Hofstadter on pinker


Pinker broaches the knotty question of metaphor by quoting the opening sentence of the Declaration of Independence and then, in a deft unpacking, reveals how riddled with spatial metaphors our abstract thought is: “Some people are hanging beneath some other people, connected by cords. As stuff flows by, something forces the lower people to cut the cords and stand beside the upper people, which is what the rules require. They see some onlookers, and clear away the onlookers’ view of what forced them to do the cutting.” He cites cognitive scientist George Lakoff as the “messiah” of the extreme theory that metaphor is all we have. While he praises some of Lakoff’s views, he faults him for refusing to accept the existence of true or false ideas and crediting only ideas with differing levels of usefulness and trendiness. He builds a convincing case, however, that even Lakoff firmly believes in truth and falsity and that Lakoff’s theory is thus self-undermining. Pinker, by contrast, champions the mind’s ability to make analogies and judge them for aptness or lack thereof. The centrality of metaphor in human thought does not inevitably lead to a flaccid relativism negating everything science and technology have brought us: “Our powers of analogy allow us to apply ancient neural structures to newfound subject matter, to discover hidden laws and systems in nature, and not least, to amplify the expressive power of language itself.”

more from The LA Times here.