The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Metaphors are Fuzzy

The US philosopher Earl MacCormac advanced a unified theory of metaphor with broad implications for meaning and truth. 

MacCormac rejected both the "tension" theory (which locates the difference between metaphor and analogy in the emotional tension generated by the juxtaposition of anomalous referents) and "controversion" theory pioneered by the US philosopher Monroe Beardsley (which locates that difference in the falsity produced by a literal reading of the identification of the two referents) and the "deviance" theory (which locates that difference in the ungrammaticality of the juxtaposition of two referents).  MacCormac thinks that a metaphor is recognized as a metaphor on the basis of the semantic anomaly produced by the juxtaposition of referents. And this also means that metaphor must be distinct from ordinary language (as opposed to the view that all language is metaphorical).  

MacCormac was influenced by the US philosopher Philip Wheelwright, who had classified metaphors into "epiphors" (metaphors that express the existence of something) and "diaphors" (metaphors that imply the possibility of something). Diaphor and epiphor measure the likeness and the dissimilarity of the attributes of the referents.  A diaphor can become an epiphor (when the object is found to really exist) and an epiphor can become a literal expression (when the term has been used for so long that people have forgotten its origin). 

Metaphor is a process that exists at three levels: a language process (from ordinary language to diaphor to epiphor back to ordinary language); a semantic and syntactic process (its linguistic explanation); and a cognitive process (to acquire new knowledge).  Therefore a theory of metaphor requires three levels:  a surface (or literal) level, a semantic level and a cognitive level.

The semantics of metaphor can then be formalized using the mathematical tool of fuzzy logic.  Literal truth, figurality and falsity can be viewed as forming a continuum of possibilities rather than a discrete set of possibilities. The figurality of the metaphorical language, in particular, can be viewed as a continuum of "partial" truths that extends from absolute falsehood to absolute truth. These partial truths can be represented by fuzzy values.

This is expressed by a real number on a scale from zero to one: zero is absolute falsehood; the interval from zero to a certain value represents falsehood; the interval from that value to another value represents diaphor; the interval from that value to another value represents epiphor; and the last interval to one represents truth (with one representing absolute truth). Metaphors are born as diaphors and, as they become more and more familiar through commonplace use, slowly mutate into epiphors, thereby losing their "emotive tension".

Language can then be represented mathematically as a hierarchical network in n-dimensional space with each of the nodes of the network a fuzzy set (defining a semantic marker).  When unlikely markers are juxtaposed, the degrees of membership of one semantic marker in the fuzzy set representing the other semantic marker can be expressed in a four-valued logic (so that a metaphor is not only true or false).

MacCormac argued that, as cognitive processes, metaphors mediate between culture and mind, influencing both cultural and biological evolution.

 


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