A very fascinating interview with George Lakoff, author of Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate in the Spring 2005 Inquiring Mind (alas, not online). Lakoff goes on to state that he doesn't believe our brains change due to the power of reason and persuasion (ahem, marketers take note). He says: "More likely it will change only through experience, or hearing a new language over and over. It changes through repetition and experience."
Just a tiny snippet:
I'm a cognitive scientist, which means that I put together cognitive science and linguistics in order to understand the nature of thought and how it gets expressed in language...
[While his book is framed from political vantage point, his findings below apply generally to language and mental constructs. Very much the theme of my own More Space essay.]
For instance, we now know that we understand things based on conceptual "frames." Take the concept of a table. A table has a top, which is horizontal and flat and supported from the bottom. When you put things on the top, they presumably stay there. A very simple concept. There are no battleships in the concept of the table; there are no clouds in the concept of the table. It's a localized, fragmentary thing. And when you know what a table is, that knowledge is physically in your brain. Technically, it's part of the way synapses work. Every time you hear the word table, a neural network - which is also connected to your body - is activated that contains this concept of the table, where you understand the table in terms of what you can physically do with a table. This framing is one of the most natural things that you can do.
The second thing that's crucial to understand is metaphor. We understand many things via metaphors, many of which are universal, coming out of universal experiences. For example, we have a metaphor that more is up and less is down. The reason has to do with your experience. Every time you pour water into a glass, the level goes up. More water means up. Every time you pile books on the desk, the level goes up. Every day in your experience, there's a correspondence between verticality and quantity, and although verticality and quantity are computed in different parts of the brain, when they're regularly activated together, you make connections between them. Those connections are the metaphor, so that you begin to constantly connect more with up. We call this a primary metaphor because everybody learns it all over the world.
There's a huge system of primary metaphors, and we are generally not aware of them. They live below the level of consciousness, even though we use them all the time. For example, we think about our purposes in life as destinations that we are trying to reach. Why? Because whenever you're trying to achieve a purpose, you usually go to a destination. If you want a drink of water, you go to the water fountain. If you want to take a rest, you go to bed. Over and over again, achieving purposes correlates with going to a destination.
After discovering how the mind works through frames and metaphors, many new insights follow. For example, we now know that if you learn a fact that doesn't fit some conceptual frame that you have, the frame will stay and the fact will be ignored. That's because your frames, which are really the structure of your brain, are defining what makes sense for you.
What Lakoff says has many ramifications in so many angles.
For instance, a new friend asks me a week ago if my goal is to reach enlightenment by age 45. I didn't say that, but somewhere he must have heard that. The interesting thing is that the "purpose as destination" metaphor is firmly embedded in that statement. It's so insiduated we don't notice it. I go along because it is my metaphor too. Age 45 for enlightenment seems like around the corner. No, I say, it is my goal but I don't have a deadline. Where's the effort, struggle in that? We enshroud it in romantic language like 'the path', 'the journey' instead of 'the goal' perhaps; yet the underlying metaphor "purpose as destination" remains unscathed.
That's why another frame, another metaphor - be it Jesus' or Buddha's or Sri Ramana Maharshi's or Shankara's or Krishnamurti's - is rarely understood. "We now know that if you learn a fact that doesn't fit some conceptual frame that you have, the frame will stay and the fact will be ignored."
One of the brand new blog's (still in discovery) themes was to be the inner and outer journey. Absolutely Wrong Metaphor, I now realize. A new metaphor, a new language is needed. But maybe it isn't new after all.
The [Hindu] scriptures even proclaim aloud: ...No one is bound, no one is seeking Liberation, no one is on their way to Deliverance. - Vivekachudamani, by Shankaracharya, translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi, The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, edited by Arthur Osborne
Q: What is your dream? A: My dream is to appreciate every day - to smile and enjoy every day. For me life only exists in this moment. When I finish a film, that part of me is gone. And the future, I don't know, it doesn't belong to me. - "Q&A with Bai Ling", The Independent, July/August 2005
Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you: See, the kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will go before you; if they say to you: It is in the sea, then the fish will go before you. But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty. - Gospel of Thomas, Saying 3
His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? <Jesus said>: It cometh not with observation. They will not say: Lo, here! or: Lo, there! But the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it. - Gospel of Thomas, Saying 113
There is no attaining it because it is always present. All you have to do is remove the coverings that conceal it... Realization is nothing to be gained anew. You are the Self. You are already and eternally That... Realization consists of getting rid of the false idea that one is not realized. - The Essential Teachings of Ramana Maharshi: A Visual Journey [he, he - a visual journey]
I was recently at a teaching in San Rafael with Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, and after everyone was settled he said "...Maybe in the middle of the talk tonight, you will become fully enlightened. Are you ready? It could be very inconvenient. What about all of the plans that you’ve made about where you’ll go after the teaching? You’re depending on not waking up, aren’t you? Maybe you shouldn’t have made so many plans.” - "Wisdom Crazy:An Interview with Steven Goodman", Inquiring Mind magazine, Spring 2005