Whether in national politics or everyday interaction, people in power get to impose their metaphors.
Metaphors may create realities for us, especially social realities. A metaphor may thus be a guide for future action. Such actions will, of course, fit the metaphor. This will, in turn, reinforce the power of the metaphor to make experience coherent. In this sense metaphors can be self-fulfilling prophecies.
An recently arrived Iranian student took a seminar on metaphor from one of us. Among the wondrous things he found in Berkeley was an expression, "the solution of my problems" — which he took to be a large volume of liquid containing all your problems, either dissolved or as precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others. He was disillusioned to find other students had no such chemical associations in mind. And he might be, for the chemical metaphor is both beautiful and insightful.
The chemical metaphor gives us a new view of human problems: the experience of finding that problems we once thought "solved" turned up again and again.
The chemical metaphor says problems are not kinds of things that can be made to disappear forever. To treat them as things that can be "solved" once and for all is pointless. To live by this metaphor, you would direct your energies towards finding what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing problems for the longest time without precipitating out the worse ones. The reappearance of a problem is a natural occurrence, rather than a failure on your part to "solve it."
At present, most of us deal with problems according to what one might call the puzzle metaphor, in which problems are puzzles for which there is typically a correct solution — and once solved, they are solved forever.
Let us consider the new metaphor love is a collaborative work of art.
Our personal views of work and art give rise to at least the following entailments for this metaphor:
Some of these entailments are metaphorical (eg. love is an aesthetic experience); others are not (eg. love involves shared responsibility). Each of these entailments may themselves have further entailments. The result is a large and coherent network of entailments, which may, on the whole, either fit or not fit our experiences of love … what we experience with such a metaphor is a kind of reverberation down through the network of entailments that awakens and connects our memories of our past love experiences and services as a possible guide for future ones.
The metaphorical view of language doesn't treat concepts as small, composable chunks of truth, but instead, experiences.
A good question for digging deeper into language is:
Do we understand this thing in terms of a natural experience? If not, what metaphors are we using to understand it, and why?
Understanding stems from natural human experience. Some kinds of natural experience:
These experiences are holistic, engaging our minds and bodies, and are usually physical in nature.
Many of the metaphors found in language are derived from these natural forms of experience. This book (Metaphors We Live By) spends a good deal of time mapping these relationships.
Many things we encounter on a day-to-day basis have no "natural experience." Finance, computers, political structures, buildings, etc. We use metaphors to get a grasp on these ideas, to articulate aspects of them to both ourselves and others.
We have found that metaphors allow us to understand one domain of experience in terms of another. This suggests that understanding takes place in terms of entire domains of experience, and not in terms of isolated concepts.
If you look in a dictionary under "love," you find entries mentioning affection, fondness, devotion, infatuation, and even sexual desire. But there is no mention of the way we comprehend love by means of metaphors … If we take expressions like "look how far we've come" or "where are we now?" there would be no way to tell from a standard dictionary or any other standard account of meaning that these expressions are normal ways of talking about the experience of love.
Hints of the existence of such general metaphors may be given in the secondary or tertiary senses of other words. For instance, a hint of the love is madness metaphor may show up in a tertiary sense of the word "crazy" ("immoderately fond or infatuated"), but this is part of the definition of "crazy" rather than the definition of "love."
It would be very strange in a dictionary to see "madness" or "journeying" as senses of "love." They are not senses of "love," any more than "food" is one of the senses of "idea." Definitions for a concept characterize the things that are inherent in the concept itself. We, on the other hand, are concerned with how human beings get a handle on the concept — how they understand it and function in terms of it.