Previous: paranomesNext: the problem of unityContents

Society of Mind

29.4 cross-realm correspondences

We often describe the things we like as elevated, lofty, or heavenly. Why do we see such things in terms of altitude in space? We often speak of time itself in spatial terms, as though the future were ahead of us while the past remains behind. We think of problems as obstacles to go around and turn to using diagrams to represent things that don't have shapes at all. What enables us to turn so many skills to so many other purposes? These tendencies reflect the systematic cross-realm correspondences embodied in our families of polynemes and paranomes.

At each instant, several realms may be engaged in active processing. Each has separate processes but must compete for control of the ascending nemes that lead into the language- agency. Which polyneme will play the role of Origin in the next sentence-frame? Will it be Mary's physical arm or hand, or Mary's social role as party guest? It sometimes seems

as though the language-agency can focus on only one realm at a time.

This could be one reason why language scientists find it hard to classify the roles words play in sentence-frames. No sooner does a language-agency assign some polynemes and isonomes to a phrase than various mind divisions proceed to alter how they're used inside each different realm. Every shift of control from one realm to another affects which particular nemes will be next to influence the language-agency. This causes moment-to-moment changes in the apparent meaning of a phrase.

At one moment, control over language may reside in the realm of thought that is working most successfully; at the next moment, it may be the one experiencing the most difficulty. Each shift in attention affects how the various expressions will be interpreted, and this in turn can affect which realm will next take center stage.

For example, the sentence Mary gives Jack the kite might start by arousing a listener's concern with Mary's social role as party guest. That would cause the pronomes of a social-frame to represent Mary's obligation to bring a present. But then the listener's possession realm might become concerned with Mary's ownership of that gift or with how she got control of it. This shift from social to possessional concern could then affect the processing of future sentences. For example, it will influence whether a phrase like Jack's kite is interpreted to refer to the kite that Jack happens to be holding or to a different kite that Jack happens to own.

Every mental realm accumulates its own abilities but also discovers, from time to time, how to exploit the skills of other realms. Thus the mind as a whole can learn to exploit the frames developed in the realm of space both for representing events in time and for thinking about social relationships. Perhaps our chaining skills are the best example of this; no matter which realm or realms they originate in, we eventually learn to apply them to any collection of entities, events, or ideas (in any realm whatever) that we can arrange into sequences. Then chains assume their myriad forms, such as spatial order, psychological causality, or social dominance.