises every day. You’re born to parents, if you’re lucky. You have to
eat. You have to excrete. You have to breathe. You have to do all these things and they shape
how you think. We’re going to talk about how that works.
Now, one of the things that’s very important has to do with generalizations. When you talk
about framing, what is framing? A frame is a neural structure that allows you to structure
your experience and structure it either in some of the things you’re born with like
the notion of motion itself – where there’s a source, there’s a goal, an endpoint to
the motion. It is a course of motion. That is done in MT [phonetic] and it’s there
and you have parts of the brain that record that. You’re born with that. But there are
other ones that are fit together so you have a frame like a commercial event.
A commercial event has four elements. It’s a whole event and it has a buyer, a seller
of goods, and money. There’s a structure to it, a little scenario. Before the event
happens, you have a buyer who wants some goods and has some money, hopefully, or can loan
it, and borrow it, or whatever, or convince people they have it. Then they exchange. The
seller has the goods, hopefully, and wants the money. They exchange and then the opposite
is true. Then the seller has the money and the buyer has the goods. That’s a scenario.
We’ll talk about how scenarios develop and how they work, but this is a major part of
what a frame is. It has semantic roles – buyer, seller, goods and money – and it has these
things. Now, in addition to that, you can put these
together. If you’ll go to a restaurant, which you all do, you will see that a restaurant
is partly a business, partly a food service. If it’s a fancy enough restaurant, if it’s
not McDonald’s or something, you will go and it will be a host-guest relation. You’ll
have a binding between the customer, you, either you, you’re the same person, and
the guest. What happens is you have put these frames together but in the brain, you can’t
mush them together. They don’t move. They’re in different places in the brain. How did
they get together? The answer is this has a name. It’s called neural binding. What
we have and we’ll talk about it in a few minutes is a theory of how that works.
What happens is that you have a neural connection between the two roles. Now, these roles can
apply separately. You can have businesses independent of restaurants, and food service
at your house independent of businesses and so on, or you can bring them together. In
order to bring them together, you have to have connections that go in both directions
and give you simultaneous firing. But in order for that to happen, these connections have
to be gated. There has to be something that gates it either a group of neurons that say
hey, this is a restaurant. What gating can be is you could have something that connects
and then the gate inhibits and then it can be disinhibited, or it can be connecting but
not strongly enough and it needs more. This is called modulation and gates modulate. That’s
how gating works. Gates are all over the place because you need to be bringing together the
embodied ideas that you have in order to have any complex idea at all and most of your ideas
are very complex. We’re going to talk about how those things get brought together and
how this kind of gating works. Next, embodiment, for the first dozen years
of my work as a linguist, I did generative linguistics. I was in MIT and my senior year
was the year of Chomsky’s first year of his department. I learned all of that stuff
as an undergraduate but I was in mathematics and literature so I went off to graduate school
in English literature. Then I wound up in linguistics which was interesting because
I got fired from my job as a TA. I was teaching freshmen composition. It is
a true story. I was teaching freshmen composition and we were assigned to read essays to the
students, to go over certain essays. One of the essays was by George Orwell on the Spanish
Civil War. I had a group of students in Indiana who had never heard of the Spanish Civil War.
I had to explain what it was. It just so happened at that time, it was the fall of 1962 which
was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis,
people were saying what’s the Spanish Civil War? And I was saying, well, here are the
bad guys and here are the good guys. Guess who the good guys were? They were the communists.
So someone writes, someone says there’s a communist teaching us and I get fired.
I go up to the head of the linguistics department. I’ve been talking to him and I’ve gotten
to know him pretty well. I explained what happened. He said well, I’m an interim head.
I’m here because last year, I got fired from Ohio State for taking part in a civil
rights demonstration. Interesting, then the phone rings. He picks it up, talks, puts it
down and he says oh, that’s somebody turning down a three-year fellowship to our department.
Would you like to go into linguistics? It’s true. The best thing that ever happened to
me was getting fired. Now, this is interesting for a number for
reasons. Very often the best thing that ever happens to you is that you learn a lot and
you fail. What I did for the first dozen years of my work as I found examples with Chomsky’s
theory of grammar didn’t work because it was purely formal not based on meaning. It
just had symbols which were uninterpreted symbols, independent of meaning and communication.
That sounded pretty weird to me so I started finding examples that didn’t work.
I said well, how would you make up a theory of meaning – and at that time which was 1962,
1963, around there – meaning meant logic. I was trained as a mathematician. I’ve learned
logic so what I’ve done was to try to fit them together with logic, but there isn’t
one logic. There are hundreds of logics, maybe thousands of logics. The job of a logician
is to make up logic to deal with some phenomenon. That’s what logicians do. They make up logics.
If you go and read the Australasian Journal of Logic or The Journal of Symbolic Logic,
there are all these people making up logics. They have to make them up and they’re all
different. There are a lot of very smart people who make up logics about particular individual
issues and they don’t fit together. What I found was that they never fit together very
well. After a while, it got very frustrating. I worked on this between about 1963 and 1975.
The whole idea of generative grammar fell apart. There were things that you could not
do with it even if it was meaningless, you still couldn’t do certain sentences. I’ll
be happy to go through with that if anyone really cares but there are examples where
there can’t be a deep structure, for example. That was discovered in ‘74 and nobody has
found a way to do it since then. It fits together very well from a neural perspective but not
from a generative perspective. In 1975, I was teaching at Berkeley and I
happened to have a group of remarkable colleagues. People like Paul Kay, Eleanor Rosch, Leonard
Talmy and Charles Fillmore. I heard from them an amazing set of lectures in 1975, all during
a summer session when we had a group of people coming to an underground linguistic institute.
You know, this is Berkeley, right? You announce that you got a grant for eight people who
are going to come and do something interesting and 188 showed up. And so my research assistant
gets a bunch of sorority houses and forms communes, which was great. We had everybody
giving talks on two days’ notice and so on.
Among those talks were the following. There was a talk by Paul Kay who was studying the
terms for colors. It turns out that that was just after Russ De Valois had figured the
nature of the physiology of color vision. That depended on – not surprisingly now but
then it was news – on wavelengths in the world – which are not colors, which are reflectances
out in world – your color cones in your eye, and connections to the neural circuitry in
your brain which creates colors. It was discovered shortly after that the color
cones are dependent on X chromosomes. There are two versions of these for men and 16 for
women. Women have a larger color vocabulary if they’re going to talk to each other because
there are different types. But then also since then it’s been discovered that certain women
have four color cones. I’m married to one of those women. She’s an artist. She sees
colors that I can’t even imagine are there. But this is important. If you’ve ever had
an argument with someone in the opposite gender about whether something is blue or green or
orange or brown or something, you’re both right because you don’t see the same thing,
a very basic thing to know. What that means is there’s no color in the world.
Well, at that time, if you’re thinking about logic, logic is defined in terms of truth
conditions. If you have something that says the chair is green, it means that that thing
you’re referring to as a chair is in the set of green things in the world, but if there
is no descriptive green things in the world, this can’t work. Logic can’t work. I almost
fell off my chair when I heard this. In the next few weeks, I heard Eleanor Rosch
give her first lecture on basic level categories and what she pointed out was if you have category
hierarchies like furniture, chair, rocking chair or a vehicle, car, sports car – the
