Saturday, June 25, 2011

Stuff I've been Pondering, and talking about

These are the "notes" (really a description I wrote up afterward for curious people who missed it) of a short talk/discussion I gave here at Braziers park.

Mind Your Metaphors
Metaphor and Neuroscience lecture notes
By Peter Wallis

An Introduction to three important ideas:
  1. Metaphors are Everywhere.
  2. Metaphors can be Dangerous
  3. Metaphors can be wonderful, beautiful things.
  4. Metaphors can be useful and helpful.

Preliminaries: What is a metaphor? A Metaphor is “like a simile.” It speaks of one object in terms of another. Dictionaries tend to define metaphors as non-literal comparisons, or use of a word, sense, or object in a non-literal sense. One problem - as we shall see, the idea of the literal is problematized by metaphor itself.
  1. Metaphors are Everywhere

    They are in our every-day language, in several interestingly pervasive ways. Time is often (and in many cultures) thought of in terms of space – the future is forward. The past is backward. “Down the road” or “Back then.”
    “Love relationships are journeys”. - The long and winding road of the Beatles song is repeated with surprising regularity - “Going through this together.” “How far we've come.” “We went our separate ways.” “Been a bumpy road.” “This relationship isn't going anywhere.”
“More is Up.” - “Prices went through the roof.” “My income rose.” “The number of books printed is going up.”
    Not only this, but metaphors invade our bodies as well as our words. Scientists, asking experimental subjects to lie in front of a classroom, then offering them a choice of moist towelettes/hand wipes or candy, found those asked to lie chose the wipes much more often than those asked to tell the truth. (Metaphor:Truth is clean, lies are dirty.) People speaking of the future lean forward, when speaking of the past lean back. Experimenters at Yale university put a pretty girl in an elevator, with a cup of coffee, which she would ask unknowing experiment subjects to hold. When later asked what they thought of her, those who held a cup of iced coffee thought she was “stand-off-ish,” “rude” and “distant.” Those asked to hold a warm cup of coffee thought of her as “friendly” “outgoing” and “sensitive.”
    And of course, in some sense, most words are metaphors. Silver is called silver because of the slivery way light reflects off of it. Cobalt is called Cobalt for the German word for goblin. Literal literally means “of or belonging to letters or writing” yet letters and writing all speak of things – which are not letters or writing – in terms of ink and phonetics.
    Many of these metaphors, and more, are explored at some length in the book “Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

    2. Metaphors can be Dangerous.
    More briefly, politicians and economists often use metaphors, when they speak of “the invisible hand of the market.” or “a rising tide lifts all boats.” David Cameron speaks of “Rebooting the economy.” (which makes the computer literate of us worry, as to reboot a computer, you need to bring it to a full stop...) and George W Bush spoke of “spearheading the peace process.” Of course, these metaphors are in themselves not bad, but when they are used to excuse or hide sloppy thinking, when they are not analyzed, and when real and specific goals and actions are put aside for turns of phrase that sound well but mean very little, they are dangerous.

    3. Metaphors can be Beautiful.
    You need only look in a good book of poetry to find this. Metaphors are word-pictures, and some of my favorites call a startling amount of attention to themselves, doing odd visual things, be it William Blake/Blade Runner's “Firy the angels fell, Deep thunder rolled about their shores.” which is a visual change of scale if ever I've imagined one, or Milton's “Hail, Holy light!” Written by an author who is blind, and makes sure the reader is aware of the author's blindness. In this way, poetic metaphor often asks to be analyzed and searched more deeply, as opposed to bad political metaphor, which asks only to be repeated.

    4. Metaphors can be useful.
    Not just for poets – in every-day life. World-Champion memorizers use metaphors to perform incredible feats of memory, and these champions teach others to use these same techniques to improve their day to day memories, be it memorizing shopping lists by making metaphors with the things in one's house, or transforming ideas into images and then making those images interact in striking ways. I have been practicing that, memorizing the periodic table, using the images suggested by the elements' etymologies, which is why I knew silver-silver and Cobalt-goblin.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Laid Up

The toenail has resulted in some office work. Currently troubleshooting a PHP mail application (meant to email the admin when a contact form is filled in, isn't working.) Definitely some feelings of deja-vu. Saw a link to a Moodle tutorial when doing the research, that really gave me a bit of a memory. (Moodle was the PHP based Learning Management System I worked with before this trip.)

On that note, why do we say "Laid up"? Why not "Laid Down"?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On that note...

On this journey, I have worked with sledgehammers, rototillers, several large animals, near chainsaws, taking down rusted iron staircases, and driving posts into the ground.

How do I remove the big toenail of my right foot?

Opening a door. Of course.

Carelessness is more dangerous than any individual piece of equipment could be.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A note on the psychology of certain men

I believe it is worth noting that in certain men, it is a matter of joy to overcome difficult and painful circumstances in the pursuit of joy.

Managing to tear off a whole toenail (on the big toe) and then travel hours to enjoy Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (With Catherine Tate and David Tennant as Beatrice and Benedict) is one of those times.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The downside of having interesting people around

Somehow, people you like to talk to, interesting events you want to go to, all in a language you understand, takes away from time to spend writing, reading, and blogging. Who knew?

Monday, June 13, 2011

"It's going to shine on the golden child..."

"Don't cry, it's my situation. I got it. Hold tight, it's going to shine on the golden child. Hold tight. I love you. I'm through with my statement."

Last Statement
Derrick Johnson
April 30th, 2009

found via:

Whatever your position on capital punishment, I deny you to find this fascinating.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Today I learned an awesome one:

Pochemuchka - it's a Russian word that means "One who asks a lot of questions." What an awesome word. I, for one, intend to do my part to make it an English word as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


And now it just started raining fast drops the size of kidney beans.

English Weather

Some people hate it, but I love English weather. Ten minutes ago, I was sitting in the library enjoying a cup of tea and watching rain pour down on the gothic arches of our Oxforshire residence. Five minutes ago, I was watching the sunlight glisten off of the wet spires, and guild the gray walls. Now I'm sipping hot chocolate, listening to the rain through the open window, and watching the trees wave in the breeze.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What I did Yesterday

So, yesterday, I had the day off. No, nothing as exciting as that. I spent the whole day in the study:

 Now, I love the internet, but every once in a while, it's great to take a day off. Spent the whole day reading, checked my email once. I read three (smallish) books back to back, and a host of short stories. Finally read Gogol's The Cloak (AKA The Overcoat). Also read (if anyone wants to talk about them) A Certain James Bond compilation which included "Property of a Lady" and "The Living Daylights" and another Bond story I won't mention the title of here.

Hemingway's The Killers, which I kind of enjoyed. (Dang it, I promised myself I wouldn't enjoy Hemingway... but I still need to read the Old Man and the Sea...)

Also Nicholas Monsarrat's The Time Before This, which contained some of the best descriptions of Canadian wilderness I have ever read. There should be more Canadian wilderness in books these days...

Last one I'll name drop - Flaubert's Parrot, which proved to be one of the more fascinating biographies I've read.