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I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World Paperback – January 24, 2012
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. "Metaphorical thinking is the way we make sense of the world" and neurological research shows that humans experience pleasure when performing the "cognitive gymnastics" of deciphering metaphors to connect two dissimilar things, asserts Geary (The World in a Phrase) in a delightful examination that borrows for its title from a poem by Rimbaud, whose writing aimed to "upset conventional orders of perception." Tests on people who do not understand metaphors, such as those with Asperger's syndrome, uncover the roles that "mirror" and "Gnostic" neurons play in conceptual comprehension and long-term memory. Geary also analyzes how metaphors are used in advertising, scientific discoveries, economics, and politics. "Metaphors, once forgotten or ignored, are easily mistaken for objective facts," he warns, showing how metaphor "surreptitiously infiltrates our purchasing decisions." Voters, consumers, and investors interested in knowing how their decisions may be influenced by well-planned metaphors will be fascinated by Geary's adept explication of the metaphor's role in defining perceptions. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“In his fine new book, James Geary [shows that] metaphors are not rhetorical frills at the edge of how we think. They are at the very heart of it.” (David Brooks, New York Times)
“Smart fun for anyone fascinated by the play of language. . . . Geary traces the history of [metaphor] from Aristotle to Elvis.” (Washington Post)
“The author further manages to weave together a fascinating amount of information. . . . I Is an Other really shines when it focuses on the simple yet profound . . . you’ll never look at a metaphor the same way again—metaphorically speaking.” (New York Journal of Books)
“Geary . . . succeeds in making the case that metaphor is the meat of language and not a sauce.” (Wall Street Journal)
“This book is a prism, refracting the white light of language into a kaleidoscopic celebration of its images and etymologies.” (Ben Schott, author of Schott’s Original Miscellany and Schott’s Almanacs)
“This book is for everyone interested in the subtle operations of language and thought....I is an Other is one of those ‘must-read’ books for this year, for any year. It deserves a wide audience, and it will find one.” (Jay Parini, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Middlebury College and author of Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America)
“Sherlock Holmes could glance at a bowler hat and tell that its owner’s wife had ceased to love him. In this brilliant book about metaphor James Geary is no less astonishing....You’ll scarf down every page of I Is an Other and then ask for more.” (Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author of Book by Book and Classics for Pleasure)
“Enchanting...It is [its] playful celebration of meanings that makes this book optimistic. And though the subtitle has a whiff of conspiracy about it, the sheer ubiquity of metaphor in everyday life makes the book feel urgent....addictive...Geary writes with clarity and power.” (The Independent)
“An illuminating study of metaphor in all its guises…Required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in language.” (Time Out London)
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This premise is well defended and believable. But if you already believed that, this book is frustrating. I wanted to know more about the side-effects of understanding things via metaphor. This is covered, but slowly. The book is more full of examples than ideas, and it feels constantly distracted as it flits from example to example. I kept reading for the occasional morsels of additional information, but felt like they were being parceled out. Way too often I thought, "I get it! Move on!"
Although the book is good as far as it goes, I was left wanting more meat.
James Geary's book has renewed my interest in metaphors. I felt that its underlying message can be summarized in this sentence: "metaphor is the unacknowledged legislator of the world, since it so pervasively primes so many of our opinions, attitudes, and beliefs." Our metaphors structure the way we conceive the world, how we are able to express our ideas about the most important of subjects. There are many, MANY examples throughout the book to illustrate this point.
To me the most useful and eye-opening examples were in the field of political speech and economics. The author mentions two examples/experiments whose results and the implications of those results to me seem just breathtaking:
1) " Give people any number--a town's population, for example--and then ask something like, "What is the maximum amount you would pay for a house?" The answers will be influenced by the cited figure. Given a population figure of 500,000, people will quote amounts much closer to $500,000 than people given a population figure of 1 million, who will quote amounts much closer to $1 million. We're all influenced by the seemingly irrelevant. The coherence of metaphorical priming is anything but arbitrary, though. Metaphorical primes cohere precisely because the patterns of association connecting the concept and the behavior interlock. Criminal sentencing decisions, like all decisions, should not be influenced by irrelevant details. But they are."
2) In US if you replace in a text the word " government" with the word " public structures", then you get some very interesting results. Namely, "of nineteen people who read a paragraph about government services that did not contain the public structures metaphor, 75 percent expressed negative or critical views about taxes. Of fifty subjects responding to the public structures text, 4 percent expressed negative or critical views about taxes."
Which means that metaphors by framing our reality can indeed make all the difference. You might be the wisest person, the best-intentioned politician - but if you pick your metaphors in a wrong way (or follow the dominant metaphors which lead you nowhere), you'll fail. That's why it's so important to be aware of metaphors and explore the effect each specific one might have on our thinking.
After reading this book, your view of the ways in which language shapes us will almost certainly change.
I originally was interested in this book for its potential to help me understand the role that metaphor can play in instructional design and communication, and while some of the ideas in the book have applications in that area, what this book really pointed out to me is how deeply metaphors are entrenched in us (there's another!), and that in order to use metaphors in a training or educational manner we need to not only be careful in our selection of metaphors, but we need to be mindful of the metaphors that we all carry around with us.