one in the middle has special properties. Those properties are a car or a chair is defined
by three things: mental imagery, gestalt perception and motor programs. So you’re all sitting
in a chair using those motor programs. You can then close your eyes and imagine a chair
or imagine a car. You can’t get a mental image of a generalized piece of furniture
that’s neutral between chairs, beds, tables and so on. And you can’t get a mental image
of something that’s neutral between cars and airplanes and boats and motorcycles and
so on. You can’t do it. Try it. The question is why does this happen. At the
time we only knew that it happened. We now know why it happens. Part of this comes from
the work of Martha Farah who back in 1989 did a remarkable paper where she showed that
mental imagery and visual perception use the same structures in the brain, the neural structures.
The second part has to do with the work on mirror neurons circuitry. The mirror neurons
circuitry, it’s not just the neurons, you have circuits that connect from the premotor
cortex to the motor cortex, but they also connect to the parietal lobe behind that which
integrates with vision. So that you have connections integrating the motor system, your motor programs,
with your gestalt perception, with your mental imagery in a single loop. That is why you
have basic level categories. Is that cool? There’s a reason for this and it doesn’t
apply up above because you can’t get the same things in those visual systems. That’s
important. The next week, we heard a talk from Leonard
Talmy. Leonard Talmy was then a graduate student finishing a dissertation on spatial terms
in various languages. He was also at the time going blind. He knew he had tunnel vision
and he would eventually go blind. He prepared himself for this by becoming the world’s
expert on space, and he’s still the world’s expert on space. He does folk dancing, blind.
He raises flowers, blind. He spent 20 years running a cognitive science department at
SUNY Buffalo blind and so on, an absolutely remarkable human being, a wonderful human
being, a sweet, sweet guy. There was something also Ron Langacker at
San Diego had pointed out is that if you look at spatial relations terms in different languages
like Dutch versus English, they’re all different but they have the same primitives. They can
be broken down into the same primitives like motion, a source-path-goal, containment, things
like nearness, how close things are, how tightly connected they are, whether they’re going
around or not and so on. Various things he called force dynamics. Force dynamics include
a long list of forces. I’ll come back to that in a minute but let’s — oh, I want
to go one other thing that he pointed out is what is called fictive motion and then
we’ll get on to his list. Fictive motion is a sentence like the road
runs through the woods. The road is not moving. Now, this is basically a metaphor. It says
the way you understand a line or a curve is by motion tracing it. Now, Teenie Matlock
took this and, quote, ran with it. What she did was if you take something like the road
runs through the woods and the road meanders through the woods, guess which one takes longer.
Meander takes longer. Well, she then has done a series of experiments
over the years that show that all of the properties of motion come into this metaphor, a very
crucial metaphor. You get things like the wall curves or the roof slopes downward and
so on. I like Route 1 turns inland after Tomales Bay as you’re going along it. It’s not
moving, but, you know, and so on. We understand this all the time.
Now, in this, you have a bunch of conceptual primitives. The week after Len talked, we
got a talk from Charles Fillmore who observed that grammar is based in simple sentences
and in the case of languages like Finnish and Hungarian and so on, on notions like action
and events in the world. So you have an agent, you might have somebody who is fighting against
an agent. You have a patient who the agent works on. You have an experience or you experience
something. Something happens to you. You have observers. You have beneficiaries. You have
instruments, recipients, sources and goal. You go from here to there.
You have inhibitions. Things can stand in your way and stop you and so a word like despite
in a sentence has to do with an inhibition. You did this despite this happening. You have
reference where you have pronouns that refer to the same thing. You have accompaniment
with words like with. You have resultant expressions and so on. Locations, directions, manner,
measures, ranges and so on, all of these are what are called basic semantic roles and actions
and events and grammars are structured around them. That’s what Chuck found. It’s very
important. This is part of your everyday experience and it’s the experience of the most basic
actions and events that structure simple grammars then things get more complicated.
What Len pointed out was you have other things. You have deictic centers. Actually, Fillmore
has the greatest book and it’s called Deixis. What is deixis? It’s a location. It’s
point of view from here. If I say come here, it’s come to here. Go is someplace else.
But if you talk about here versus there, that’s deixis and so on, or I can talk about home
or your home which is you are now the deictic center. You can shift deictic centers. What
does this have to do with neuroscience? Think about who won the Nobel Prize in neuroscience
last year. The people discovered space cells and grid cells which are responsible for deixis.
It’s a neural thing. You also have the notion of cardinal directions
and you have that in the space cells. So you know that the sun rises in the east and sets
in the west and so on, if you live in certain places like Australia and you can see them.
You can actually also see them from Berkeley but not from any other places. But there are
some places in the world where you can actually see the sun rising in the east and setting
in the west. In many of those places, there are languages where that’s the only thing
you can say. Where you say something like he is sitting to the west of her – and that’s
all you can do. You can’t do it but you think about it and you know all the time what
is east and what is west. There are languages where that works that way.
But also as Len pointed out, you have all these notions like part-whole, center-periphery,
an axis. So if you’re going across the stream, you’re going across an axis, along the axis.
You have a front, a back. Now, in physics, there’s no notion of front and back. You
have to have a body to have a front and a back. This is a little bit tricky for crabs
because you can see why. They move and see in different directions. But we move and see
in the same directions and that’s fronts and backs, and then we project them on to
other things. You can put something in front of the tree where the tree is understood as
facing you. But there are some languages where the tree is focused in the other direction.
It depends on which language you’re in. You have notions like side, and left and right,
and top and bottom, adjacent regions, figure and ground, verticality, horizontality, regions,
links between things. What Len pointed out is that these ideas which are called basic
primitive image schemas structure thought in every language in the world. This is how
you think in these terms and they’re there and they’re there for everybody. The question
is exactly how they’re embodied but they have to be embodied.
There’s more of course. Near, far, facing opposite, intermediate, attached, separated
and so on. There are a lot more even there, these additional ones. Now, in addition, Len
pointed that there is what is called force dynamics, and so you have forces and counterforces
and he got this from muscles. Every muscle in your body has an opposite muscle. A reflexor
has an extensor, and they are connected in mutual inhibition. If I move my arm like this,
I’m flexing this muscle and releasing the other one. If I’m banging you, I’m playing
basketball with my elbow and I’m pushing you out of the way, it’s the reverse. I’m
giving force in that direction and releasing it here. He pointed out basically there’s
force dynamics all over the place. You have things like compulsion where you’re pushing
or pulling or enabling something to move or supporting. I put this on here and this has
three image schemas and force dynamics. It is supporting it. It is in contact with it
and it’s above it. Those are its dimensions. In terms, you have pulling and pushing and
resisting and inertia and momentum and all of this show up in basic understandings of
how people function in the world. Balance, stasis, thrust, friction, compression, tension,
all of these are parts of your embodied structure that you are born with, that you use every
day and that you put together with other things. Let’s take a very simple case. Take into.
You walk in the room. It’s not that simple because the room is a container. There’s
an interior and an exterior and a boundary and a portal you can go in to. Then there
is motion. There’s a place where it starts and a place where it ends in a path. The place
where it starts is outside; the place where it ends is inside. The path goes through the
portal. That is three neural bindings, three, and they have to occur together. You have
