Christian Long

James Geary: Metaphorically Speaking

In TED Talks on May 28, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Extra credit reflection by JENNA K.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

James Geary:  Metaphorically Speaking

Metaphors are created when we give something or someone a name that belongs to something else, and in doing so creating a whole web of analogies. This method allows us to make connections between the things we know and the things we are not familiar with. We use metaphors when we’re dealing with abstract ideas, new emotions, unfamiliar thoughts, and intricate descriptions. The more detailed a metaphor is, the easier it is to make connections, and the more powerful these connections will be. This is why metaphorical thinking is essential to understanding ourselves, others, and the world around us.

But what does this skill say about the way we interpret our surroundings?

Geary said that metaphorical thinking is about recognizing and creating patterns, and we do this all the time, sometimes without realizing it. When we see something, we see it for what it is and we see it for what it could be. We naturally compare everything we see to things we’ve already seen, that’s how we learn. I’m wondering, does this mean that everyone interprets metaphors differently? It would seem so since we compare metaphors to our past experiences and everyone has different experiences. We group everything that is similar together, and in doing so we understand what we see better. Does this sometimes serve as a distraction? Maybe. There are times when we are meant to see one thing but are distracted by other underlying things that can be seen. Like Geary said, “we cannot ignore the literal meaning of words…we cannot ignore the metaphorical meaning of words either.” How do we know which meaning is the one intended on being interpreted?

I had never heard of the term “conceptual synesthesia” until Geary mentioned it. But still, I was familiar with the concept. I have always loved imagery and the emotions and feelings it evokes. The best kind is when you hear something and immediately you think of everything similar to it, and when you’re done thinking about all those things you’ve finally grasped what was meant by what was said. That’s how metaphors work, you have to synthesize many different ideas to finally understand a new one.

Since metaphors work with concepts that we are already familiar with, does this mean our use of metaphors will grow. As we have more things to make connections with, will we be creating more intricate analogies more often? Geary said we use an average of six metaphors a minute. As our knowledge of world grows, will this number grow also?


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