Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in April, 2003

Shelley Burningbird Powers writes about George Lakoff‘s article Metaphor and War, Again:

…I also have found it interesting and fascinating and well written as well as very astute. But as a call to arms, or even a call to communicate, I found it to be, well, innocuous; at most, safe reading for a world feeling bruised by too much war and too much rhetoric. Even those who point to it do so with little commentary. It seems to absorb discussion as a felt lined room absorbs sound.

…More importantly, there is nothing in the essay or in the conclusion that tells us how to break through the so-called frames, the conceptual metaphors. In other words, how to get people to listen. Then again, perhaps all this essay is meant to do is make us aware that we’re not listening to each other, and not to take it personally.

I think Shelley, as well as some other people who’ve commented on Lakoff’s article, misinterpret his use of the word “metaphor” somewhat. Here are some phrases indicating that misinterpretation:

…It’s here that his metaphor begins to break down a bit…

…there exist things in the world other than verbal formulations…

…The average person who is pro-terrorist uses metaphors also…

…Metaphors? They pale in significance compared to pictures…

(taken from comments on Shelley’s site).

The standard definition of “metaphor” is something like “a figure of speech in which a word that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another”. Lakoff expands this definition in a way that is surprising to non-linguists; he speaks of primary metaphors which are associations of sensory experiences with subjective judgments, and of complex metaphors which are built out of groups of primary metaphors somewhat like molecules are built out of atoms, or programs are built out of programming language statements; the effect is that metaphors can be described as being the atoms of thought. All thinking is thus metaphorical thinking, and one important point is that much of the interplay of metaphors happens on the unconscious level; much as programming statements are not directly visible at a program’s user interface.

The standard definition quoted above therefore describes a type of complex metaphor. This is discussed in great detail in Lakoff & Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By, the “Phil Phlesh” book I’ve mentioned before, and several follow-up publications applying these insights to politics, mathematics, and other specific fields. For instance, “Phil”‘s second half deconstructs several philosophical theories, such as those of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Chomsky and others, in order to show which complex metaphors underlie their reasoning. Many other links on the subject can be found at wood s lot; I refer interested readers to Lakoff’s interview at

Lakoff’s article attempts to show what metaphors underlie Gulf War II, both for the pro- and anti-war camps; as this focuses on the mechanisms that underlie reasons, rather than on the reasons themselves, it comes off as dry and technical. Unsurprisingly, many people who do understand Lakoff’s concepts resent having their thoughts deconstructed in a way they consider unflattering – much like software companies dislike having their products decompiled, perhaps – and people who don’t understand them put them off as “simplistic” or “phantastic”.

By far the best commentary I’ve found so far is AKMA‘s:

Ideas don’t change things in and of themselves, but they can open us up to the possibility of changes we hadn’t been ready to imagine before.

Asking Lakoff to publish something like “Peace Metaphors for Dummies” would be a fatal oversimplification. Rather, let’s hope that his insights into cognition will help other researchers to find out why human reasoning comes to destructive conclusions.

As he did during the first gulf war, top cognitive scientist/linguist George Lakoff writes about the current war in Metaphor and War, Again:

My 1990 paper did not stop Gulf War I. This paper will not stop Gulf War II. So why bother?

I think it is crucially important to understand the cognitive dimensions of politics – especially when most of our conceptual framing is unconscious and we may not be aware of our own metaphorical thought. I have been referred to as a “cognitive activist” and I think the label fits me well. As a professor, I do analyses of linguistic and conceptual issues in politics, and I do them as accurately as I can. But that analytic act is a political act: Awareness matters. Being able to articulate what is going on can change what is going on – at least in the long run.

Lakoff is also co-author (with Mark Johnson) of the seminal work “Philosophy in the Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought”, a book some cognoscenti refer to as “Phil Phlesh”.

Thanks to Doc Searls for the link.

The Apathetic Online Journal Entry Generator tells me to write:

Today was a loss, but shrug. My life’s been really unremarkable , but that’s how it is. Not much on my mind right now, but maybe tomorrow. I guess it doesn’t bother me.

I hasten to add that this doesn’t apply to me at all; but certain webloggers seem to be using that quite a lot… icon_lol.gif

Simon Brunning of Small Values of Cool points at the Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time. Read this before believing anything else today.

My personal favorites:

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

The Island of San Seriffe

The Internet Spring Cleaning (#40, at the bottom – I’ve spread that one myself a few times)

Asterix Village Found (#89)

Update(s): The first items for 2003 are coming in… here are some nice ones. I’ll keep updating this throughout the day.

RFC3514: The Security Flag in the IPv4 Header. This one’s for techies only – if you don’t know what a RFC is, never mind:

Firewalls, packet filters, intrusion detection systems, and the like often have difficulty distinguishing between packets that have malicious intent and those that are merely unusual. We define a security flag in the IPv4 header as a means of distinguishing the two cases.

… Currently-assigned values are defined as follows:

0x0  If the bit is set to 0, the packet has no evil intent. Hosts, network elements, etc., SHOULD assume that the packet is harmless, and SHOULD NOT take any defensive measures. (We note that this part of the spec is already implemented by many common desktop operating systems.)

0x1  If the bit is set to 1, the packet has evil intent. Secure systems SHOULD try to defend themselves against such packets. Insecure systems MAY chose to crash, be penetrated, etc.


…In a move that will no doubt cause even more consternation, Apple today announced that it has again rescheduled the upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference, this time to coincide with the new Create conference that replaced Macworld Expo from 14-Jul-03 through 18-Jul-03.

…The $25 Asbesteze gloves use a combination of Lycra and heat-resistant fibers to keep palms and wrists from becoming too hot (which can exacerbate inflammation) when resting on the aluminum PowerBooks.

…the company announced the Segway Kids Interactive Transporter (KIT), more commonly referred to as the “Segwee.”…

…I’ve been busy helping some old friends at Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) with an upcoming release of Microsoft Word 5.1 for OS X, a carbonized version of Word 5.1a that preserves most of the features and all the look and feel of the highly popular Word 5.1…

Apple admits Mac OS X transition a failure; announces Mac OS 9.5, Jobs steps down:

“I blew it. It’s as simple as that,” said a visibly upset Steve Jobs as he announced he would step down as head of Apple, the company he co-founded on this day over 25 years ago.

CFO Fred Anderson quickly announced the company would end its two-year-long transition to the UNIX-based Mac OS X and would release Mac OS 9.5 within the month…

Bare Bones Software Announces New Pricing Option:

…Now available is the option to purchase a single user license of BBEdit with hand delivery by a Bare Bones Software employee and one full year of personal service (including unlimited feature additions, ripping the cellophane off the CD, reading the manual aloud, and more). This opportunity is only available for a limited time, at the special price of US$250,000…

Safari developer Dave Hyatt says that Safari will drop table support:

The next release of Safari will be fully embracing Web standards by dropping all support for tables. From now on, any pages that use tables will cause Safari to play a very loud raspberry sound and refuse to display the page.

…For all sites that attempt to nest tables more than four levels deep, Safari will play a loud flushing sound, and it will remove itself from the dock and erase itself from your system in order to protect itself from your bad taste.

The Cork Trick

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Joi Ito shows Mena Trott of Movable Type fame doing his trick with two corks. Very cool… took me some time to figure out.

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