to have a circuit that says the into circuit is what does it because you’re not pulling
them together. They’re in different parts of the brain. They can occur separately. This
is one of the things that Len contributed. If we go back to all of that, this is one
of the main things that we found out in 1975. It has now been 40 years since all of this
embodiment was discovered. Then in 1978, I happened to find out about conceptual metaphor
during an undergraduate class. I won’t go into the story. It’s a nice story but anyway,
we discovered that metaphor was in thought. How did you discover it? You discover it because
one of the women in the class was having a metaphor problem with her boyfriend. The boyfriend
said that their relationship had hit a dead-end street.
We say, wait a minute. What’s going on here, she says. We all say okay, it’s 1978. We’re
in Berkeley. Let’s help. We set up an instant support group. Everyone knew how to do this.
We said okay, if it hit a dead-end street, you can’t keep going the way you’ve been
going. You may have to turn back. As the professor I said, hey, you have a bunch of ways of talking
about love in terms of travel. What are some of the others? Well, the marriage is on the
rocks. It’s off the track. It’s been a long bumpy road. We’re going in different
directions. We may have to bail out and so on. We got a nice long list of them.
It’s okay. We got a long list. We’re linguists. That’s what we do but we do something else.
We asked her, is there a generalization over the list? We asked her that and people immediately
pointed out the lovers are always travelers. The relation is some kind of vehicle. It’s
got to be either a boat, a train, a car or something like that. If you’re spinning
your wheels in a relationship, it’s a car, and the wheels are on the car. What do you
know about that? Well, it turns out that as a further generalization,
this is about long-term relationships and the problems of long-term relationships of
having common life goals which are reaching destinations. You have to understand that
achieving a goal is reaching a destination which is a general metaphor. If you have common
life goals, you have to have compatible destinations. Many of you will understand that that’s
not easy. This is a metaphor about it not being easy,
about the problem of spinning your wheels in a relationship which you’re not making
any progress. If you’re spinning your wheels in a relationship, you have a mental image.
The wheels are on a car. What do you know about it? It’s not moving. You want it to
be moving. You’re putting energy into trying to get the car to move and you feel how? Frustrated.
If you’re spinning your wheels in a relationship, the relationship isn’t going anywhere, you’re
putting energy into it and you feel frustrated. That’s what it means to think in terms of
a metaphor. You take knowledge about a situation and you apply a single mapping. Lovers are
travelers, relationship is a vehicle, purposes are destinations, and difficulties in achieving
a purpose is difficulty in reaching the destination. If you take those things and you apply it
to that, you get inferences and those inferences are what these metaphors mean. That’s how
you think in terms of metaphors. Metaphors are about inferencing [sounds like], taking
inferences from a source domain and applying it to what is called a target domain.
Well, when I started working with Mark Johnson on this in 1980, actually we started in ’79,
we noticed things like happy is up and sad is down. But why is happy, up and sad, down?
Think of your body. You’re smiling, you feel up. You’re down, you’re [indiscernible].
Happy is up. Sad is down. In 1983, I had a visitor named Zoltán Kövecses
from Hungary who had come to visit me because he was putting together an idiom dictionary.
Under A, he had idioms for anger. He had like 400 of them, lots of them. I looked at these
things and a lot of them where about embodiment. I said okay, you have emotions and I have
a friend in Berkeley who studied the embodiment of emotion. His name is Paul Ekman. He is
a noted psychologist who started studying the embodiment of emotion.
I went to visit Paul and he said hey, Kalsher [phonetic] and I and others have done some
work on this and here is what happens when you get angry. Your skin temperature rises
half a degree. Your blood pressure goes up. Your heartbeat rate goes up. You have interference
with accurate perception and interference with fine motor control, which is why you
get boiling mad. It’s heat or all steamed up and so on. It is why you can explode under
pressure. It is why you get blind with rage because you have interference with accurate
perception. Why you get hopping mad because your fine motor control is gone and hundreds
of other cases. I have a book called Women, Fire, and Dangerous
Things where I put in a chapter of the study that I did with Kövecses on anger and he
has since done books on other metaphors for emotions. They all worked on embodiment. They
have to do it the way that emotion is felt throughout the body and then in the corresponding
parts of the brain. This is crucial. It’s the same across languages. It is not true
that it’s just about English or something. He has now got lots of books on this subject.
Now, it’s very important because it says yes, metaphor is about embodiment and embodied
thought and in fact, it’s a major part of all of that.
Now, we then started looking at what is called grammar, construction grammar and what Fillmore
and I discovered was of course we knew that meaning affected grammar so we set up to do
a theory of how this work. The way it works is that you are learning pairings of meanings
and grammatical structures, surface grammatical structures. These pairings have to do with
all kinds of meanings like speech act meanings and the metaphor. That metaphor can enter
in to these constructions. Let me give you a very simple case.
One of the constructions is what is called deictic there construction. There is Harry
sitting on the porch. Here comes the bus. You’re pointing to something in the common
visual field about something that is moving either towards you or going somewhere and
you’re directing someone’s attention to a place where that thing is going to be. So
you have a general principle for this and then you can apply metaphor to this. You can
be listening to a lecture. You may have heard this lecture before and you can say, here
comes an interesting argument or there goes the same boring point again or something,
and here it comes because you understand communication as sending things. Another metaphor called
the conduit metaphor. That metaphor can be applied to this construction and you can use
that construction metaphorically. This happens in general throughout constructions. In general,
grammar works via metaphor. There’s a remarkable student who got a PhD
at Berkeley about five years ago, now teaching in Australia. Her name is Karen Sullivan.
What she discovered was that there are certain places where the source and target of a construction
can be distinguished, where you can tell which is going to be the source, and which is the
target of the metaphor. The way to do this is look at what is called dependent and independent
parts of constructions. If I say a thing like brilliant student, the student is fixed and
the brilliant is the metaphorical applying to the student.
Well, in literal cases, this is also true. If I talk about a tall child, the child is
fixed and I’m changing the notion of tallness for the child. That’s a dependent case and
dependent cases can be sources of metaphors. If you go and look at this consistently across
dozens and dozens of constructions as Karen did, you can see where the source and targets
are in the grammar. That’s an important thing to have discovered. Grammar is based
on metaphor because it’s based on things that are fixed versus things that change with
respect to them. That is a normal thing to happen, and metaphor is right there in the
middle of this. Then there are blends. Mark Turner and Gil
Fauconnier discovered blends in 1989 before we had a decent theory of how the neural system
worked. They have a theory of it that doesn’t work very well but they had beautiful observations
which are very accurate. They’re good, very terrific linguists. What they’ve observed
is something that Mark Turner and I had discovered when we wrote a book on poetry. If you take
a mythological figure, the figure of death in European culture – there’s a knock
on the door, you open the door and there’s a skeleton staring you in the face with a
black cowl and a scythe. He says, “You’re coming with me right now,” and you can’t
resist and you go. That’s the figure of death.
What’s with the skeleton? What’s with the scythe? Why is the cowl black? What’s
going on? Well, what you’re doing is you’re putting together metaphors and metonymies
altogether and binding them in a single unity. The skeleton is a metonymy. That’s what
happens to you after death, so the skeleton stands for death. There’s a metaphor that
a phenomenon is a person that causes that phenomenon. You can think of evil as there
being an evil out there or jealously as causing jealousy. If you go through the body of English
poetry, they have lots of cases where they will take some phenomenon or you can say look,
aggression causes war, where you understand aggression as doing something. It’s a phenomenon.
