Friday, October 2, 2009

Drake Bennett

In his Boston Globe article "Thinking literally," staff writer Drake Bennett discusses studies by cognitive scientists/psychologists who believe that metaphor has a physical basis.
Researchers have sought to determine whether the temperature of an object in someone’s hands determines how “warm” or “cold” he considers a person he meets, whether the heft of a held object affects how “weighty” people consider topics they are presented with...What they have found is that, in fact, we do.
In the studies that Bennett cites, there seems to be a huge bias towards finding the physical basis of metaphor. Admittedly, I haven't seen the studies; however, there is no mention of an opposite experiment which could prove, well, the opposite - that our physical sensations are shaped by our thought.

For example, Bennett writes:
Bargh at Yale, along with Lawrence Williams, now at the University of Colorado, did studies in which subjects were casually asked to hold a cup of either iced or hot coffee, not knowing it was part of the study, then a few minutes later asked to rate the personality of a person who was described to them. The hot coffee group, it turned out, consistently described a warmer person--rating them as happier, more generous, more sociable, good-natured, and more caring--than the iced coffee group.       

The basic claim:
"without our body’s instinctive sense for temperature--or position, texture, size, shape, or weight--abstract concepts like kindness and power, difficulty and purpose, and intimacy and importance would simply not make any sense to us."
Thus, and only thus, are we able to understand the world, according to Daniel Casasanto of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

What if the experimenters described the personality of a person as happy, generous, sociable, good-natured, and caring. Then, subjects could be asked to hold a cup of tepid coffee and asked to describe its temperature, perhaps on a scale. Possibly, the description of the person would influence the perception of the temperature.

Maybe the mind's ability with abstraction enables us to make sense of position, size, temperature, and weight.

Do we see/perceive what we believe, or do we believe what we see/perceive? 

See Rebecca Bird's discussion "Language and Perception of color among the Ancient Greeks"  and "Proof Positive that People See Colors with the Tongue" (NYTimes Mar,1999) by Henry Fountain.

Bennett does a good service by elucidating these experiments and questions.

I would like to invite Drake Bennett to my soiree - I'm not so sure about the psychologists!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.