From Symbols to Meaning The Role of Metaphors Definition of Metaphors A figure of speech that compares 2 domains of experience. No difference between metaphors and similes in cultural anthropology; the most important aspect is that 2 domains of experience are compared, e.g. Brad is like a Lion, Emily is like a Flower. Metaphoric thought is possible because language is a symbolic system. Metaphors are universal building blocks of human thought Our worldview is grounded in and expressed through metaphoric thought, e.g. ‘time is (like) money’, ‘argument is war’. Key metaphors are based on body orientations, e.g. up/down, front/back, left/right, inside/outside. Example: Happiness is expressed as being ‘up’, high status is also expressed as ‘up’, high income is ‘up’, productivity is ‘up’. Therefore, ‘smart high income earners are productive and happy’ appears to make sense, i. e. it has coherence. This is because there is a coherence in its spatial metaphors, as all these qualities are compared with ‘up.’ The coherence and apparent sense of key metaphors and symbolic associations is due to the orientation of our bodies. Metaphors and Binary Thinking Some Anthropologists think that the human brain is wired to think in binary, relational terms. In other words, we know what hot means because it is contrasted to cold, we know maleness because it is contrasted to femaleness, night because it is not day, and so on. These binary differences can then become linked to form metaphoric pairs, e.g. male is to female as cold is to hot, etc. E.g. of Levi-Strauss on South American origin myths: nature/culture as raw food/cooked food. Dominant Symbols A dominant symbol in a culture is one that is associated with a range of important meanings, e.g. the cross in North America. Example: the milk tree in Ndumbu society: it stands for the matrilineage, for kinship, for mother’s milk, for the knowledge gained in initiation rites. When a symbol has multiple meanings, we say it is multivocal. Symbols in Medical Textbooks: The Egg and the Sperm Descriptions of conception are based on a binary metaphoric opposition between eggs and sperm and adult females and males. Egg=good woman=passive Sperm=good man=active Martin: this view influenced research. When later research changed the view of human conception, the description remained caught in previous stereotypes. Menstruation in medical textbooks: failed production.