You do this all the time, a general metaphor, and death is what causes death. That’s the
first thing. You have this cause of death. The next thing is what’s with the scythe?
Well, in general, there’s a metaphor. People are plants with respect to the lifecycle.
You have young saplings and you have sowing the seeds and so on. You have a lifecycle.
In terms of growing wheat, when do you cut down the wheat – at the prime of its life
when it’s standing up. That’s what the scythe is about. So you’re being cut down
at the prime of life with the scythe. This figure of death doesn’t come around when
you’re 95 and about to die naturally. It comes about in the prime of life.
Then you have why the cowl is black? Because life is light and death is darkness and you
see this in metaphors all over the place. Why does he take you away? Being born is arrival
and death is departure. He is the dear departed. He’s gone. He’s left us, et cetera. You
have a combination of several metaphors and a couple of metonymies and they are bound
together in one integrated figure. You have what’s called integration of things just
as we saw with the visual cases. This is a very important thing to understand. You have
to bring things together. How do you do that? You need neural bindings across many things,
across metaphors, across metonymies, across all of these things. You need to have neural
bindings for that. The question is how does that work? Okay. That was 1989.
1992 is a big year for embodiment. We set up a group when Jerry Feldman came to Berkeley
on structured neural computation and not PDP computation. I learned it from Romuald Park
[phonetic] how parallel distributed processing neural networks worked. We’re trying to
get it to be part of the language for about eight years and it didn’t work at all. I
learned all the stuff. I was in there. I taught in their summer schools. Nothing worked. Jerry
had this idea that if you looked at these actual structures in the brain and modeled
those, you might get it to work. In 1992, we got a graduate student from the
Indian Institute of Technology called Srini Narayanan who’s the person I’m working
on this book with. Srini, a normal Indian graduate student, he has studied mathematics,
computer engineering, neurophysiology, robotics, economics, international economics, seven
classical languages, their literatures, a typical Indian graduate student coming to
Berkeley, and we get this all the time. But he shows up, he is in a cubicle next to a
guy named David Bailey who is a very good cognitive scientist and computer scientist.
David had a problem. His job was to try to figure out how people could name words for
hand motions and what that had to do with the hand because it’s done differently in
different languages. Let’s say we push a button and we push a
baby carriage. It’s the same thing but in Spanish, you use two different words. The
question is does this have anything to do with your hand? A reasonable question. To
do that, he needed an online body. Luckily, one was available at the University of Pennsylvania.
It was named Jack and it was designed for car crashes but the grant was over. They had
every bone and muscle in its place but there’s nothing moved because it was just for car
crashes. They said, “You want Jack, here is Jack,” and they sent them Jack.
Jack arrives and you also have a picture of the body. There was a line diagram of what
Jack looks like in the front and the side and so on and the top. You can see what the
body is moving except it doesn’t move. The question is how do you get it to move? Srini
takes on this question. He said, “Well, I know how the motor system works. It’s
a hierarchical system. It works in the following way.” There happens to be a kind of neural
computation called stochastic Petri nets that is not based on timing but is based on inputs
and outputs and stuff like that. It looks kind of like a neural system. Then he goes
into the guts and makes it more like a neural system. And he says “Well, we also know
that the premotor cortex gives instructions to the motor cortex, so let’s model those
instructions, et cetera.” He sets this up and in a while, he gets Jack
to move. You get things like, words like push and pull, and lift and drop, and run and walk,
and stumble and fall, and so on. He takes these words and he shows what it takes Jack
to move and all of these. Cool, very nice. He comes to report to us and he says there’s
something strange. The top level of the system looks the same for all of them. Just one structure
and as you go down, it changes but the top level looks the same. That is in each case,
you have a precondition that has to be met. You have a starting action then you go down
and do some other action. Then you have a center of the action and then if it’s purposeful,
you have to check to see if the purpose is met. If it isn’t, you repeat and iterate
and it’s just going to be long or short. Then after that, if the purpose is met or
if there is no purpose, you go on to the finishing action and then after it’s all done, you
have a conclusion. I said hey, that’s interesting. I know that
structure. It’s in every language in the world. It’s called aspect. In fact, if you
will add Ben Bergen’s talk earlier this morning, he talked about experiments on this.
In English, being is in the middle of the action. About to is before it. I have done
it is after it’s done and so on. Every language in the world has a way to express aspect either
in words or morphemes or in idioms or something like that. Every language has some way to
do this, every place in the world. What that means is you are understanding the
structure of events and actions in the world in terms of what your body can do in motor
routines. You understand this in terms of the same kinds of motor structures that animals
have. This is exaptation. It is the repurposing of structures that are there in animals for
understating things and understanding how things work in the world. That’s pretty
cool. The first question I asked them was can you
get a logic of aspect out of this because I knew that no logician had ever figured this
out because they didn’t do embodiment. They said well, it’s right there in the program.
If you’ve gone this far, you’ve done all the things before and you haven’t the things
after. That’s the logic of aspect. It’s very simple. I said well, that’s all very
nice for physical things but this applies to abstract things. Things that stock markets
do, the governments do and so on. He said aha, that’s my dissertation. He said, you
have abstract things or metaphors. He took the abstract notion of international economics,
worked out the metaphors for it and then constructed a neural theory of metaphor to show how that
worked and fit it together and it worked. It’s very cool. By 1997, we had a neural
theory of metaphor. Since then, what was shown was that there
are — one thing we discovered along the way is that there are things called primary metaphors
versus complex ones. The primary ones are very simple things like more is up, affection
is warmth. They apply all over the place. Purposes are destinations. States are bounded
regions in space so that you can enter a state, leave a state, on the verge of entering a
state, be deep in a state, et cetera. And then you have things like change is motion
where you go from here to there, from one state to another. Causes are forces which
Len Talmy pointed out and so on. If you look at forces and motions and bounded regions
in space which put together all of Len Talmy’s idea in one group, in one integrated group,
you get these notions. Now, that’s a very powerful. We learned
how that worked and those are primary metaphors but you get groups of them. What Jean Mandler
who studies child language development pointed out in a paper published last June is that
children learn these combinations. They learn about force changes of motion. They learn
about these things. They learn about containment and moving things from one container to another.
I have the cutest picture of my two-year old granddaughter. My son sent me a wonderful
video of her at the age of one. She had just learned to stand up, about to learn to walk.
But she was taking things out of a crayon box and putting them in to a bowl, never missing,
then going backwards, never missing. Then doing it again over and over, which she mastered
the bowl and the crayon box. Then she got into a box herself and out of the box. Then
she took her dolly and put it in the carriage and out of the carriage and so on. She mastered
motion and containment. This is something that Jean was talking about in this paper
and she goes through the stages at which children do this. They put these things together in
integrated holes. Now, that’s a very important thing for a
number of reasons and the reason for this is very important. I’m going to get to that
in a few minutes when we show how this works, but I want to point out what this all is leading
to. It turns out that metaphor systems are the basis of philosophical theories. They’re
the basis of mathematics. We have a book called Where Mathematics Comes From showing mathematics
is embodied but you’ll get different forms from different metaphors and so on. We have
all of those things and then we have stuff on moral systems and politics.
