Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Literal Meatphors

Our mind weaves patterns from the garbled mess our senses offer up as perception. These patterns are more real to us than those entities whose physical interactions stimulate our senses. The pattern of these patterns is the foundation of much of our sense of self. It is at the level of pattern comparison that we analyze our world. Humans are metaphor processors.

“Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” – from "Metaphors We Live By" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980)

In order to be mature about processing patterns one needs a collection of patterns for comparison. Collecting patterns is a beautiful-horrible process called experience, and results are apparently not guaranteed. There are many teachable people who can also gather patterns non-experientially.

Once gathered the patterns are repeatedly post-processed. Some people like to think of the post processing as a sorting, but it is much more than that. Our eventual memories of some events can be very different from the actual physical events, but our memories are more useful, or can be.

Without enough related experiences processing can become backed up. It is easy to run particular events through one’s mind over-and-over-and-over again, like a closed film loop, trying to make sense of them.

Sometimes we give up on making sense of things, but it is almost impossible to simply file things away as “other” in the mind. Many people use a supernatural explanation as a label for binning these recalcitrant patterns. This is one reason why the unknowability of god is so fiercely championed amongst some theists.

By comparing patterns we can validate shared experiences and create a sense of culture. This is one reason why theists gather to share their undecipherable experiences in groups. Together the events can be post processed to validate the existence of many supernatural events, and even create new ones.

Teenagers often get stuck overusing particular words. I remember overusing the words “bourgeois” and “really” and “like”. The word “like” is a particularly popular word for teenage overuse. Throwing it about creates all sorts of accidental similes; one of the simplest types of metaphor.

In order to be more literally correct one should only state that: “The patterns in our mind are like metaphors”. The patterns only become true metaphors only when we translate them into words.

“All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.” -- from “Sand and Foam” Kahlil Gibran (1926)

Once in words the metaphors are in machine readable form. Unfortunately, machines tend to read what words mean literally. They are not adept at metaphors.

It is a relatively simple proposition to code a simile detecting algorithm. Look for the word “like”, and then compare the two elements of the sentence that are being likened to each other. Then, by using some kind of relatedness scale, one can grade the degree of metaphorical usage. For instance the comparison:
“Your rose is like a carnation”
This sounds like it is actually only comparing the flower-like attributes of two flowers. Both entities are similar; they are both not only plants, but common flowers that are often used in flower arrangements. One is inspired to imagine the petal configuration or the colors which are imagined to be similar in form and function between the two entities. This is not very metaphorical, and it would get a low metaphor score.
“Your lips are like a rose”
While this may not score highly in many arbitrary literary rubrics it gets a good high metaphor score. One of the entities is plant, and the other is animal. The attributes they share are accidental. We imagine the redness of the lips, and perhaps their soft and supple texture. Further knowledge about the rose is possibly inherited. The fact that the rose is the center of sexual activity for the plant invites the reader to imagine sexual activity –like kissing- for the lips.

To venture beyond the simple simile the machine needs to ask questions like “is this really what is meant?”. It is impossible to simply turn on a program and have it discern between what is literal and what is metaphor, but given a large learning set it should be possible.

What does a machine do with its “other” experiences? I doubt it mulls them over in melancholy excess. Without the emotional handicaps it is unlikely that anything resembling god would be used to explain situations.

For each theist the concept of god is not necessarily a simple delusion. I picture a multi-faceted delusion whose faces are human psychological issues. For each person it is likely that each face could be named for the evens that made it unknowable. “My parents did that”, “I don’t like him anymore”, “The room was dark”, “I heard noises” …. An almost-narrative of psychological damage might be created from the faces of god.

So god’s will is a lump of psychologically indigestible events. This, unfortunately, would get a low metaphor score. If I replaced god’s will with god to shorten the simile, and replaced the unwieldy “psychologically indigestible events” with something that is indigestible and repulsive I can get a much higher score.

God is s**t 

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed 
Born: March 2, 1942 
Died: October 27, 2013


Anonymous said...

"Meatphors"?!? Is that a misspelling? Did you mean Metaphors?

adult onset atheist said...

It did start as a misspelling. Then I decided I liked it enough to promote it to the title.