Competing Theories of Cognitive Science

I was digging on my desk last night and found a couple of folders with essays waiting to be discovered. The first included the 2003 Afterward to Lakoff and Johnson’s reprint of Metaphors We Live By, which puts this early groundbreaking work into the context of research done since its first publication. The second was an essay by Martin E. Rosenberg called “Constructing Autopoiesis: The Architectural Body in Light of Contemporary Cognitive Science,” which is a pretty severe critique of the Lakoff-Johnson-Turner paradigm in cognitive science, what he calls “the top-down model” (vs. the “bottom-up” model of Maturana and Varela as well as Deleuze and Guattari):

“I sensed that the notion of embodiment from Lakoff and Johnson was in fact incompatible with that of Varela and Deleuze” (174). . . “What makes Turner’s polemic so astonishing is its seeming ignorance of a trend in cognitive science, represented by the work of Maturana and Varela, called the emergent or enactive paradigm” (176).

For Rosenberg, L&J; aren’t doing what they say they are doing: “Lakoff believes that he has created an emergent-properties account for metaphor-making” (173) but what he/they have done is to impose a top-down paradigm by positing “space as a structuring principle for the representation of concepts” (177). Rosenberg questions the extent to which the systems of meaning that they identify actually emerge from bodily experience. In other words, L&J; aren’t radically embodied enough…

Now the funny thing is that Rosenberg himself ends up using a key conceptual metaphor of spatiality as he sets up his critique:

“However, it is the grounds that we are most interested in, and we can approach those grounds from another direction by examining their claims for an ‘experientialism’ that explodes the distinction between objectivism and subjectivism as fundamental epistemological stances” (177, my emphasis).

This is what happens to me when I read L&J; on the conceptual metaphors (like “More is Up” or “Change is Motion”): we’re trapped in language as a reflection of our bodily experience, and it’s hard not to recognize the truth of what they say. Still, I think Rosenberg has a powerful point to make, and this points to my Imaging Places presentation when I ask how different topological conceptions of space can in-form a change in the way we think with conceptual metaphors of space.


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