Okay. Let’s move on. We did fictive motion. We did those. We did these. We did this. We
did force dynamics. Okay. Now, what we have in the book called How Brains Think that I’m
doing with Narayanan and we’ve now worked on this for 22 years. It’s the following
kind of notion that Jerry Feldman first pointed out but it goes in the following way. What
Narayanan did was he constructed a theory that could model the neural system but also
model the conceptual system, the metaphor system, the framing system and all of these
other things. He has it in such a way that you can map onto this from this computational
system onto the metaphor system and so on. You can map the other way onto the neural
system and it creates a bridge. And you can also show what happens in sequences
and so on and you can show how the functions work. This is what the bridging model is.
You have center cases of a structured neurocomputational model in the middle. You have on one side
integrated, embodied, conceptual systems and language way on the left. On the right, you
have an embodied neural system for thought and language. And then you have mappings,
some of the neurals from the central computational system onto both of those. That’s what the
bridge is. That’s the bridging model. Okay, how does this work? Well to do this,
you have to set up a toolkit which you can do easily through the neurocomputational structure
where it’s clear and then you map it on to other things. And so you can have activation
connections where one thing activates something. In other words, it’s something that inhibits
it and modulation connections. And they’re all gated so that you can have gates with
activations that only happens when the gate applies, when it’s modulated.
So you have that. Then every circuit can have a gate that modulates it, that turns the circuit
on and off, so in that, that’s part of what happens. And then there are structures called
gestalt circuits. Gestalt circuits are interesting. What they do is they have a whole structure.
It’s a particle structure. It’s a whole and a number parts which is what all frames
have. We went through for example commercial events or restaurants, all frames that have
semantic roles which are parts and then you have a whole in there. And then what you have
is a scenario and the scenario is what Srini made up which is for motion, which is called
an executing network or an X-net. It’s what does things in sequence and that carries.
So you have both one of these gestalt circuits and the way is — this works. If I say a word
like waiter, you know you’re in a restaurant. If I say a word like sell, you know you’re
in a commercial event. That is, the part activates the whole and the whole activates all the
parts. That’s what a gestalt is. That’s what it means to have a part-whole structure
that is a gestalt where things works like that.
And then you add to that linear structures, and you get the possibility for frames. And
frames are the way you understand all institutions, you understand all events in the world this
way, you understand all complicated cases in terms of these frames. That’s how you
think in terms of circuits. And this is the kind of circuitry you need for frames. That’s
cool, so far so good. Then you need a binding circuit where you have two nodes that activate
each other with a gate. We mentioned that. So to get things like restaurants out of businesses
and foods services, you need binding circuits. Now the next one I want – before I get to
integrating circuits, I want go to Stanislas Dehaene who is one of my great heroes. Now,
I’ve read his three major books. They’re all great. I’ve learned something important
from each of them. I read his last book on consciousness on the way here, on the plane
because I couldn’t get here for his talk. I hear he talked on chapter 4 which I read
very carefully because it was the center of this book, and the thing he was most proud
of for good reason. And what he said in Reading in the Brain, which is a great book, he asked
how can you recognize a letter or a word when we didn’t evolve to read? And he’s very
interesting. Then he does studies and he says, “Oh, this is part of the brain which does
objects structure,” which is next to the fusiform face region. And he says, “You
know that is activated whenever you’re reading but how does that work?”
And he points out the following. He says in the primary visual area, V1, that’s dedicated
to detection of thin lines and object contours. By the secondary visual area, the neurons
are already sensitive to combinations of lines and well-defined inclinations and curves.
Then further up in the posterior part of the inferior temporal cortex called TEO, they’re
tuned to simple combinations of curves and the neuron-selective response to say the shape
of an F can be reduced to the detection of a simple conjunction of elementary curves
and the way they’re connected. That is what is going on and you have to have all of them
there. Okay, well, he didn’t say what the circuitry
was. He just pointed that out. But the circuitry is fairly obvious if you think about it. What
is involved is an integrating circuit that does the following. If you have a bunch of
centers around receptive fields and the centers are overlapping to form a line, what does
that mean? It means there’s another layer in V2 where they come together and a single
node or a group of neurons are firing when they’re all firing together. It goes in
the opposite direction, if you’re thinking about the F, so it’s the other line. We
know the connections go in both the directions. So the idea is that is what it means to have
a line, those neurons are firing. Then you have another layer where you have
them intersecting. What happens there is you have a layer where you get input from both
lines at a single point where they intersect. The neuron fires if it gets input from two
at once but not if it only gets input from one, so that is the thing, the vision intersection.
Then there’s a layer that looks at the patterns of those intersections and that’s where
you get an F. All of them have to be activated at once to get an F. That is, it’s not located
in one place. There’s a cascade effect and this is what you need. You need exactly that
kind of neural structure with activations in both directions. That is an integrating
structure, a simple integrating structure. Well, how do you get the grim reaper where
you have a whole bunch of things, like five different things that are bound together,
three metaphors and two metonymies? How do you do that? You need something that has a
number of binding circuits which are gated and you have to control all the gates. You
have to integrate all of those gates at once. So one of these integrating circuits applying
to the gates of five binding circuits will do it, and that will create any blend at all.
If you take a look at the works by Turner and Fauconnier, they have thousands and thousands
of examples of these, they’re everywhere. I could go on for the rest of the lecture
just talking about blends but that’s the mechanism. And that’s how this stuff works.
And so if you continue, then the question is what kind of circuitry do you have and
what — in addition to that, what Narayanan did was he said, “What do you need to do
motor control?” He said, “Well, you need conjunctive circuits where you’re doing
two things at once, like you’re reaching for something, trying to grasp it and as you’re
going, you’re opening your hand and then closing it. You have to coordinate them as
you’re going.” And he figured out how to do coordinating circuits which are actually
very simple to set up. Then you have conditional circuits. If then, have you achieved your
purpose? If you have, move on; if you haven’t, iterate and take another drink, which I think
I’ll do right now because I haven’t achieved my purpose. Here, I go. I need more caffeine.
I just did one of those executing schemas. Now, the point is then you have sequential
circuits which allow you to do things in sequence. You have embedding circuits as you go along
and doing something. Like if I wanted to take this drink, I have to unscrew the cap. Then
I have to go through a routine like this, and that’s in the center of taking the drink.
And afterwards, I put it down because I’m done, like that. Now, that is what these embedding
circuits do at a certain point. There’s a nice way of characterizing that. In the
book it takes about a paragraph to describe. It’s very simple. And then there is substitution
circuits where you do something basic and then you substitute something else for it
and that happens all the time. For example, suppose you want to plug something
in the wall. You have something standing in its way like a table, you have to go around
it. You have to substitute this and then plug it in the wall, okay? That’s the substitution
circuit. There’s a winner-take-all circuit where you are comparing things and you want
to say, who’s going to win here, if you have a competition. What happens is either
the one that has the most activation goes in and you have mutual inhibition. The one
that has the most activation is going to inhibit the other or the one that gets there first
is going to inhibit it. That’s a winner-take-all circuit, especially you can work with many
of these things. There’s a metonymic circuit where you have
