George Lakoff at the LSE

Live blog of Professor Lakoff in discussion about his work. This is my account of the discussion, so any errors are entirely mine.

  1. Professor Lakoff's visit has obviously already led to some interesting discussions. Main lecture at LSE kicks off at 18.00, and I will do my best to live blog throughout.
  2. The format of the discussion involves three conversations - on reason and emotion; voice and power; and political metaphors and citizen's roles.
  3. The first discussion is with Sophie Lecheler on reason and emotion in political discussion.
  4. Q. Many models of political behaviour exclude emotion? What is the distinction? A. I look at the brain and brain circuitry, and how that relates to politics. So that includes emotion. Everything I have done is based on the neural theory of language. 98 per cent of what we think is unconcious. Most thought is parallel. We cannot keep track of thought in a linear manner. When we take a decision consciously, we have taken it unconsciously half a second before. Studies of people with brain injuries or strokes show that you might lose their emotions. Does this make you rational? No, quite the reverse. You decisions become random. This emotion is a component of rationality.
  5. Q. But can emotions prevent you making decisions? A. Maybe, but without emotions you can't make any decisions at all. When I was MIT we learned a theory of rationality from 1650 ie. you can reason for yourself. But this had assumptions: all thought is conscious; all thought is literally "true" - but at least half your thought is metaphorical; thought is the opposite of physical (this was required logic from a theory of free will). Thought is embodied, based on the way thought works through your body. Metaphors are physical circuits. Take two examples ie. more is up, affection is warm. Affection and warmth are registered in two parts of the brain; water goes up in a glass when there more. The links between these observations becomes a circuit every time we notice it. But why in only one direction? Some of these metaphors are built on stronger experience, which becomes dominant. These are primary metaphors, based on universal experience. Think about metaphors for morality. Feelings of well being correspond with lived experiences. Morality is seen as purity, immorality as dirty, unclean. A very limited number of moralities exist around the world. Test of sentence of recognition finds that people react more quickly when the action indicating recognition is tied to the meaning of the sentence. This also applies to metaphors where the link is not literal. The "Lady Macbeth" experiment, detailed in the book Louder Than Words, shows that people react differently when asked to do something immoral and then asked would they like to wash their hands (this also impacts on their level of guilt afterwards).
  6. Q. Should Liberals get better at emotion? A. Conservatives are exposed to marketing through business and economics training etc. Liberals learn enlightenment reason. Liberals also have a progressive moral system which they assume is universal. So they have problems understanding that their policies are reliant on a metaphorical system of morality. All language is defined by frames. There is no such thing as neutral language. All politics is moral. When a politician speaks the assumption is that politics is moral; they would not advocate evil. So we have opposing moral systems.
  7. Now Voice and Power with my colleague Shaku Banaji.
  8. Q. How does this relate to power? What role does the media have? How do we apply this research to different political system?
  9. A. I got interested in the book by Frank Luntz about the Contract With America in 1994. How did they arrive at this list? It is a laundry list. In the US, there is a metaphor that the nation is a family. It it became very clear that there were two views of the family. The Progressive view sees parents as equal, empathetic and communicative. The aim to make sure their children are fulfilled. They should seek to replicate these values in their children. This is a metaphor for American democracy. Citizens care about each other, and government helps them achieve things. The Conservative Strict Father version says that Father knows best. His job is to support and protect the family. Children are born bad and need to be trained into morality. If they get that discipline, then they prosper. If they fail then they are immoral, so not deserving of support. How does it relate to the market? There is an assumption that markets are moral and efficient. There should be nothing about the market. The highest value in conservative politics is conservative politics ie. conservative values must be maintained, spread etc. The tension is that GOP representation in Congress does not reflect popular support. So what about the media? This was designed first by Lewis Powell in his famous memo. The argument here is that the media needed to be controlled and managed to reflect conservative interests. How are the media trained? They are taught to use popular language which is invariably conservative.
  10. Q. Can some of these ideas cut across the other way?

    A. Yes they can, but they are not doing it well!
  11. Now my colleague from the Department of Government, Michael Bruter on Political Metaphors and Citizens Roles.
  12. Q. How does the parenting model relate to individuals and institutions? What is the role of sporting metaphors? These came up again and again in discussions in various countries. Voters see themselves as supporters or referees. Can we be two things at the same time? The voters is both the chooser and the person being affected.
  13. Competition does show up metaphorically - sport, race, "dog eat dog". Races can be wars, fights can be races. This is based on the work of Pamela Morgan. The third question came up in 1968 when we created the phrase "I dreamt that I was Bridget Bardot and I kissed me". I started to read an article by David Lewis the philosopher on counterparts. You are projecting you conscious self onto someone else. This mechanism relies on simulation. We can simulate the past. The first question relates to institutions. Who has the power? The people in the institution or the institution itself.
  14. Q. How has your work evolved over your career? How do we integrate neural studies for example?
  15. A. If you go back to 1961. That was my senior year at MIT. I took a course on poetics. In Chomskyian theory a sentence is a string symbols, meaningless in themselves. A language is a set of symbols and a grammar is an algorithm for generating these symbols. Chomsky argues that grammar has nothing to do with meaning and communication. I started an experiment in automatically generating sentences about baseball games. This lead to the theory of generative semantics. In 1975 cognitive science came along and this was the next step. This was how we moved to frames. In 1986 we moved to looking at neural systems. I had previously tried to get it working, but we set up a lab that got it to work. Even maths is based on metaphor, gradually getting more and more complex. In 1990, we noted that GHWB was using metaphors before the Gulf War. So too was Saddam Hussein. So there was a metaphor war. Bush accused Hussein of being irrational, Hussein traded on his masculinity. This was the realisation that this work matters to politics.

    Now questions from the audience.
  16. Q. What would a female president do to the family metaphor?
  17. A. I am not sure it would make a huge difference. Conservative populism is very embedded.
  18. Q. Enlightenment theory of rationality is described as false of rationality. But what is the relationship with he truth?
  19. A. First of all, the job of a logician is to construct logic. They are different from each other. Logics give you one version of the truth. Second, frames have their own logics. Metaphors are not arbitrary. They are based on experience. The market uses very interesting metaphors. Some of these are very dehumanising. There are five layers of metaphor in the rational actor model (detailed in Philosophy in the Flesh). A philosophy has to have a method of analysis, be able to apply it to certain concepts ie. time, events, causation etc. Q. What about social movements?
  20. A. They are based on a collection of metaphors. Metaphors allow social action in a structured way.
  21. Q. What happens when we invoke a metaphor that doesn't quite fit? Ie. the European Union.
  22. A. They partially fit, certainly. The parent can be the institution or the person running the institution. Within the EU you see both metaphors. EU is generally regarded as nurturing, aside from the banks. But it is successful in the sense that it stopped family members going to war.
  23. Q. Why do we get warned about metaphors, by Aristotle or zero-rhetoric text?
  24. A. Aristotle had a false theory of reason. This was based on the idea of essences - substances, form, pattern of change. This creates certain understandings of a causal structure. His metaphor of mind is that understanding is grasping the essence of things. The consequence of these theories in his logic. Any proposition is a category statement. Metaphor is based on similarity, the opposite of the literal. This is not true. And so to the quote of the night: "Aristotle blew it".
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