Category Archives: conceptual metaphors

Music is mapped onto Space

We all know that as per the conceptual metaphor theory, music (especially melody and tones) is mapped onto space. Thus, we speak of high notes and low notes and thus use spatial terms to conceptualize the musical scale.

A new study by New Zealand researchers indicates that this mapping may not be just metaphorical and conceptual, but there might be neural basis and mechanisms that indicate that same mental abilities, and possibly brain areas, are involved in music and spatial represnetations.

The study found that people who have amusia, or are tone deaf, are also poor at mental spatial rotation tasks. The fact that tone deafness and spatial abilities are correlated is a strong indicator that same mental abilities may be underlying the representations of space and tones .

In a second experiment, they found that doing a mental rotation task and a tone related task simultaneously caused poorer performance in normal controls , than in amusics. This is indicative of the fact that spatial and melodic representations are related and cause greater interference in normal controls, than in amusics who have both capacities in diminished form originally and so preform relatively better than the normal controls.

If it is true that the same brain areas/networks, mechanisms are involved in spatial and melodic representations than there seems to be a strong case for embodiment and also for conceptual metaphor theory which posits that abstract concepts like melodies and tones are mapped onto concrete entities like space.

Moral Intuitions (alternate title : Who framed roger rabbit?)

Disclaimer: Haven’t seen the movie “Who framed roger rabbit”, nor know the storyline- just used the alternate title as it is eye-catching:-))

Classical Moral intuitions research has focused on identifying how we arrive at moral conclusions. The Kohlberg’s developmental theory is based around identifying the reasoning process, by which, the children arrive at a moral decision regarding a moral dilemma; or identifying an action that would be ethical in a given situation; or forming a moral judgment regarding a given event-outcome.

Much of the discourse is limited by the few example problems around which these dilemmas are framed. A good example is the famous Trolley problem, in which one has to decide whether it would be worth sacrificing a single person, in lieu of five or six others; and its variations involving whether one is in direct contact with the person and is performing an active action of ‘sacrificing’ the person by pushing him/her from the footbridge; or is merely a bystander and passively (from a distance) pulling a switch that would direct the trolley to a different track. Variations include whether the person (who if sacrificed could save five or six others) is related to you, or whether he is innocent (a child playing on an unused track) vis-a-vis those being sacrificed are careless and thus not worth saving ( stupid children playing on running tracks).

While some framing of this Trolley problem are in utilitarian terms- one life versus many others, other framings are in emotional & selfish versus sacrificial & rational terms -your child or your action vs other children and universal action (by universal action I mean the same action irrespective of whether you are in touch with the person (the footbridge case) or are merely pulling a lever).

The framing involving ‘good/ careful’ vs. ‘bad/careless’ in the good-boy-on-unused-track and bad-boys-on-used-tracks fascinates me the most.

At the outset, let me clarify that in regards to moral dilemmas of this sort, my personal position is reasonably clear. In a discussion some years back with some good friends (not over a cup of coffee; but over an intranet discussion group:-) , while we were discussing this dilemma, I had surmised that while we may debate endlessly what the action should be, the most reasonable guess one can make is that there would be no action at all. In the Trolley switch case, this means that the person my get so much frozen by the decision pressure and inability to arrive at a conclusion, that he/she may not pull the switch at all (the switch that would direct the train/ trolley to the unused track ). Instead, he may just remain frozen- just like one gets frozen sometimes in times of extreme fear- a third reaction apart from the usual fight or flight response. Yet, dilemmas, such as these, and our ‘hypothetical’ responses to these may somehow tell us more about how we reason about moral situations- whether it is post hoc (just like it is claimed that Consciousness is post hoc)- and if so, why would we be constructing different post-hoc moral reasons for the same dilemma when it is framed in different terms. (Hauser’s research shows that the intuitions are different in the classical trolley (switch) versus the personal contact (footbridge) cases.)

