Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Our minds work by metaphorical scaffolding

Some excerpts from this article by a fellow polymath:

"Our bodies aren’t ‘designed’ for modern life at all.We humans didn’t evolve to think about cryptocurrency, orthogonal matrices, or interplanetary space travel, which means this stuff is really, really hard for us. [...] Humans weren’t ‘designed’ to understand stuff like linear algebra, Darwinian evolution, Austrian economics, or genome sequencing. We need special techniques to figure this stuff out."

"It turns out metaphors aren’t just for English teachers, poets, and singer-songwriters. Metaphors are for everyone, because they are the way we understand anything at all. [...] Basically, we understand ideas in terms of other ideas. To understand an abstract concept like 'love' we need a bunch of metaphors like JOURNEY, MADNESS, WAR, and so on. But, if you think about it, our big love-web can’t just be a mass of interwoven metaphors floating in outer space. Metaphors have to come from somewhere."

"Well, this 'somewhere' happens to be our bodies. Bodily experience is all we have, and we have to use these experiences to try and understand difficult, abstract ideas. Humans operate in three-dimensions . [...] The answer — as Pinker pointed out earlier — is to (a) using analogies [which come from experience] and wire together 'Jerry-built mental contraptions'. Turns out, we can use a whole bunch of metaphors together to help understand difficult, abstract ideas. The more complex and abstract an idea is, the more metaphors we’ll need to 'stack' on top of each other to understand it. [...]  I’m gonna call this metaphorical scaffolding — you can ‘stack’ metaphors on top of one another to help ‘reach’ an understanding of difficult ideas."

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