part of a frame that maps to another, and a metaphor circuit where you’re mapping
frames onto other frames and you’re controlling all of them at once via one of these things
that controls the bindings all at once. Then comes simple combinations and that’s it.
We believe that with all of that apparatus and no more and maybe that there is some more,
you can do all of thought and language. Now, we may be wrong. There may be some more. But
so far, all the things that we wanted to do, we can do. And a lot of these form sequences
called cascades. A cascade is a circuit across brain regions that integrate one thing after
another, after another in sequence because you’re learning a lot of stuff that you
do in sequence. And an active cascade is just the flow of
activation across the brain. This is the kind of thing where Dehaene talks about his workspace,
and the workspace so far as I can see has to do with binding circuits across various
embodied parts of the brain. A lot of it is binding circuits and sequences of these binding
circuits one contained within the other. We’ve done a lot of work in cascade analysis as
well. Now, I want to finish up with a few cases
and do it quickly because we’ve talked about many of these already. Primary metaphor works
like this. How do you get affection is warmth? You’re held affectionately by your parents.
You feel their bodily warmth. There’s a correlation in your brain between temperature
and affection in different places in the brain. Well, how do you get more is up? You have
quantity and verticality in different –- you pour water in a glass; the level goes up every
time. You’re a baby, you see this and the brain picks it up, you might not be conscious
of it but the brain registers it in different parts of the brain. If it happens over and
over, you get Hebbian learning, that is, it gets stronger and spreads along existing pathways
and they get stronger. And eventually, the shortest pathway is found and you formed a
circuit. But when you formed that circuit, you have
the situation where things are going like this. Spike-time-dependent plasticity comes
in and whichever has the most input first, you know, strengthened in this [indiscernible]
direction and weakened in the other. That is why you have a source and target domain
of a metaphor. So why is it that more is up not up is more? Because your brain is always
computing verticality, but not always computing quantity. Why is that affection is warmth
and not warmth is affection? Your brain is always computing temperature but not always
affection. You go through 400 cases, they all work like that.
STDP predicts we believe – we can’t prove this – we believe that it predicts the source
and target domains of primary metaphors, and they structure the entire system which is
then put together by bindings. That is how the system gets set-up. Your entire conceptual
system is set-up via primitive concepts, force dynamics, image schemas, executing schemas,
basic frames for functioning in the world every day and primary metaphors. That gives
enormous universal structure to a conceptual system, and then your culture goes to work
to give you the rest of the hundreds of thousands of concepts that you have which are complicated
and different in culture and in different languages.
So this is what we’ve done. We’ve talked about schemas and frames. I want to say a
little bit about complex metaphorical thought and linear scales which is a very important
thing to do. Take the metaphor of the glass ceiling. What’s involved in that? A lot.
So first of all, you have a metaphor that says purposes are destinations and what is
the purpose? It has to do with some desire, some goal, some means and resources that you
have and possible impediments to getting there. You have to get there to this goal. Fine,
purposes are destinations say it’s motion. And what you’re doing, the means is going
along a path and there can be things that blocked you, standing in your way that you
have to get over and so on to reach a goal. Those fit together and form a universal metaphor.
Language after language has this metaphor. Then there are linear scales where you have
someone is better than someone else, and you get expressions like John’s intelligence
goes beyond Bill’s. John is far more intelligent than Bill. What they’re doing is using the
logic of motion to a destination to structure a linear scale. And the logic is very clear.
For example, I was sitting on a plane next to someone going to Moscow through Amsterdam.
You know that if he was in Amsterdam, he hadn’t made it to Moscow. If he was in Moscow, he
had made it to Amsterdam by then, right? It’s like saying, okay, if you have 75 bucks in
the bank, and that’s all you have, you don’t have a 100 bucks but you have 50. It’s the
same logic applied from the metaphor from motion to linear scales.
So that is part of this and then you put those two together with purposes or destinations
and you have the notion of trying to incrementally get to some place and competing with someone
else in terms of who’s going to succeed, because you can then do one of these winner-take-all
circuits to see who’s gotten further. Fine. And that can be horizontal or vertical but
then you add more is up and it makes it vertical. But since it’s going up, you can add something
you know about verticality which is gravity. So if you’re climbing a ladder, you know
it’s hard and gravity is pulling you down. So what happens? Imagine the following situation.
You’re climbing the ladder of success which is reaching the goal of succeeding. You’re
trying to get to this goal and you start to slip and you fall back and you’re going
backwards, down. And then you grasp onto the whole and you pull yourself up and you start
to climb again. You slip again and you fall down and you fail. Failing is falling. Success
is getting to the top. Well, what’s the glass ceiling? A ceiling
is something that you can’t get beyond. It’s an impediment that keeps you from reaching
the goal. Why glass? Because it’s a metaphor that knowing is seeing. You can see that there’s
a goal you can get that you’re not allowed to get to. That’s what the glass ceiling
is about. It takes all of those metaphors bound together to understand the glass ceiling.
That is what a complex metaphor system is, you’re integrating the whole thing. You’re
putting them together and forming a single, unified understanding of each of these metaphors
that apply independently. And each has logic and their logics are integrated, and it’s
by putting all their logics together that you understand what the glass ceiling is.
That’s cool. That’s how it works. That’s what complex metaphorical thought is about.
Now, one of the things that’s really crucial is embodied cognition experiments which we’ve
had discussions on. Ben Bergen talked about them this morning. I’ll just give you the
simplest kind of case. You give someone a list of words and you say, “Is this a sentence
of English?” And instead of pressing a button to say — as you can press a button that goes
forward if it is, and backward if it’s not, or the reverse. Or you can have a lever that
pushes forward and pulls back. Yes for forward, no for back or the reverse.
So I’ll give you the sentence – I gave him a book. Faster if you’re going forward than
if you’re pulling back, or pressing forward, than if you’re pressing back. It’s the
same direction as your hand. It’s embodied. Then you say something like I got a book from
him faster if you’re going back. Fine. Then you say, I told him a story faster if you’re
going forward. I heard a story faster if you’re going in the other direction because the conduit
metaphor says that your communicating is sending messages. So what’s happening is that that
metaphor is embodied and shows it in that example. Well, that’s the simplest kind
of case. Then there are the cases of moral metaphors.
Now, how does morality come out of this and this is a very cool thing. I have seven books
on morality and politics. And what we found out was something very important. Mark Johnson
and I, when we did Philosophy in the Flesh, observed that morality is about well-being,
the well-being of others and your own well-being. That’s the subject matter of morality. And
what is well-being in the brain? Dopamine and norepinephrine that is they are hormones
that are also neurotransmitters. That’s what they do. You get a bunch of dopamine,
you feel good; you get norepinephrine, you feel bad. Okay, fine. And there are other
things that are lot like that as well. It’s more complicated than just that.
But the point is that you have a well-being system and an ill-being system in your brain.
And then the question is what experiences make you feel good and make you feel bad?
Are there experiences in your brain that go along with well-being and ill-being in your
brain? And the answer is there’s a couple of dozen and they give rise to all the metaphors
for morality in the world. They give rise to moral systems in the following way.
You eat pure food, you feel good. You eat rotten you feel bad. “Something is rotten
in the state of Denmark.” That was a rotten thing to do. You have purification rituals
in every culture in the world. This is a normal thing. Okay, you have things like you’re
better off if you can stand up and walk than if you have to crawl on the ground. So, somebody
who has to crawl on the ground is a low down snake. He’s underhanded as opposed to being
