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Quotes About Metaphor

compiled by James Lawley

Gregory Bateson

Joseph Griffin

James Lovelock

William H. Calvin

John Grinder

Gareth Morgan

Fritjof Capra

David Grove

Friedrich Nietzsche

Guy Claxton

James Hillman

Hugh Petrie &
Rebecca Oshlag

Richard Dawkins 


Robert Dilts

Julian Jaynes

Stephen Pinker

Robert Dilts &
John Grinder

Mark Johnson

Karl Pribram

Dedre Gentner &
Michael Jeziorski

Arthur Koestle

V.S. Ramachandran &
E.M. Hubbard

Daniel Goleman

Richard Kopp

Ernest Rossi

Brian Goodwin

George Lakoff

Robert Stetson Shaw

George Lakoff &
Mark Johnson

Fritjof Capra, Uncommon Wisdom: Conversations with remarkable people (1988) Bantam, New York [page 76-77]:

"Logic is a very elegant tool," he [Gregory Bateson] said, "and we've got a lot of mileage out of it for two thousand years or so. The trouble is, you know, when you apply it to crabs and porpoises, and butterflies and habit formation" -- his voice trailed off, and he added after a pause, looking out over the ocean -- "you know, to all those pretty things" -- and now, looking straight at me [Capra] -- "logic won't quite do ... because that whole fabric of living things is not put together by logic. You see when you get circular trains of causation, as you always do in the living world, the use of logic will make you walk into paradoxes." ...

He stopped again, and at that moment I suddenly had an insight, making a connection to something I had been interested in for a long time. I got very excited and said with a provocative smile: "Heraclitus knew that! ... And so did Lao Tzu."

"Yes, indeed; and so do the trees over there. Logic won't do for them."

"So what do they use instead?"



"Yes, metaphor. That's how the whole fabric of mental interconnections holds together. Metaphor is right at the bottom of being alive."


William H. Calvin, The Cerebral Code (1996) MIT Press [pages 159-160]:

"Kant said that our metaphors comprise the conceptual spectacles through which we view the world. ... If we are to have meaningful, connected experiences — ones that we can comprehend and reason about — we must be able to discern patterns to our actions, perceptions, and conceptions. Underlying our vast network of interrelated literal meanings (all of those words about objects and actions) are those imaginative structures of understanding such as schema and metaphor, such as the mental imagery that allows us to extrapolate a path, or zoom in on one part of the whole, or zoom out until the trees merge into a forest."


Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (1991) Shambhala, Boston [page 329]:

"Gradually, physicists began to realise that nature, at the atomic level, does not appear as a mechanical universe composed of fundamental building blocks, but rather as a network of relations, and that, ultimately, there are no parts at all in this interconnected web. Whatever we call a part is merely a pattern that has some stability and therefore captures our attention."

[JL - This quote may be about sub-atomic physics but could equally apply to Metaphoric Landscapes]


Guy Claxton,
Hare Brain Tortoise Mind (1997) Fourth Estate, London [page 46]:

"Language, and the ways of knowing which it affords liberates; but it comes with snares of its own. Although it allows us to learn from the experience of others, and to segment and recombine our own knowledge in novel ways, it creates a different kind of rigidity. As Aldous Huxley said: 'Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born - the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people's experience; the victim insofar as it ... bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things'."


Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow (1999) Penguin [pages 311-312]:

"I wonder whether the ability to see analogies, the ability to express meanings in terms of symbolic resemblances to other things, may have been the crucial software advance that propelled human brain evolution over the threshold into a co-evolutionary spiral.

However it began, and whatever its role in the evolution of language, we humans, uniquely among animalkind, have the poet's gift of metaphor: of noticing when things are like other things and using the relation as a fulcrum for our thoughts and feelings. This is an aspect of the gift of imagining. Perhaps this was the key software innovation that triggered our co-evolutionary spiral. Perhaps it was the step from constrained virtual reality, where the brain simulates a model of what the sense organs are telling it, to unconstrained virtual reality, in which the brain simulates things that are not actually there at the time — imagination, daydreaming, 'what if?' calculations about hypothetical futures."


