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VLQD: George Lakoff in New Scientist

by ThatBritGuy Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 12:52:29 PM EST

A New Scientist reviewer was less than complimentary about Lakoff's new book The Political Mind. He sent a reply which is worth quoting...


Owen Flanagan's description of my book left much to be desired. The book has two parts: one scientific and one pointing out the political consequences of the science.

There is a received view of the mind, absorbed into popular culture and similar to that of Descartes, that I refer to as 'Enlightenment reason.' It goes like this: reason is conscious, disembodied, dispassionate, literal, (it fits the world directly), logical (it leads from facts to correct conclusions), universal, and serves self-interest.

This is widely taken as defining 'rationality'. I surveyed results from neuroscience and the cognitive sciences that contradict all of these supposed properties.

Reason is mostly unconscious and physical - it uses the brain. It requires emotion and uses frames, metaphors and melodramatic narratives. It also varies depending on world view, and is used at least as much in the service of empathy as self-interest.

This is real reason, how people really think, and it requires a new account of rationality that calls for a New Enlightenment.

Each of these results is crucial for understanding politics. Conservatives, using marketing techniques taken from psychology, have marketed their big ideas effectively. Progressives have failed to build institutions (such as think tanks) to get their big ideas out in public honestly. An awareness of brain mechanisms could help map effective communication.

The Political Mind is an exercise in the democritisation of knowledge. It opens the cognitive politics for all to see. Journalists, policy makers, most economists and even many academics are stuck on the old view of reason, which leads them to fall prey to effective political marketing, mostly from the conservative side.

I haven't read the book yet, but it looks like a must-buy.

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Duly added to wishlist.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 02:00:15 PM EST
Love it when frames like this come out of the Bay Area, in this case Berserkely.  thanks, tbg.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 02:15:04 PM EST
I have just ordered his book.

The "pull" of the paradigm!  Clear and distinct ideas.  Deductive reasoning.  On to homo-economus!  Godel's Theorem applies to axiomatic systems, but that doesn't bother many.  Fifty years after SCIENCE AND SANITY by Alfred Korzibski, few are aware of his work and its implications.  I used to tell my colleagues, when they were determined to proceed down some seemingly logical but doomed path: "You are using either/or logic in a both/and world."  They would look at me as though I were speaking in tongues.  They would use the fact that they managed to muddle through avoidable problems as vindication of their point of view.

One cannot deny the role of emotion in rationality.  Amusingly, most seem unaware that they even have a choice of  paradigmatic affiliation.  They follow Pangloss: "What ever is is right." By the time they are considered adults the chief effect of their chosen world view is its ability to enable them to manage their own self-esteem.  They are only willing to consider changing their mental habits when those habits  have demonstrably lead them into grave trouble. Today the trouble is becoming clear.  Now if large numbers can be shown that the source of that trouble is how pathetically manipulable their mental habits have left them, there might be a way out.    

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 02:15:18 PM EST
A 4 for mentioning Alfred Korzybski and referring to General Semantics...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 02:39:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
George rocks.  I've read Don't Think of an Elephant! and Moral Politics. I do recommend the latter.  (The former is a fluffy Cliff's Notes version...)  Anyway, it made things make a lot more sense to me.  It's one of those books: I have no idea how true these theories are, but they are the first to make enduring sense of why the people around me are acting as they are.

Also, I got the chance to meet him and talk to him at Yearly Kos.  He's just so freaking nice.  He's like Santa if Santa weren't scary.  He just radiates this warm fuzzy professory vibe.  He's fab.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 02:43:51 PM EST
Also, this is the funniest Amazon review title I've ever seen:

"Lakoff Avoids Putting Descartes Before the Horse"

heeheehee

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 02:46:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

it made things make a lot more sense to me.  It's one of those books: I have no idea how true these theories are,

Clue in italics.  Explanatory power is always preferred, other things being equal. The brief description given in the diary accords with what I have read in the science press over the last 30 years.  Strong emotion has always been shown to be associated with strong emotion.  Recent PET scan work on active brains has shown the involvement of the limbic system, associated with emotion, in ongoing formation of memory.  Sorry, I don't have references.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 03:39:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
strong emotion with strong memory formation, that is.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 03:40:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that I should step gingerly into this minefield ;-)

If you accept, as I do, that reason is after the fact, then you could also understand that what the conscious mind experiences as 'reality' is a construct made up of 'figure' novelty and 'ground' fill-in.

