Metaphors in Action


Assignment 1: Humans

Read John Locke's description of the mind as a printing press and human memory as a storehouse: the mind has been "stored" with ideas that have been printed on it as if it were paper. Read through Vannevar Bush's very different description of how the mind works, as a web (a spider web?) of trails (paths worn by feet walking through the woods).

Look at Vannevar Bush's biography. Read also the excerpt from Steven Johnson explaining Bush's influence on Doug Engelbart, inventor of the "desktop" and the "mouse," the two inventions that made personal computing possible. Did Bush's way of thinking about the mind stimulate new new technologies? What is the difference between thinking of the human mind as printed text and as a web of trails? What does the metaphor mind="printed paper" highlight and what does it hide about the way minds work? What does the metaphor mind="web of trails" highlight and hide?


Assignment 2

If you read through the encyclopedia and dictionary entries, you will see that there is a moment when we switched from talking about “sense impressions” to “sense data”: given the definitions of “data” from the O.E.D., its use as a term for bits of information stored on a computer, mightn't we have switched from thinking about minds as printing presses (impression) to minds as computers? If so, what would be the implications of that switch?

To answer that question, first ask yourself, what ideas about how humans think are highlighted and hidden by the metaphor mind="printing press"? What ideas are highlighted and hidden by mind="computer"? Now you can see some differences in thinking about human minds, a change that has happened historically in the way we conceive humans, just as the way we conceived bats changed throughout history. What did the printing-press model or metaphor help us understand better about human minds? what worse? Answer the same question about the computer metaphor. You have now figured out some of the implications of that historical switch!


Assignment 3

What metaphors do you find for how the human mind works in the collection of quotations ("How the Human Mind Works")? Do these metaphors have consequences for actions?