Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Discuss 3

'We can never say 'merely' for metaphors, because that is what all descriptions are; we can never state just what something is, we can only describe what something is like - that is, to describe it in terms of other things that seem to us to have similar properties - and then to consider the differences.'
Marvin Minsky


  1. Not sure how that differs from the insights of structuralism, i.e. nothing in language is self-supporting.

  2. I agree, Gaw, but I think the word 'metaphor' adds something which I am not convinced Minsky believes or understands.

  3. Yes, I suppose on a basic level Minsky's wrong. Adjectives aren't metaphors!

    Saying something is 'green' doesn't use the same linguistic machinery as saying something is 'a sort of apple'. Adjectives universalise, metaphors specificy. Not admitting the former would limit one's ability to find common ground in whatever it is one is studying, I guess.

    But not knowing what that might be, I've no idea whether this conclusion is worth a hill of beans/is useful!

  4. Minsky strikes me as a prime example of a Clever Silly. It's all true, at a structural level, or, as it is in fact, an irrelevant level, but, to use a reversed cliché, it appears the man can't see the trees for the wood.

  5. I think what interests me is the matter of representation. A description that captured a thing completely would be that thing. So everything that is not the thing - our descriptions, our maps - is a falling away from the world itself. I find this poignant.

  6. I would say Minsky is making sense here, here for the same reason that the structuralists did on their central point.

    Needless to say, this is not to give either of them a pass on anything else they said.

  7. It is poignant, tragic even. But is this perception based on an illusion when Minsky's terms are employed? Every thing can presumably act as a metaphor for some other thing. Therefore we cannot identify a separate 'world itself' to fall away from. We end up hemmed in by our own descriptions. This is also rather poignant.

  8. So, between the description and the thing, falls The Shadow.

  9. This quote leads on nicely from yesterdays one on discontinuity - I think this falls under the umbrella of structuralism as Gaw says - specifically the Axiom of Categoricity, which I think Chomsky was on about with linguistic competance and performance

    and Gaw, we are hemmed in by our descriptions, but also freed by them, which is what poetry is all about isn't it? An unlikely and novel description can surprise us and forge new synaptic links

  10. Isn't he saying the descriptions are 'merely' metaphors? Yet, if so, why do we choose to use metaphors in the place of descriptions? Surely, what's important in a metaphor is every meaning that lies tantalisingly beyond the obvious or reachable. The signified vastly outnumber the signifier, sometimes frighteningly so.

  11. Mathematically, representations of the physical world belong to what's called a dual space. The space of representations (the dual space) has a structure just as much as the physical world itself possesses a structure.

    Mathematician Shahn Majid has then proposed that the world is actually self-dual, meaning that the structure of the physical world is actually isomorphic to the structure of the space of representations.

    If correct, this doesn't mean that a thing is identical to an exact representation; rather, it means that a thing is identical to the collection of all its representations.

  12. "I think what interests me is the matter of representation. A description that captured a thing completely would be that thing. So everything that is not the thing - our descriptions, our maps - is a falling away from the world itself. I find this poignant."

    Note the adminspeke description below of the unfortunate peoples geographical location, poignant?

    "Two more people have died after contracting swine flu in Scotland, taking the total number of deaths related to the virus to 25.

    Two adults, one from NHS Lanarkshire and one from NHS Fife, both had "underlying health conditions".

    What MM could say is that our antennae feed us signals that we process in relation to our own conditioning.
    Language being just the transmitter that we use, the makers name on the transmitter again being dictated by our conditioing.

  13. I think the literal is directly necessary, buried in the inherent logic of what is being described - the wateriness of water - true by definition, and the metaphorical is only indirectly necessary, sufficiently direct to offer a meaningful representation, but not logically necessitated and thus to that extent free.

    So 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' is partly necessary in that the metaphor must of necessity invoke the state described (we've all seen solitary clouds) but still free because the poet did not literally turn into vapour.

    If the metaphor were too free it would be so random as to be meaningless - 'I wandered lonely as cheese' wouldn't work as straight metaphor because there isn't any connection between cheese and loneliness. Monty Python might use it for a laugh but that only works precisely because of the pure freedom of the random connection.

    So I think there's the tyranny of perfect necessity on one side and the anarchy of perfect freedom on the other, and in between there is spacetime, which has the character of both its parents, necessity as object, freedom as subject. As object spacetime is scientific, predominantly literal and recessively aesthetic; as subject it is primarily aesthetic and recessively literal.

    Language at the highest level of categorisation is metaphorical, relative to the literal nature of spacetime objects, but at the next level down it can be used for literal purposes within the objective realm or else for aesthetic purposes within the subjective realm.

    Do you think I'll qualify for Pseud's Corner?

  14. A wine taster will use metaphors to describe what a wine tastes like. So the stated function of the wine-taster's banter is almost to allow the reader or listener a sample of what it would be like to taste the real thing.

    Take something that we all share, and there is an underlying function of a metaphor that becomes apparent. Take this thread, for example. We can all experience this page on our monitors. And I don't need language, all I would need to do if you were here is to point at it--okay, grunt too, maybe.

    The only "representation" of this page that you can perceive, is not the one that I perceive. This page makes you see and think different things. You peruse it differently, with different eyes. You might think it exists in and of itself, whereas I think it is only within our individual subjective realms. So even here, just by pointing and with no metaphors, we can each "consider the differences." But, when you consider the similarities, we have found our true kinship, that you are like me. Unless, of course, I have been "fooled" and your comments are computer generated or something.

    Enter the metaphor. If I were to use a metaphor, I would add how it is I may differ from you. "This thread is going in circles" or "This thread is a party of drunks" or, a kind one, "This thread is what happens when the great thinkers of history gather in heaven."

  15. Isn't all language metaphor for experience?