Sometimes I get the coolest emails from people. One in particular, from someone named Eileen, has been sitting in my inbox for two months. It’s given me so much food for thought that I haven’t been able to file it away. The subject line of the email is: “as if…metaphor is the new critical thinking?” That line alone has stayed with me. How thought-provoking. I spent seven years at the University of Chicago studying how adults learn in everyday life. I read everything I could possibly find on the subject and graduated (despite the fine help of a famous advisor) without really having a clue how adults learn in life, wondering why nearly all of the literature on adult learning is so sorely lacking. It wasn’t until several years later when I picked up George Lakoff‘s book Metaphors We Live By that I started getting an understanding of how we learn. As humans, we have bodies and eyesight long before we have words and language. Our learning is shaped by our experience of being in the world (Lakoff calls this “experiential gestalts”). We see and feel the world, and these experiences of being in the world give us metaphors, which shape our future experiences and hence our learning. For example, we might say something like, “She’ll rise to the top.” This is a metaphor–we are viewing this person through a metaphoric lens which has been informed by our own experience of being a body in the world that can rise.
Yes, metaphor is how we critically think. How refreshing to have a richer understanding of critical thinking. One that’s actually useful.