Robert Dilts, 'Darwin's Thinking Path: Strategies of Genius and Somatic Syntax' in Anchor Point Magazine, November 1996, Vol. 10, No. 11:

"It is also important to recognize that, in addition to being able to input, process, and output information, all representational systems have the capability to represent information in at least two ways: literally and figuratively. That is, each of our sensory systems can form maps that have either a direct correspondence or a more metaphorical correspondence to the phenomenon we are representing. For example, we an visualize the white cells of our bodies as we have seen them under the microscope, or as looking like octopi or Pac-Man video game characters. Similarly, we can speak of our brains literally as 'a network of neurons' or figuratively as being 'like a computer.' Likewise, we can experience a particular emotional symptom as a particular set of kinesthetic body sensations or as a 'knot' in the stomach.

As a representational system, our bodies have a similar double capacity. We can express movements which are the literal response to a particular situation, or create expressions which are more metaphorical, as in a dance. A state of anxiety, for instance, may be literally represented by reproducing the physical effects that accompany a feeling of anxiety (such as tensing up the muscle in one's face and shoulders), or figuratively represented by placing one's arms over one's head and eyes, as if hiding from something dangerous. As is the case with our other representational modalities, metaphorical representations are often more meaningful and impactful because they carry multiple levels of information."

[JL - my embolden]


Robert Dilts, John Grinder, Richard Bandler, Leslie C. Bandler, Judith DeLozier
, Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Volume 1, The Study of the Structure of Subjective Experience (1980) Meta Publications, Cupertino, DA [pp 11-13]:

"By understanding that human beings do not operate directly on the world they are experiencing but through sensory transforms of that world, we also understand that "truth" is a metaphor rather than a yardstick calibrated to some absolute standard of external reality. Cultural models, including that of science, do not express "truth," but prescribe domains of experience within which behavior is organized into certain patterns. To the extent that the structural elements, syntax and limits of each model are arbitrarily selected and defined, we might suggest that models, in general, are metaphors for the convenient assumption that experience and reality are the same. Similarly, NLP is not the "truth" either, but another metaphor--a user oriented metaphor designed to generate behavioral options quickly and effectively. ... The overt and implied laws, rules and assumptions of any model function as codes or metaphors for different patterns of neurological organisation aimed at producing a particular set of behavioral outcomes."


Dedre Gentner and Michael Jeziorski, 'The shift from metaphor to analogy in Western science' in Metaphor and Thought, edited by Andrew Ortony  (1993, Second Edition) Cambridge University Press [page 447 and 478]:

"Analogy and metaphor are central to scientific thought. They figure in discovery, as in Rutherford's analogy of the solar system for the atom or Faraday's use of lines of magnetized iron filings to reason about electric fields. They are also used in teaching: novices are told to think of electricity as analogous to water flowing through pipes or of a chemical process as analogous to a ball rolling down a hill. Yet for all its usefulness, analogical thinking is never formally taught to us. We seem to think of it as a natural human skill, and of its use in science as a straightforward extension of its use in commonsense reasoning. For example, William James believed that 'men, taken historically, reason by analogy long before they have learned to reason by abstract characters'. All this points to an appealing intuition: that a faculty for analogical reasoning is an innate part of human cognition ...

This research implies that although the apprehension of similarity in its various forms may be universal among humans, conventions for how and when to use it are not. There are variations both across and within cultures in the ways humans use similarity to categorize and reason about the world."


Daniel Goleman
, Emotional Intelligence (1996) Bloomsbury, London [p. 294]:

"The logic of the emotional mind is associative; it takes elements that symbolize a reality, or trigger a memory of it, to be the same as that reality. That is why similes, metaphors and images speak directly to the emotional mind. ... If the emotional mind follows this logic and it's rules, with one element standing for another, things need not necessarily be defined by their objective identity: what matters is how they are perceived; things are as they seem. ... Indeed, in emotional life, identities can be like a hologram in the sense that a single part evokes a whole. "


Brian Goodwin,
How the Leopard Changed its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity (1994) Phoenix, London [page 32]:

"The point ... is not to conclude that there is something wrong with Darwin's theory because it is clearly linked to some very powerful cultural myths and metaphors.  All theories have metaphorical dimensions which I regard as not only inevitable but also extremely important.  For it is these dimensions that give depth and meaning to scientific ideas, that add to their persuasiveness, and colour the way we see reality."


Joseph Griffin,
The Origin of Dreams: How and Why We Evolved to Dream (1997) The Therapist Ltd, Halisham [page 21]:

"That dreams use metaphor has been noted by many theorists but that all dreams use metaphor is a new finding. My research indicates that, not only do all dreams use metaphor, but that the entire dream sequence is a metaphorical expression of a waking concern. This means that everybody and everything in the dream sequence is an analogous substitute for some person, thing or event in waking life. ... We are not seeing metaphor used as a dramatic device to highlight certain principles or concepts as might be used in the creation of a work of art, but rather the translation of a waking concern into an analogous sensory scenario."


John Grinder
'An Interview with John Grinder' in NLP World, Vol 4, No 1, March 1997 [page 46]:

"All which is not concrete is metaphoric -- clearly, this involves the vast majority of our everyday experiences. The structure of the unconscious - easily the most influential factor in our success in life - or more correctly said, the relationship which we have with our unconscious is easily the most important factor in our success in life - is that of metaphor.

The unconscious contains no nouns, only verbs - the part of language which carries the representation of the relationships and processes which determine the quality of our lives. This in part accounts for the fact that the typical production of the unconscious is metaphoric: dreams, poems, dances, songs and stories."


David Grove
and Basil Panzer, Resolving Traumatic Memories (1989) Irvington [pages 8-10]:

"The first objective is for the therapist to keep the language clean and allow the client's language to manifest itself.  The second objective is that the clean language used by the therapist be a facilitatory language; in the sense that it will ease entry into the matrix of experience, and into an altered state that may be helpful for the client to internally access his experience.

By asking clean questions we shape the location and the direction of the client's search for the answer.  In asking a question we do not impose upon the client any value, construct or presupposition about what he should answer. ... The client is free to find an answer and may keep the answer to himself.  It may not be necessary for the client to share his memories, thoughts or feelings, or express them to the therapist. In many therapies the object of asking questions is to gather information from the client. Using our approach, ... questions are not asked to gather information or to understand the client's perspectives.  We ask our questions so that the client can understand his perspective internally, in his own matrix. ... We want to leave our questions embedded in the client's experience. If the client were to come out of [the] matrix to explain matters, a different environment would be created.

Our questions will have given a form, made manifest some particular aspect of the client's internal experience in a way that he has not experienced before."


James Hillman, The Soul's Code (1996) Random House [pages 39-40]:

"Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.

The daimon motivates. It protects. It invents and persists with stubborn fidelity. It resists compromising reasonableness and often forces deviance and oddity upon its keeper, especially when neglected or opposed. It offers comfort and can pull you into its shell, but it cannot abide innocence. It can make the body ill. It is out of step with time, finding all sorts of faults, gaps, and knots in the flow of life - and it prefers them. It has affinities with myth, since it is itself a mythical being and thinks in mythical patterns.

It has much to do with feelings of uniqueness, of grandeur and with the restlessness of the heart, its impatience, its dissatisfaction, its yearning. It needs its share of beauty. It wants to be seen, witnessed, accorded recognition, particularly by the person who is its caretaker. Metaphoric images are its first unlearned language, which provides the poetic basis of mind, making possible communication between all people and all things by means of metaphors. "

[JL - my embolden]


Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston, USA [pages 60 & 65]:

"We invent mind-space inside our own heads as well as the heads of others ... we assume these 'spaces' without question. They are a part of what it is to be conscious. Moreover, things that in the physical-behavioural world that do not have a spatial quality are made to have such in consciousness. Otherwise we cannot be conscious of them.

Time is an obvious example. You cannot, absolutely cannot think of time except by spatializing it. Consciousness is always a spatialization in which the diachronic is turned into the synchronic*, in which what has happened in time is excerpted ** and seen in side-by-sideness."

"... Consciousness is an operation rather than a thing, a repository, or a function. It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog 'I' that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it."

* [JL: In NLP terms, 'Through/Across Time' is turned into 'In Time' respectively]

** [JL: In NLP terms, Deleted, Distorted and Generalised]


Mark Johnson
, The Body in the Mind (1987) University of Chicago Press. pages xiv-xv:

"Metaphor [is] a pervasive mode of understanding by which we project patterns from one domain of experience in order to structure another domain of a different kind. So conceived metaphor is not merely a linguistic mode of expression; rather, it is one of the chief cognitive structures by which we are able to have coherent, ordered experiences that we can reason about and make sense of. Through metaphor, we make use of patterns that obtain in our physical experience to organise our more abstract understanding. Understanding via metaphorical projection from the concrete to the abstract makes use of physical experience in two ways. First, our bodily movements and interactions in various physical domains of experience are structured, and that structure can be projected by metaphor onto abstract domains. Second, metaphorical understanding is not merely a matter of arbitrary fanciful projection from anything to anything with no constraints. Concrete bodily experience not only constrains the "input" to the metaphorical projections, but also the nature of the projections themselves, that is the kinds of mappings that can occur across domains."


Arthur Koestler,
The Act of Creation (1994) Dell/Laurel, New York, USA. [page 178]:

"The creative act, insofar as it depends on unconscious resources, presupposes a relaxing of controls and a regression to modes of ideation which are indifferent to the rules of verbal logic, unperturbed by contradiction, untouched by the dogmas and taboos of so called common sense. At the decisive stage of discovery the codes of disciplined reasoning are suspended - as they are in a dream, the reverie, the manic flight of thought, when the steam of ideation is free to drift, by its own emotional gravity, as it were, in an apparent 'lawless' fashion."

[JL - The above could be a perfect description of what happens during the Metaphor Therapy pioneered by David Grove]


Richard R. Kopp, Metaphor Therapy, Brunner/Mazell, New York, 1995:

"The power of metaphorical interventions may lie in the fact that metaphorical images are distributed throughout the brain in a holographic manner. If so, then exploring linguistic metaphors and early memory metaphors may activate this expansive network, and transforming metaphors may reverberate throughout the entire range of distribution of the image and/or memory."


George Lakoff,
'The Neurocognitive Self' in The Science of The Mind, edited by Robert Solso and Dominic Massaro  (1995) Oxford University Press [page 229]:

"We have discovered, over the past decade and a half, that a conceptual system contains an enormous subsystem of thousands of conceptual metaphors -- mappings that allow us to understand the abstract in terms of the concrete.  Without this system, we could not engage in abstract thought at all -- in thought about causation, purpose, love, morality, or thought itself.  Without the metaphor system, there could be no philosophizing, no theorizing, and little general understanding our everyday personal and social lives.  But the operation of this vast system of conceptual metaphor is largely unconscious.  We reason metaphorically throughout most of our waking, and even our dreaming lives, but for the most part are unaware of it.  At present, the metaphor system of English has barely begun to be worked out in full detail, and the metaphor systems of other languages have been studied only cursorily.  Working out the details would be a huge job -- not as big as the human genome project, but most likely more beneficial.  For what is at stake is our understanding of ourselves and our daily lives, and the possibilities for improvement through that understanding."

[JL - Symbolic Modelling facilitates an individual to achieve such an understanding of their personal metaphorical system.]


George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (1999) Basic Books [pages 567-568]:

"The mechanism by which spirituality becomes passionate is metaphor. An ineffable God requires metaphor not only to be imagined but to be approached, exhorted, evaded, confronted, struggled with, and loved. Through metaphor, the vividness, intensity, and meaningfulness of ordinary experience becomes the basis of a passionate spirituality. An effable God becomes vital through metaphor: The Supreme Being. The Prime Mover. The Creator. The Almighty. The Father. The King of Kings. Shepherd. Potter. Lawgiver. Judge. Mother. Lover. Breath.

The vehicle by which we are moved in passionate spirituality is metaphor. The mechanism of such metaphor is bodily. It is a neural mechanism that recruits our abilities to perceive, to move, to feel, and to envision in the service not only of theoretical and philosophical thought, but of spiritual experience."


James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia (2007) Penguin [pages 20-21]:

"I have found it useful to imagine the Earth as like an animal. It has never been more than a metaphor – and an aide pensee. Recently, on becoming aware of global heating, I have thought of the Earth as a camel. Camels, unlike most animals, regulate their body temperatures at two different but stable states. ... Metaphor is important because to deal with, understand, and even ameliorate the fix we are now in over global change requires us to know the true nature of the Earth and imagine it as the largest living thing in the solar system, not something inanimate like that disreputable contraption 'spaceship Earth'."


Gareth Morgan, Imaginization (1997) Sage, unnumbered page:

"Ideas about organization are always based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and manage situations in a particular way. Metaphors create insight. But they also distort. They have strengths. But they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing, they create ways of not seeing. There can be no single theory or metaphor that gives an all-purpose point of view, and there can be no simple "correct theory" for structuring everything we do. The challenge facing modern managers is to become accomplished in the art of using metaphor to find new ways of seeing, understanding, and shaping their actions."


Friedrich Nietzsche
, The Viking Portable Nietzsche, p.46-7, (Walter Kaufmann translation):

" What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymy's, and anthropomorphism -- in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors -- in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all ... "


Hugh Petrie and Rebecca Oshlag
, 'Metaphor and Learning' in Metaphor and Thought, edited by Andrew Ortony  (1993, Second Edition) Cambridge University Press [page 582 and 589]:

"... the very possibility of learning something radically new can only be understood by presupposing the operation of something very much like metaphor. This is not just the heuristic claim that metaphors are often useful in learning, but the epistemic claim that metaphor, or something very much like it, is what renders possible and intelligible the acquisition of new knowledge.

"The educational functions we are proposing for metaphor are that it does, indeed, make learning more memorable, and that it does, indeed, help one move from the more familiar to the less familiar. But we are also claiming that metaphor is what enables one to pass from the more familiar to the unfamiliar in the sense that it provides a key mechanism for changing our modes of representing the world in thought and language. It provides this mechanism not through a direct labelling, or through explicit rules of application, but rather because in order to understand an interactive metaphor, one must focus one's activities on the nodes of relative stability in the world. Language bumps into the world at those places where our activity runs up against similar boundaries in diverse situations."

[JL- my embolden]


Stephen Pinker,
How The Mind Works (1997) The Softback Preview, London [page 355]:

Space and force pervade language. Many cognitive scientists (including me) have concluded from their research on language that a handful of concepts about places, paths, motions, agency, and causation underlie the literal or figurative meanings of tens of thousands of words and constructions, not only in English but in every other language that has been studied. ... These concepts and relations appear to be the vocabulary and syntax of mentalese, the language of thought. ... And the discovery that the elements of mentalese are based on places and projectiles has implications for both where the language of thought came from and how we put it to use in modern times.


Karl Pribram,
'Metaphors to Models: the use of analogy in neuropsychology' in Metaphors in the History of Psychology, edited by David E. Leary (1990) Cambridge University Press [page 79]:

"Brain scientists have, in fact, repeatedly and fruitfully used metaphors, analogies, and models in their attempts to understand their data. The theme of this essay is that only by the proper use of analogical reasoning can current limits of understanding be transcended. Furthermore, the major metaphors used in the brain sciences during this century have been provided by inventions that, in turn, were produced by brains. Thus, the proper use of analogical reasoning sets in motion a self-reflective process by which, metaphorically speaking, brains come to understand themselves."

[JL- my embolden. While Pribram recognises "brains come to understand themselves" is metaphorical, is he aware that, in the same sentence, "sets in motion" and "reflective" are also metaphors?]


V.S. Ramachandran
and E.M. Hubbard, "Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes", Scientific American, May 2003, Vol. 288, No. 5, pp 42-50.

"According to one study, the condition [synesthesia] is seven times as common in creative people as in the general population. One skill that many creative people share is the faculty for using metaphor ("it is the east, and Juliet is the sun"). It is as if their brains are set up to make links between seemingly unrelated domains -- such as the sun and a beautiful woman. ... Our studies of the neurobiological basis of synesthesia suggests that a faculty for metaphor -- for seeing deep links between superficially dissimilar and unrelated things --provide a key seed for the eventual emergence of language."


Ernest Rossi
, The Psychobiology of Mindbody Healing (1993) Norton [page 39]:

"When Jung's patients became overwhelmed with emotions, he sometimes would have them draw a picture of their feelings. Once the feelings were expressed in the form of imagery, the images could be encouraged to speak to one another. As soon as a dialogue could take place, the patient was well embarked on the process of reconciling different aspects of his dissociated psyche."


Robert Stetson Shaw, quoted in James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science, Viking, New York, 1987. p. 262:

" 'You don't see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it' [Robert Stetson] Shaw said, echoing Thomas S Kuhn."


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