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Being the Universe : a Metaphoric Frontier


Being the Universe : a Metaphoric Frontier
Metaphoric exploration of cognitive domains

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People live in a world that has been carefully presented through education as external and objective. As such one does not have immediate access to distant objects. The world is also presented as having a history of millions of years within an even older universe. As such one does not have access to times past, or to times yet to come. It is also carefully explained how one grows constantly older. As such one does not have ready access to one's younger or older selves. We have been imprisoned in spatio-temporal cells under conditions that may well arouse the indignation of penal reformers of the future.

This essay is an exploration of another possible way of being that honours subjective reality. Perhaps, in anticipation of a comprehensible resolution of their paradoxical incompatibility, objective and subjective reality are as complementary as the particle and wave theories of physics in endeavouring to explain light.

The essay is about reappropriating our cultural heritage from those who have "professionalized" access to it and, like many priesthoods, inserted themselves as intermediaries with their own agendas. Like the untouchable castes, we are then excluded from access to the imaginal heritage by which we are supposedly sustained.

The approach advocated therefore involves exploration of the possibility of activating new metaphors which can enchant, empower, explain and orient approaches to the problematique through the user's own comprehension of each metaphor's significance, whether amongst the governors or the governed. Such a use of metaphor is only new in that metaphors have not been deliberately used in this way before, despite the fact that everyone has access to them. In Kenneth Boulding's words: "Our consciousness of the unity of the self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of a group, organization, department, discipline, or science. If personification is only a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors - we might be one ourselves."(1978, p.345) Or, as the poet John Keats puts it: "A man's life is a continual allegory - and very few eyes can see the mystery of his life - a life like the scriptures, figurative." The charm of it, as Bateson stated in concluding a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, is that: "We are our own metaphor." (1972, p.304). Unfortunately we have over-identified with the metaphor and have been unable to see ourselves in perspective.

Kathleen Forsythe (1986) in a paper to a meeting of cyberneticians argues: "Analogy and its poetic expression, metaphor, may be the "meta-forms" necessary to understanding those aspects of our mind that make connections, of ten in non-verbal and implicit fashion, that allow us to understand the world in a whole way." Forsythe uses the term isophors for isomorphisms experienced in the use of language. Isophors are distinct from metaphors in that they are experienced directly. With the isophor there is no separation between thought and action, between feeling and experience. The experience itself is evoked through the relation.

She suggests that the experience of one thing in terms of another, the isophor, is the means by which we map domain to domain and that our consciousness of this meta-action, when we observe ourselves experiencing this, lies at the heart of cognition. She has postulated the development of an epistemology of newness in which learning is the perception of newness and cognition depends on a disposition for wonder leading to this domain of conception-perception interactions. She argues that the notion of metaphor is commonly understood to mean the description of one thing in terms of another. This notion presupposes an objective reality. This objectivity may be questioned and if, as suggested by Maturana, (objectivity) is placed in parentheses, "we can begin to appreciate clearly the role we play in the construction of our own perception of reality. for this reason, the notion of the experience of one thing in terms of another, the isophor, suggests that it is this dynamic constructing ability that involves conception and perception -- unfolding and enfolding, that this gives rise to the coordination of actions in recursion which we know as language."

Forsythe stresses the relationship between metaphor and pattern language: "The architecture of how we structure the reality of our imagination is metaphoric. Metaphors are bridges that order the nature of our collective and individual humanity. Metaphor provides the reality to the pattern language of thought for it is the mechanism of ordering newness. Language only lives when each person has his or her own version that must constantly be re-created in each person's mind as he or she interacts with others in the environment. It is only through understanding these inner patterns that we can begin to consciously bring the outer pattern of our lives into harmony." (more on these points at:

The lack of such self-reflexiveness could well prove to be an important contributory factor to the current uncontrolled attitude to procreation ( which is at the root of many current problems that lend themselves to metaphoric reframing (

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