A Gathering of Reflections at the intersection
of Cognitive Linguistics and the Philosophy of Whitehead
Jay McDaniel, John Cobb, and Patricia Adams Farmer
THE METAPHOR MAKER is the story of a young woman in search of "a metaphor to live by." Spring 1968. Berkeley anti-war activist and would-be poet Madeline Prescott embarks on an inner quest: a spiritual journey born out of grief for a brother lost in war, a country whose leaders are cut down by violence, and a family torn apart. In a coastal town bookshop filled with odd and comforting characters, Madeline finds a temporary nest in which to heal, re-imagine hope, explore romantic love, and discover her own poetic voice. Madeline's quest is set in one of the most turbulent times in American history, when middle-class youth felt more passionate about ideas than financial success. Philosophy was in vogue; poetry was everywhere. Women were just finding their voices. THE METAPHOR MAKER ultimately portrays the power of empathy, hope, and generosity of spirit in a pluralistic, rapidly changing world.
Metaphors to Live By
Madeline Prescott, a character in Patricia Adams Farmer's The Metaphor Maker, knows that we need metaphors to live by. She hopes that her metaphors are both truthful and helpful. She wants them to resonate with the nature of the universe and to empower her to live with empathy, hope, and generosity of spirit in a pluralistic world.
Madeline turns to the philosophy of Whitehead for help and those of us in the world of process philosophy and theology do as well. Three metaphors are The Universe is a Creative Adventure; God is Love; Human Beings are Metaphor Makers.
The first invites us to recognize that we live and move and have our being within the context of an evolving universe with an open future, and that our actions make a difference in what the future holds. The second invites us to consider the possibility that our vocation in life is to walk in love, and that when we do so we are participating in the very life of God. And the third invites us to understand and celebrate the creative side of human knowing, but also to hold onto our concepts with a relaxed grasp, lest we use them as hammers to bludgeon others with false certainties.
Of course these three metaphors sound overly simple as stated in bold form above, so it may help to remind ourselves of alternative metaphors by which we could live and some do live: The Universe is a Closed System in which Everything is Determined by Predecessor Events; God is a Holy Warrior whose Primary Concern is Reward and Punishment; Human Beings are Puppets who are Meant to be Controlled by God or the Government.
If we live by these metaphors, we might live in very different ways. We might decide that our actions do not really matter, because the future is already decided; or that marching in battle is preferable to walking in love, because God marches in battle; or that the human mind is a receptacle for ideas, perhaps given by God, but not a creator of ideas. In our age of global climate change and local cruelties, these metaphors are less helpful and, think those of us influenced by Whitehead, less truthful. The view of process philosophy is that some metaphors -- like the first three -- are closer to the way things truly are than others.
However, add process philosophers, we humans cannot pretend that any of our metaphors are absolute in the sense that they perfectly mirror the way things are. Our perspectives are inevitably limited by countless factors: social conditioning, body chemistry, environmental conditions, historical circumstances, personal temperaments. The best we can do is, like Madeline, to seek metaphors that ring true to the nature of the universe as we know it from experience and evidence, and that help us become what the novelist Patricia Adams Farmer calls "fat souls." That is her metaphor for a person who is open-hearted, open-minded, capable of embracing enriching tensions, and filled with integrity. The ultimate test of the metaphors we live is character. It is not simply how they conform to the dynamics of the universe; it is who they help us become.
The Blending Mind
Thus the question emerges: Who, at the individual level, does the blending? The answer, for Whitehead, is the individual subject of experience, understood as a creative and relational self. This self can be understood from one or both of two points of view: a first-person perspective and a third-person perspective.
Understood from a first-person perspective, the subject is the first-person singular – the self – who does the blending. Our self is the one to whom we are referring when we say the word “I.” We are not things; we are persons, and our self is the person whom we are.
Understood from a third-person perspective, this self is what scientists, psychologists, and philosophers call the mind. It is a thing -- or much better a complex activity – about which we speak, as if it were an object among objects in a visual field. Both points of view are valuable. We learn something from first-person accounts we cannot learn from brain mapping, and we learn something from brain maps we cannot learn from first-person experience.
Fortunately, an increasing number of academics today propose that the self can be understood from first-person and third-person points of view and that these two approaches complement and balance one another. Phenomenology begins with the first-person perspective; neuroscience begins with the third-person perspective; neurophenomenology, developing biological models of embodied cognition and conscious experience, joins the two.
Mind and World: