<Figurative/Conceptual> metaphors.

4 min readMar 28, 2021

Beside a number of cognitive skills that earned me the qualification of an intellectual, metaphoric thinking was and is still the hallmark of my sense-making process. This type of thinking is quite often misunderstood or even deemed inferior to other types of thinking. I can easily make the case that metaphors are what enabled us to get this far as the visuo-tactile creatures that we are. Instead, I leave the realization of the omnipresence of metaphoric structures in human activity to you and focus more on the understanding of such constructions.

Metaphors are essentially comparative associations that effect an emphasis suggestive of the way we ought to think about something. All in all they are mappings between objects of life experience with all of what that mapping entails and details.

From the previous we can tell that metaphors are devices of understanding and transcribing our own perception into an expressible format. The keyphrase here is “an emphasis suggestive of the way we ought to think about something”.

I am sure that most of you know about figurative metaphors as they are the most popular. These are generally associated with exaggeration because they are meant to amplify certain features to make a point or convey a feeling in the most extravagant ways. We tend to think of these as text embellishments even if they are more than that and honestly that way of thinking about them earned them the prejudice of being less important when dealing with “serious” domains of life. The prejudice is justified, yet it puts an unnecessary barrier in our thinking voiced as, “we can’t see how metaphors can be useful in life”. In fact, we can and they are named, conceptual metaphors.

To sum up, we have two types of metaphors: figurative and conceptual. These two types differ in their degree of suggestiveness which gives us information about the range of validity of “the way we ought to think about something”.

Figurative metaphors forward a subjective way to think about something. And that is as most of you know only valid locally meaning that you aren’t supposed to generalize that view in any way. For example, in the sentence “She is a rose …” we shouldn’t go and think that we can apply rose-logic to the she in question. It is just that in the setup we speaking of and from the very specific POV we are adopting, she is a rose or more exactly she has features that get amplified for emphasis when mapped to a rose.

Conceptual metaphors on the other hand, not only give us a way to think about something locally but also suggest a whole perceptual structure that generalizes to more than the actual instance. Of course, that structure is sewed up with some logic to it that dictates the range of validity of such metaphor. To illustrate, I’d like you to have look at the phrase “He gathered his thoughts …”. We know that thoughts aren’t material objects so they can’t be gathered per say, like one would gather pieces of a puzzle yet it does make perfect sense for us. The reason for this is that this metaphor doesn’t stop here. It also suggest that we can map our experience of material objects to give a concrete image of what we are doing with our mental ones and thus produce similar expressions: “line up some ideas”, “construct an argument”, “weight the proposal”, “dodge the question”, etc.

As you can see no metaphor is useless within its understood range of validity. I don’t know if you already made the link yet but well most of our language and terminology evolved through metaphoric thinking. Indeed it has been always there under your nose. Idioms for example are known to be a pain for people who aren’t native because they don’t translate literally and what they mean can only be understood if you get the association that is being made and yes that’s a metaphor right there. So I argue that all “expressive” activity which is well all? activity involve a form of metaphoric thinking and honestly you should stop the <metaphor=exaggeration> association by now because you know about conceptual metaphors.

We notice that in both cases whether we are speaking about figurative or conceptual, metaphors relate domains of life experience. In the first example it did relate a subjective impression of someone with the experience we get when exposed to a rose and in the second we represent mental actions as similar to actions meant to handle physical objects.

Now, life experience can be meaningfully divided into <universal/specific>. Parts of life experience are shared and common to a lot if not all people and other parts might be reserved to a certain groups or peculiar to a given individual. And so we can already tell that if a metaphor is meant to map two domains of life experience then the mapping ought to have different purposes depending on what is mapped, that is, associating a universal domain of experience to another universal domain or to a specific one will produce essentially different mappings. Even if my elaboration on this part is of the age of a newborn I will nonetheless inscribe it down in the next paragraph and complete it further after I do sufficient parenting.

A universal-to-universal mapping shows that two commonly known domains share similar structures allowing us to import methods from one to the other and simultaneously further understanding in both in a single action. A specific-to-specific mapping connects two very peculiar experiences that de base there is no suggestion to their connectivity. A specific-to-universal (and vice versa) mapping is meant to lay in common terms a subjective experience (to express something common in a subjective language). […]




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