Blog readers, from time to time I will revisit an earlier entry, reposting it because it says something particularly well, or, like today, because I'd like to add a new thought.
Here we go.
Author James Geary describes how metaphor may lead to unexpected decision making in this TED video.
The elliptical faculty of metaphor enables ranking and comparison; it is both richly informative - and can mislead, as Geary suggests. Recent research has also shown that we are born with some innate sense of number and language - we are not blank slates onto which all subsequent knowledge is imparted afresh, but equipped from the beginning with this ability to relate things, one to another.
We mine these shortcuts all the time - finding them in poetry, pithy quotes, aphorisms and especially meaningful prose. As Geary suggests, Shakespeare's "Juliet is like the Sun" is a far more effective description than any attempt to literally describe her. At a neurological level metaphor is how we recognize and contribute to new patterns, or how we exercise our uniquely human capacity for "conceptual synesthesia."
Describing the power of language and number from his rather unusual and direct vantage, "Embracing the Wide Sky" author, synesthete and 2010 IdeaFestival presenter, Daniel Tammett, runs with that idea. I highly recommend the book.
To underscore the vast associative power of the mind, Geary demonstrates how easily people relate the sharp sound of the letter "K" to angular objects. Similarly, as Tammet pointed out in 2010 we tend to group sounds with their real world targets. The words "gleam," "glint," "glam" and "glass," for example, related to the ideas light, transparency and vision. It's not a coincidence.
It's not a coincidence because humans really don't care about the world as it is. We care about a world that makes sense. We care about a world that has meaning. Yes, yes - of course data is crucial, and it's finding its way into more disciplines, including the social sciences and once purely abstract pursuits like philosophy. But I've often wondered why more organizations didn't employ theater directors as organizational consultants, or why more poets aren't asked to assess a new or improved product. Will consumers find it meaningful? Is it concise, expressive? Retained to examine an organization's strategy, what might an interact artist have to say about a company's assessment of the competitive landscape and its constantly moving parts? Her insight might uncover relationships that might otherwise go unnoticed.
If the literal meaning of metaphor is that X = Y, why not a poet as marketing head, chief of the Department of Meaning?