Figure/ground ambiguity is in constant flux at the unconscious level. Different detected patterns may trigger a 'novelty' reaction (a biochemical release or take-up). If the novelty factor is high enough it will also be shoved up to consciousness.

The 'figure' is whatever the conscious mind has been alerted to by the internal processing of external sensual information and the detection of powerful patterns that require consciousness to be awakened.

At all other times, your mind is in the 'ground', filling in from memory. You walk through the forest and what you experience is treeness, not trees. Unless something in that forest has a novelty rating, is unexpected, there will be little useful 'insightful' memory of the experience.

This effect can be experienced driving on an often used motorway. You can travel 10 kms, daydreaming, and remember not a centimetre of the journey. All you are left with is a general sensation of motorwayness. But any novelty can snap you out of it in an instant.

The frames, metaphors and narratives can also become 'ground' fill in. Routine. Habit. The progressive message has already become motorwayness for many people out there who we would like to influence.

Novelty - a new experience that cuts through the routine - is IMO one tool that we need to use for greater communication effectiveness. Novelty has a bad rap, but it is what the mind detects very well, and a little release of endorphin, testosterone, noradrenalin, dopamine et al might be all that stands between us and change.

What is novelty in the context of communicating for change? It varies greatly with audience, of course. You always try to speak in the 'language' of that audience. 'Language' often includes a lot more than words - every audience understands some part of the visual language also. Novelty comes from play with that language. A twist that remains in the mind. A new way of approaching a subject.

And "an awareness of brain mechanisms could help map effective communication".

It could indeed. But an awareness of how we are each manipulated, and how we manipulate, both as learned behaviour and as a Learned Behaviour Disorder is disturbing for some. It seems, they say, to take away the magic of being human. That magic is legerdemain. You have been fooled.

There is another kind of magic - a miracle - which is that this 600 billion neuron thing, built brain on top of ancient brain in layers like a house with illegal stories added, DIYed by lizards and felines, and with wiring installed that could pass not even a cursory inspection (Was it you who wired the cerebellum up left to left, Morrisey? I've told you again and again - left to right, right to left. Gordon Bennett! Now we'll have to put in another fusebox), is that this thing called mind actually works in some fashion. Admittedly though it is still a hundred thousand year old mind - yet we learn to live in it.

How we learn to live in it is the most fascinating question in the world. And understanding how we do that is the key to communication.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 03:49:28 PM EST
I love it when someone writes the way the brain thinks.  And then comes back to describe, or try and describe, what we do next.  Some of my Synapses Stand in Salute!

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 06:18:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As long as they are not the inhibitory ones ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 06:54:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Caol Ila helps a lot to keep the inhibiting ones at bay...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 07:06:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

But an awareness of how we are each manipulated, and how we manipulate, both as learned behavior and as a Learned Behavior Disorder is disturbing for some. It seems, they say, to take away the magic of being human. That magic is legerdemain. You have been fooled.

And that is the heart of the problem.  Most people do not want to admit that they have been fooled.  Humor and self-depreciation, a sense that this has happened to us all and is inherent in the human condition, might help get the message across.  Something it is easier for me to describe than to accomplish.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 07:34:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It certainly sounds interesting.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 11:30:17 PM EST
No time...

geeee

 I have to commend him for the efforts he is doing to change the perception... of course the devils is in the details and things are much more complex than that.. but so what? this metaphor of neurobiology has more  relation with real scientific discoveries and "science" than the other ones..and it is probably more useful in our political environment..

I think it is fair and a tribute to let the wrong details or the " I would say it best" for another day... well or just to look back at what I wrote in the past since I think I proposed another slightly modified vision some time ago...and Brit improved upon it (if I a do not recall wrongly).

So far... I hope he gets to be read.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 01:06:00 PM EST
I have more than a reasonable amount of Steven Pinker books that, while very interesting for the most part, always strike an awkward cord when he slips into politics and economy.

It was very refreshing and (pun intended) enlightening to  explore George Layoff's ideas on the subject. For those interested there are several talks on youtube, fora.tv, and of course there are the documents available in his own Rockridge institute.

Thank you, made my weekend.

by Torres on Mon Jul 14th, 2008 at 06:05:59 AM EST
Pinker is too arrogant for his own good, and he slides out of his depth with politics and economics.

I'm only 40 pages into Lakoff's book, but I'm going to assume he'll stay away from the more controversial learnings of the neuroscience world in regards to what he calls "the enlightenment brain." Probably for the best as folks are not going to let go of it quickly.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jul 15th, 2008 at 12:15:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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