January 11th, 2011

S.C. Hickman

The Mind is a Metaphor: Brad Pasanek and his evolving work of reference


"The Mind is a Metaphor, is an evolving work of reference, an ever more interactive, more solidly constructed collection of mental metaphorics. This collection of eighteenth-century metaphors of mind serves as the basis for a scholarly study of the metaphors and root-images appealed to by the novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists, philosophers, belle-lettrists, preachers, and pamphleteers of the long eighteenth century. While the database does include metaphors from classical sources, from Shakespeare and Milton, from the King James Bible, and from more recent texts, it does not pretend to any depth or density of coverage in literature other than that of the British eighteenth century."
     - Brad Pasanek

Found The Mind is a Metaphor site recently, which promotes a most fascinating idea for data mining metaphors form the vast discourse of texts that exist on the net. As he states it "I've been collaborating with D. Sculley, formerly of Tufts University's Department of Computer Science and now at Google Pittsburgh. Employing machine-learning methods, we have trained a computer to correctly label metaphors and non-metaphors. Our experiments suggest we may be able to automate much of my daily drudgery by using a classifier trained on a seed set of 100-200 labeled metaphors and non-metaphors. This hand-curated database of metaphors would then be put to work in bootstrapping efforts, repurposed as training data for automated classifiers sent forward and backward in history, departing from the eighteenth century in order to collect Renaissance and Victorian metaphors. ... Should we eventually build an automated metaphor-classifier and charge it with exploring the great unread collections of electronic literature, I would be more confident in presenting a statistical picture of eighteenth-century discourse. In the meantime we have been conducting experiments and presenting papers on machine learning and literary studies, making the rounds at conferences in the digital humanities. Two papers we've written have been published in Oxford's Literary and Linguistic Computing."

We hope him the best in his continuing discoveries, meanwhile we should all wander through this treasure trove of metaphor and just enjoy what it offers in the way of a glimpse upon that most fascinating of preoccupations "the art of metaphor". For in this oldest of 'master tropes' - as Kenneth Burke once called them, including metaphor as one of the four:  metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony we discover the hidden byways of thought that have played havoc with the very objects that are so difficult and complex for thought to master. 

Metaphor calls attention to a similarity between two seemingly dissimilar things and, by so doing, establishes the kind of creative tension that has the potential to spark quantum leaps in thinking -- the kind of leaping that generates insight and discovery. Kenneth Burke once using a metaphor to describe the interminable conversation of the net (and we would add, blogging to this) said:

"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress."

The Philosophy of Literary Form 110-111

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S.C. Hickman

Graham Harman and Sleeping Zebras

"Against correspondence theories of truth, none of these sensual or intentional objects are an accurate match for the real things of which they are only translations, distortions, or caricatures."
     - Graham Harman, Circus Philosophicus

In his final myth for his new book Circus Philosophicus he reminds us that real entities can never form direct contact with each other, but can only form indirect relations, which "entails that they encounter only what we call sensual, phenomenal, or intentional objects" (CP: 69). [1]  He reiterates that the core of his philosophy was formed by a reading of Heidegger's "notorious tool-beings" (CP: 68). He tells us that this work by Heidegger is misread if we take tools for "handy utensils involved in praxis prior to theory, since the point is that practical action fails to exhaust the reality of things no less than theory does" (CP: 68). He continues (and I quote at length), saying,

"The mere act of sitting in a chair does not grasp it nature any more than conscious debates about that chair. Since tools withdraw into darkness beyond all access, we are left to encounter a realm of phenomenal presence, entirely different in kind from the underground zone of concealment. Human life is adrift in a sensual realm. But we have seen that this realm is not formed of detached sparks of quality pressed into a bundle by the habits of the mind. Instead the sensual landscape is quantized, split into objects as if into chunks; the world of the senses is by no means purely a continuum" (CP: 68).

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