Marc Hauser’s lab is doing some excellent research in this field and though I have taken their Moral Sense Test, I have a feeling that I have stumbled on a new type of framing and dilemma (that was not present in their tests…though one can never be sure:0) that may enable us to reflect a bit more on our moral reasoning process.

I’ll frame it first in neutral terms, and then try to refine it further. Let’s call this the Aeroplane problem. Suppose that you are traveling in an Aeroplane, and there is only one doctor present on board, and the Air hostess staff is not sufficiently educated in all first aids. Suppose further that you are way above ground, with any emergency landing at least 20 minutes distant. Suppose, that their are two people on the Airplane, who start getting a third heart attack (they are both carrying medical histories/ badges that tell that it is the third and potentially fatal heart attack (BTW, why is the myth of 3rd heart attack being fatal so enduring?) ), and the heart attacks are almost simultaneous, and only the lone doctor on board can give them the first-aid and resuscitation (CPR) that could ensure that they both remain alive, till the airplane makes an emergency landing (the emergency landing may itself risk the life of all passengers slightly). Now, when all other details are unknown, it is potentially futile to ask which one to attend- you may as well choose one patient and concentrate all efforts on him/her.

Suppose, one of them is an octogenarian, while the other is a teenager. Now, which one should the doctor choose? Suppose one is an old lady, while the other is a young brat, which one should the doctor choose?

Suppose the Doctor has Asthma, and no body else knows how to administer the oral inhalation medicine correctly except for the doctor; then should the doctor take care of a patient or should he/she take care of himself/herself? what if there is only one patient and one doctor? What if there is one doctor and many patients? Would the decision be easy?

Suppose further, that out of the two persons, one is faking heart attack symptoms, while the other is genuinely suffering; should the doctor be able to find out who is who? Would this make the dilemma easier? Would we (the airplane travelers) respect the doctor’s decision and let him /her attend to the person s/he thinks is genuinely suffering from heart attack?

Suppose further, that both the patients are terrorists and the doctor says that both are faking symptoms, potentially to hijack the plane; would we listen to the doctor and let him not attend to any of the potential causalities? Or would we try to help ourselves, potentially causing bedlam and fulfilling the plans of the terrorists?

I am sure by now you can conceive of other similar scenarios!! (one that comes to my mind is both the doctor and patient are accomplices and terrorists on-board to cause bedlam and mayhem and hijack the plane. Please let’s add as many scenarios in the comments as possible.)

Now let us take a moment to reflect on our moral reasoning process. I believe most of us would be prone to go with our intuitions and would think about rationalizing our decisions later. Thank god, we do have some moral intuitions to guide us in time of indecision/ threat perception.

Suppose that instead of framing the last few scenarios in an anxiety provoking setting (involving terrorists and what-nots), we framed this in terms of forward-looking, futuristic terms.

Suppose that one of the patients is a very promising child (has an IQ of 200/ or is a sport prodigy and is as well-known as Sania Mirza) while the other is again a famous scientist indulging in some ground-breaking research (Say Marie Curie, whose Radioactivity discovery is definitely a very useful discovery); then who should the doctor choose? Should she look at their achievements or potentials? Or should she remain immune to all this and dispassionately ignore all (ir)relevant information? or should s/he be affected by age, gender, race, achievement, potential etc?

Suppose further that instead of well-known celebrities like Abdul Kalam , or Sachin Tendulkar, who are present in the plane, the younger patient is a product of genetic engineering, destined to become a great scientist/ artist/ whatever; while the older patient is working on a top-secret classified dual use research which potentially could help humanity overcome the impending fuel crisis (and related arctic melting, ozone hole etc crisis-she is working on a hydrogen powered (water as fuel) engine, which could be used in automobiles as well as in outer Space like Mars, where only water may be available for refueling). Also, both these persons are not well-known currently and not recognizable by the doctor/ crew/ passengers. Death of the older person would put humanity back by at least 40 years- only after 40 years would someone like the younger patient that the doctor saved (in case the doctor let the older patient die), could have worked out the designs for using water as a fuel again. Now which one should the doctor attend to? Should s/he attend to the young one or the old one? The future or the present?