upright. So you have metaphors from morality there.
You have those — there’s one that’s important which is you’re better off if you have the
things you need than if you don’t. This gives rise together with the notion of trading
and comparing what you have with what is called moral accounting. So if I do you a favor that
helps you then you say, “I’m in your debt, how can I ever repay you?” And that’s
a very important part of this. Now, if I do something that harms you, you can settle the
debt either by making up for it which is compensation; or you can harm someone back which is retribution;
or you can take something good away from them which is revenge. You have different cultures
that do this one way or the other. So moral accounting based on that metaphor for well-being,
they’re all over the world in one form or another. You see it every day in the newspapers.
Then you have two that have to do with the family. One that has to do with the fact,
are you obeying your parents or not? And if you assume that parents are there to take
care of you, then obedience to a good authority is morality. So obedience to an appropriate
authority is morality. Or if your parents are nurturing you then morality is nurturance.
They give rise to two different family models and those are the models that are the basis
of progressive and conservative thought. And I’ve now written seven books on the
details of how that works. There’s one called Whose Freedom? that goes to the conservative
and progressive use of freedom in each domain, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, et
cetera. There are like a dozen different domains and these metaphors apply across the board.
The first book was called Moral Politics that goes in the details of how this works because
it’s complicated friendly systems, but they have to do with empathy. Empathy is the basis
of progressive democracy. What does that mean? It says, citizens care about each other and
they act through their government to provide public resources to make life better for everybody,
including businesses. You can’t run a business if you don’t have sewers. You don’t have
roads, you don’t have airports, you don’t have an Internet, you don’t have electric
grids, things provided for everybody. And similarly for individual life, you cannot
have a decent individual life if you don’t have healthcare, if you don’t have education,
if you don’t have all those other important public resources. And if you don’t have
a planet, it’s pretty hard. It’s nice to have a planet. Now, the idea is these are
public resources and then you have another view, the authoritarian strict father view
that says, the person who knows best, who knows what’s moral should be in charge.
The strict father knows right from wrong and therefore he should be in charge. And not
only that, you should do what he says. And what that means is you have to have respect
for authority, you have to follow authority and most importantly, you have individual
responsibility, not social responsibility. So what is democracy in that point of view?
Democracy says that democracy gives you the liberty to do what you want for your well-being,
to not take anything else from anyone else which would make you dependent on them, or
to do anything for anybody else which would create their dependency, and that would make
the world worse. And then you have a conservative worldview and a conservative view of democracy.
In the American government, they’re right there. You can see it right out there and
it’s all over Europe and it’s spreading and it’s so on.
And then this has to do with the fact how is it spreading? It’s spreading through
language, why? Because in frame semantics, what Fillmore discovered is that every word
in every language fits a frame. It’s defined in terms of rolls and a frame, every word
in every language fits some frame. It could be a metaphorical frame. It could be a simple
image schema frame. It could be a complex frame but every single word fits a frame.
So if you say a word that fits a conservative frame, you’re activating that frame and
making it stronger. So conservatives try to get their language into public discourse.
They learned how to do this because when they went to school and studied business, they
took a marketing course, and they learned how people really think. The people who are
liberals tend not to do that. They usually don’t take marketing courses. They usually
take political science, sociology, public policy, economics or law. They work by enlightenment
reason which is does no frames, no metaphors, none of this stuff like repetition that says
if you say something once, people should reason to the right conclusion. Right? It never works.
But they keep on doing it because it is part of their brains. They assimilate – in both
conservatives and progressives – assimilate things to what’s already there in their
brains. That is one of the problems with progressives who have learned enlightenment reason and
who can’t assimilate things like metaphor and frames and the kind of use of language
into their brains, and the same with conservatives who cannot see global warming. It doesn’t
make any sense to them. Okay? And this is a very important thing to understand
because these ideas come up in business, they come up in education, they come up in every
area of life. That’s what the book on Whose Freedom? is about. It shows any domain of
life you pick, these things will come into it. And they’re everywhere and they’re
there because this is how brains really work. I want to finish with one cool example. I
won’t go into the last grammar example. But I want to go into a sound, symbolism example.
This is an experiment done by Shin Shimojo at Caltech. And he’s using what’s called
a grid. A grid is a case where you take a sine wave and you move it one way at a certain
speed. Then you take a same sine wave and you move it the another way. Then you superimpose
them at the same speed and you get a sense of motion but there’s no direction. You
can do it either horizontally or vertically or at any angle. He takes this and does it
vertically then he gives a sound. A sound might be a cough or a pop and he gives a force
to his answer, is it moving up or down? And the answer is random. Not surprising.
Then he does something else. He gives a tone and the question is does the tone increase
in frequency or decrease in frequency? It turns out if it increases in frequency, people
see it moving up. It’s called the rising tone. There’s a reason why it’s called
rising, or otherwise it’s moving down. Well, what is going on here? Ask any phonetician,
they’ll say, what’s going on is your glottis moves up when you make a rising intonation.
That’s why it’s called rising and when it goes down.
But why should it be called rising in the first place? How does that work? Okay, to
do that, you have to study sound symbolism which was Ben Bergen’s dissertation topic,
where he showed it was real. It was figured out first by Rich Rhodes and John Lawler at
the University of Michigan back in ‘83. Rich is now across the hall for me in Berkeley.
John has retired after a distinguished career as a linguist. And what they figured out was
this. They pointed out that there are sounds like “ip.” “Ip” is a short path to
a single stop so there is drip, clip, snip, et cetera, nip it in the bud, et cetera.
What you’re doing is your mouth is forming a short path to a single stop. Ap words, ap
is going to something that is flat. So it’s a wrap, tap, clap, et cetera. Those have to
do with the mouth being broader which is what happens when you say up, the mouth gets broader.
Then what about clap? Or other sounds of C-L words have to do with things coming together,
class, for example. Those have to do with things coming together. So clap is coming
together with two pairs, two things like that. So your mouth is shaped in a certain way.
If you have things like S-T-R words, like straw and stream and a strip of something
and so on. There are dozens of these S-T-R words; they have to do with long thin things.
So a strap is a long thin thing that comes against something else.
What they discovered is there are no Indo-European roots for these. These arise from sound symbolism
and they’re made up all the time. One that came in when I was a kid from radar was a
concept of blip. B-L goes outward and it’s a short path to a sudden stop. That’s what
a blip is. That’s why it called a blip. There’s no Indo-European root for blip or
strap or any of those things. They don’t go back that far and that’s very interesting.
They’re sound symbolic words and they have a pattern. It’s not like you can predict
from the sound to the meaning or the meaning to the sound. There are things that fit together.
What you’re doing is using image schemas to structure your mouth. You’re taking Talmy’s
image schemas about long thin things and whether things are coming together or not. You’re
applying it to the structure of your mouth. That is why in the Shimojo experiment where
you have a tone that increases in its tone, it has a so-called rising tone, that’s why
you see it moving upward with a rising tone and you see it moving downward with a falling
tone. What you see depends on what you hear and
that depends on the structuring of your mouth. Is that cool? I love that result. Thank you
very much.

