This is your brain! This is your brain on Metaphor!

I’ve said it before and I will say it again - Harriet the Blog is absolutely wonderful!!! They have LOTS of blog posts everyday! Had to repost this gooder from them -

“Exploring the Brain on Metaphor.

It shouldn’t surprise those of a poetic persuasion to learn that similar brain activities control both empathy and the ability to process metaphor. The human tendencies to relate to others and to form relationships from abstraction are the two most basic requirements of enjoying literature: appreciating language and then letting it go to work on our emotions (in the big, gooey, non-scientific sense).

Contributing to The Stone, The New York Times‘ online forum for philosophy, biology and neurology professor Robert Sapolsky forgives us for confusing these physical and metaphorical effects.

Nelson Mandela was wrong when he advised, “Don’t talk to their minds; talk to their hearts.” He meant talk to their insulas and cingulate cortices and all those other confused brain regions, because that confusion could help make for a better world.

Sapolsky cites many studies where this confusion comes into play in startling ways; hygiene, evaluating employees, beverage temperature. These are all complex variables of modern culture, and on the surface might seem purely subjective, but symbolism has roots in our most basic survival instincts.

Consider an animal (including a human) that has started eating some rotten, fetid, disgusting food. As a result, neurons in an area of the brain called the insula will activate. Gustatory disgust. Smell the same awful food, and the insula activates as well. Think about what might count as a disgusting food (say, taking a bite out of a struggling cockroach). Same thing.

Now read in the newspaper about a saintly old widow who had her home foreclosed by a sleazy mortgage company, her medical insurance canceled on flimsy grounds, and got a lousy, exploitative offer at the pawn shop where she tried to hock her kidney dialysis machine. You sit there thinking, those bastards, those people are scum, they’re worse than maggots, they make me want to puke … and your insula activates. Think about something shameful and rotten that you once did … same thing. Not only does the insula “do” sensory disgust; it does moral disgust as well. Because the two are so viscerally similar. When we evolved the capacity to be disgusted by moral failures, we didn’t evolve a new brain region to handle it. Instead, the insula expanded its portfolio.

So how does converting these instincts to symbols aid us evolutionarily?

But if the brain confusing reality and literalness with metaphor and symbol can have adverse consequences, the opposite can occur as well. At one juncture just before the birth of a free South Africa, Nelson Mandela entered secret negotiations with an Afrikaans general with death squad blood all over his hands, a man critical to the peace process because he led a large, well-armed Afrikaans resistance group. They met in Mandela’s house, the general anticipating tense negotiations across a conference table. Instead, Mandela led him to the warm, homey living room, sat beside him on a comfy couch, and spoke to him in Afrikaans. And the resistance melted away.

So great!!! Check them out for the full article !

Katherena Vermette