The Law of Metaphors:

In order to describe the contents of your own mind or someone else's mind, you have to use metaphors.

“The mountain is a big man” is to speak metaphorically. Mountains are not big men, literally. Most discussions of metaphor are about how we take physical objects and talk about them as if they are people. “The tree is proud” is an example.

But I'm talking about the exact opposite type of metaphor. I have found that something like 97% of all talk about psychological phenomena is metaphor. But, whereas poetic talk treats objects as people, psychological talk describes people as if they were objects. There's no way to talk about feelings or thoughts or images in any interesting way except by using physical terms. How could you say “John had a bright idea” without using the metaphor “bright”?

People are physical objects. You can describe them as objects giving their weight, height, location, and movements. In the ancient Near East, when they wanted to tell how a person felt they often described them physically. “He is walking slow. He is moving slow. He is talking slow. He put his head in his hands. Now he wrings his hands, and tears flow like from a fountain.” This is an external description of a man's body as an object. It conveys his feelings. It is dramatic.

I don't know if this way of describing a person's feelings in some of these ancient writings is a matter of style or an expression of the culture and way of thinking or a limitation in the development of their language or what. Even in modern times, some use metaphors more than others to describe their own experiences.

There are some words for mental states that I don't think are metaphorical such as “mind” and “mania” and "idea," but these are rare exceptions.

We use metaphors to describe the mental states of others and also of ourselves. We say, “He is all keyed up” but also “I am all keyed up.” “He's way out there “ or “I've gone over the edge.” “She flipped out” or “I'm in outer space.” “He's puffed up like a balloon” or “I'm deflated.”

I've collected somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000 mental metaphors depending on how I count them. [I intend to place them on this site (in the form of a spreadsheet) when I have the time.]

Since I am so interested in this topic, I discuss metaphor in other places. For extended discussions, the reader may look at Metaphor and the Imagination and also at the Data I have accumulated on metaphors in psychological speech along with two articles explaining the Table of Data that can be found with the table.

For now though, just one more point. Speaking is an outward form of thinking, so speaking metaphorically is an outward form of thinking metaphorically. To think metaphorically a person has to “enter” the Imagination. You may see a man walking along, looking down, talking to himself, and wearing heavy clothes on a hot day, and you enter your Imagination and get an image of a vase you have at home that cracked one day. And then you look back at him and think to yourself, “He's cracked!” If you are the first to say such a thing, and you say it out loud to a friend, the metaphor might catch on. I theorize that the older the language, the more metaphors are developed. The more metaphors, the more Imagination. And, at some point, psychological thinking comes along. We begin to see people metaphorically, imaginatively. I don't think that this means incorrectly. How else could we “gain access” to a person's “inner” being except through our own Imaginations? Metaphorical knowledge is a different kind of knowledge than physical knowledge.

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