28 comments on “George Lakoff: How Brains Think: The Embodiment Hypothesis

  1. I really like Lakoff but he makes the classic mistake of human exceptionalism and hyper focus on cultural beliefs – like the importance of language.  Everything he says must first be proven in rodent models, duh…

  2. Ugh, what a shame – this is all called "hand waving" in bench science – is there any other kind?

  3. @10:30 The paper mentioned is (I think): Casasanto, D. & Lupyan, G. (2015). All Concepts are Ad Hoc Concepts. In The Conceptual Mind: New Directions in the Study of Concepts. E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.) pp. 543-566. Cambridge: MIT Press. Good paper though!

  4. Is our capacity for mental imagery (top down emulation/simulation, reuse redeployment) a basis for primary metaphor? I've often wondered that it could very well be. It would explain homuncularity and talk of 'representation' taking place in sub-personal processes. Philosophy of mind (and certain cognitive sciences) are riddled with it.

  5. We perceive what we define a "concept" to be, that we then give that concept at least one name, and possibly at least one meaning to. If we can only perceive what we can perceive, then what if what we call a concept has more to it then we can even perceive? Literally beyond our human knowledge, understanding and wisdom?

  6. With over a billion brain cells and over a trillion brain cell connections, how exactly does the energy signal know where and when to start, what path to take, and where and when to stop to form a coherent thought? Obviously it does, but how exactly does it do it?

    For example:
    Spread a brain out like a map. The brain cells are represented by towns and cities and the brain cell interconnections are represented by roads and highways. A coherent thought is represented by a vehicle traveling between one or more towns and/or cities.

    How does the vehicle know where and when to start, what path to take, and where and when to stop to form a coherent trip? A higher intelligence has to tell it those things. But, in a way, that is a coherent trip in and of itself. So, how exactly does our brain think a thought before it thinks that thought? If from within the brain and/or body itself, how exactly does it do it? If from outside the brain and body, how exactly does it do it and why?

  7. We don't even know what "consciousness" even is yet, but the more I study it appears that it is attached to our physical brain. With no physical brain, we cannot have "consciousness" it appears. In fact, sad to say, some even lose their consciousness even with a working brain.

    But now, if there isn't at least one consciousness that is truly eternally consciously existent in actual factual reality, then all things and everybody cease to matter one day, of which then did anything or anybody ultimately and eternally matter in the first place? Life itself would just be an illusion from the human perspective as far as eternity is concerned.

    If at least one such entity exists, but it's not me, then all of my life is still just an illusion to me from my human perspective as far as eternity is concerned.

    Whether I was in blissful heaven or in a burning lake of fire in hell even for eternity, what would it matter if I weren't consciously aware of it?

  8. Thought:

    Energy gets input to the brain and goes to area "a". A name for this energy is put into area "b". A meaning attached to this name is put in area "c". Additional names and meanings may be put in areas "d', "e", "f", etc.

    But, how it all does it and interconnects is a complete mystery to me.

    There is a starting condition, a change of something, and an ending condition. Without some sort of change, (even of perceived "time"), would we even have a perception of reality?

  9. This guy is like Noam Chomski on steroid. Noam insisted that language is already present in the brain, before we learn to speak. George Lakoff dig in the details, with mention on languages which lack some basic items. He cites a large numbers of serious research. We are not talking about crackpots, those stupidities we often stumble on youtube. (I know, youtube is not supposed to be a reference for scholars, but I am too lazy to walk to Stanford University ; which I literally could while living in Mountain View)

  10. When I was living in Quebec, I felt insulted if an intellectual person would use English word, insisting that no equivalent exist in French.
    I feel the same here, unable to translate the German Gelstalt. In this video, it seems that an English word that beg to be used it "Context". Try listen to that part of the video around 1h05 and see if using an English word enrich the subject.

  11. George Lakoff's mind uses the metaphor, the mind is a container. This gives George the idea he is contained in his body. We are embodied only because our mind thinks in terms of being a container.

  12. Is there a transcript of this video available that I can print off? I have a hard time reading on a screen. Thanks!

  13. These video resources can be more impressive than the books,it we can recommend to most of our students ,nazaralian,yaghoub.

  14. This statement after @23:45 – Russ De Valoi, physiology of colorvision, dependent on: wavelengths in the world, color cones in your eyes and connections to neural circuitry in the brain that creates colors – color cones dependant on x-chromosomes, 2 versions of "these" for men, 16 for women – women have a bigger color vocabulary… anybody that could link to a resource?

  15. So it's true that american academics are obsessed with liberal brain washing. You're a scientist, can't you leave your politic views aside for 1h ?

  16. Embodiment is an amazing demystification of the brain. Should be part of standard education for all children along with evolutionary-developmental psychology and other meta-cognitive tools.

  17. My comment is secondary to the theme of this magnificent conference. At minute 19:16 Lakoff says that, in the Spanish Civil War, the "good guys" were the communists. It is time to abandon these ideological clichés. As George Orwell himself (whom Lakoff cites) very well counts, the "good Spanish communists" were completely Stalinist and in that Spanish Civil War they murdered hundreds of civilians only for not being openly "red" or for being suspicious of not being so. And all this without any kind of courts of law.

  18. This constitutes a veritable paradigm shift, but don't expect Homo 'Sapiens Sapiens' in general to want to know about it. Back to square one – most humans remain, in terms of deeper insights into our Nature as a species – chronically unteachable… Quod erat demonstrandum.

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