Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lab Notebook: Emotions, Metaphors, and Creativity.

When people talk about their emotions they often use metaphors because it is difficult to express how you feel in words. In everyday life we solve this language problem by using common experiences with objects as metaphors. In the 1980s, UC Berkeley psychologists Lakoff and Kovecses studied the connection between emotions and metaphors. The metaphor of a fluid in a container (hot, cold, boiling, flowing etc.) turned out to be associated with all major emotions: anger, fear, happiness, sadness, love, lust, pride, shame, and others. We are so used to dealing with water and other liquids that when something unknown and unfamiliar is presented as "water" it becomes easily accessible to our minds.

Here's a great example how a difficult concept can be explained to a lay audience: Robert Shockley, the co-inventor of the transistor, shows the work of his new incredible electronic device as water flowing over the dam. In the picture, charged elements (electrons and holes) become "water," while the electro-magnetic field that controls the flow of the current is shown as a dam barrier that can be raised or lowered to control the flow of "water."

Remarkably, the metaphors of UP and DOWN are also frequently used to describe emotions, e.g. "I feel a bit down today," or "Lighten up!".

Max and I should try to use the common metaphors discovered by Lackoff and Koveses to explain how our system model works. In Scalable Innovation (Chapter 3) I use "train" to explain a difficult patent, but water would probably work even better.

tags: creativity, psychology, emotion, system

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