Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Metaphoric Power

There's an interesting brief article by Tori Rodriguez at Scientific American: "Figurative Speech Sways Decisions - choose the right phrasing to convince people to take action". Metaphor is the figure of speech being considered.
A study published in January in PLOS ONE examined how reading different metaphors—“crime is a virus” and “crime is a beast”—affected participants' reasoning when choosing solutions to a city's crime problem. Those who read the beast metaphor were more likely to opt for a direct approach emphasizing enforcement, whereas the virus metaphor elicited a preference for a systemic, reform-focused solution.
This is new information? Surely not.
“What a different result one gets by changing the metaphor!”
― George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)

“The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man”
― José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)
A comment from "sunnystrobe" beneath the linked article offers a chilling example of influence of a metaphor in action:
....Fifty years ago, at Munich University, we studied Prof. Wolfgang Clemen's (then) ground-breaking book : 'Shakespeare's Imagery', which was an eye opener as to HOW the power of configurative visualization works, creating in our brains something which could be aptly named our own in-brain 'home art / movie', good or bad...
(for evil abuse of this fanciful human trait, think how the Nazi propaganda machine of fear & terror was able to turn a nation into tolerating 'Kristallnacht' - and worse to come- just by using visual metaphors of vermin- that would hAVE to be exterminated for the greater benefit & survival of the German race.).....

The article goes on to say that scientists aren't clear exactly how the brain processes metaphor, but suspect that it triggers related concepts when processing a metaphor's meaning. That's not such a world shattering conclusion though, is it? Wouldn't we lay-persons, if we had stopped to think about it, have concluded the same? That's the purpose of a metaphor, surely, to encourage readers or listeners, or viewers to understand a difficult concept by relating it to something already understood.

The main point of the article is good though: choice of metaphor, especially when explaining issues of great importance, can be crucial. Ordinary mortals like us tend to use metaphor to make our conversations or scribbles more colourful or more relatable; there's little danger we'd cause any kind of havoc to break out. What we should train ourselves to recognise is how, and when politicians, salesmen, corporate-beholden journalists, and the "Powers That Be" employ metaphor, and note carefully which metaphor they choose to use.


mike said...

"Before the war, Rice said, 'we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.' The scary vision of mushroom clouds was repeated by Bush and General Tommy Franks, head of Central Command. Vice President Dick Cheney declared Saddam to be a 'mortal threat' on his way to 'nuclear blackmail.'"

The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice administration was par excellence at tossing the analogies into the black abyss of nationalism. Our politicians and their pundits surely must be required to master the art of association-inference prior to their candidacy.

"As I said, Obamacare is a saga and a mess, singularly so. It needs no metaphorical embroidery.

As Michael, played by Robert DeNiro, famously said in The Deer Hunter: 'See this. This is this. This ain't something else. This is this. From now on, you're on your own.'"

Twilight said...

mike ~ The "mushroom cloud" is a good example of metaphor used to manipulate minds - yes! And yes, they must all have been A students in association-inference classes.

I noticed a quote of ol' Winnie Churchill:

“Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is--the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.”

Hmmmm. And occasionally pulls the cart over a cliff?

This is this.
It is what it is.
A cigar is sometimes just a cigar.......etc.

R J Adams said...

A whole array of cleverly used metaphors spring forth from the lips of US news anchors every evening (and, just occasionally of late, one or two from the BBC!).

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ I don't doubt it, RJ, they're all in on the "conditioning" of We The People".
Re BBC, it must be much like the weather. What did we used to say?
If it's snowing in New York, it'll be snowing here in 5 days' time?

mike (again) said...

Apparently the universe we occupy is a metaphor for the real thing, too! I always suspected such shenanigans...the ultimate insider joke.

"A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our Universe could be just one big projection.

... The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity."

mike (again) said...

Electronic signatures are needed! December 12th deadline.

We petition the obama administration to:
Reform ECPA: Tell the Government to Get a Warrant

Americans are deeply concerned about NSA surveillance.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I saw that and almost wrote an extra comment myself, but decided against it because I really do not understand it. :-/
If the universe is a hologram what are we.....chopped liver? (as our Jewish friends might ask).

Re petition - I don't have a account -will sort that out on the morrow though and sign up.

mike (again) said...

Re: NSA petition

As of 7:57 AM, there are 100,939 signatures...whew! Needed 100,000 to gain an Obama administration response. It was 7,000 short last night and seemed a little iffy.

Re: Holographic universe

Not sure what we are, but these are exciting times for the conjecture. We are part of something unfathomable! "To infinity and beyond!", as Buzz Lightyear says.

mike (again) said...

Chopped liver may make us sound overly important!

Twilight said...

mike ~ Good! I did sign at least one other petition on the same issue, can't remember where - possibly Alan Grayson's website, or Daily Kos (who somehow obtained my e-mail address, because I do not frequent their website.)

Exciting and interesting times - yes!
Makes me think it's even more likely that some of our very far distant ancestors - from further back in time than we can trace, knew something crucial that we don't, still, know.

Twilight said...

mike (again) - Hmmm - okay, well, how about erm......bits of string?