Should she take the time out to see the credentials (the proof that this child is genetically modified to have a good IQ/ whatever and the proof that this scientist is indeed working on classified research that may potentially help millions) of the patients or should she just act on her intuitions? Why is the reasoning different here as compared to the threat-scenario?

What if the instead of Science frames above, we used frames of Art(I mean artistic frames and not the frames that visual artists use for paintings:-)….Art is much more than visual art:-).

Suppose, that one of them (the older one) could become a Paul Gauguin; while the other (younger one) could become a Van Gogh (again I mean an artist like Gogh and Gauguin, not their works of arts:-) ), now which one should the doctor choose? Why does it become irrelevant as to who should be saved if the frame is of Art, but a question of life-and-death if the frame is of Science?

Finally, some things to note and think about: the Airplane problem is entirely framed in life-saving context (doctor helping save a life); while the Trolley problem is entirely in death-prevention context (someone acting messiah and preventing death of five Vs One; good vs careless etc). Again, Doctors usually give rise to feminine frames with one assuming a doctor to be a female; while the Foreman’s are usually entirely male. I hardly believe that framing is all of the problem; or that the framing is done deliberately: the framer of the problems/ dilemmas is equally susceptible to the same framing effects that the readers have experienced-while formulating a problem (a moral dilemma) one may fall prey to the same sorts of Frames that we become susceptible to when thinking about the problems (the moral dilemmas). Thus, the aphorisms, that (paraphrasing) “It is equally important to ask the right questions, as it is to find the answers to the problems”. Translated in the language of the scientific research world, this becomes that “it is important to design good experiments/ observation-study-setups and be very careful about the study designs.”

Returning back to the issue of framing of moral problems, if the frame exists it is also because of our history: just like the moral intuitions – that at times help us survive and at times let us fall prey to frames- are due to our shared evolutionary history: so too the frames we use to cast and perceive the moral dilemmas are rooted in our history ( Nothing profound- what I mean by shared history is that someone formulated the problems in those terms, silly!!.)

I believe the problem is more with our inability to detach ourselves form frames and take more reasonable perspectives and know when to use our intuitions and when reason. As the saying goes “It is by the fortune of God that, in this country, we have three benefits: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and the wisdom never to use either.” Mark Twain (1835-1910). Alternately, another related saying that comes to mind(paraphrasing) ” God, give us the ability to change what we can, humility to accept what we cannot and the wisdom to know what is what”. We perhaps cannot change the historical frames or intuition that are in place, but we can definitely change our moral reasoning powers and following a developmental framework have compassion and understanding towards those who might not be employing the highest levels of moral reasoning.

Finally, If you are interested in my moral intuitions, I hypothesize, that the doctor (in the plane) would not be affected by Age, gender, race, potential, achievement etc would overcome his/ her Implicit Associations and would not try to find-out or gather-information deliberately to determine which life is more valuable- He/she would end up rushing between the patients and helping both at the same time; but if he/she is an intelligent doctor, would definitely save his/her life first, if suffering from Asthma, so that he/she could take care of others. This might seem like a rationalization (saving one’s life so that one can help in whatever small way others), but one should use intelligence, even before emotions or moral instincts take center stage.

I believe that in the Airplane Scenario described above, there is a potential for a histrionic/hysteric reaction of the crew and travelers, as everyone tries to help the patients, (especially if no doctor is on-board) and that this may be the reverse of the bystander-effect like phenomenon I have hypothesized might happen in the Trolley problem (freezing and taking no action when a train is approaching towards five or six humans or towards a lone human). To make more sense of preceding line please read comments by Mc
Ewen on Mind Hacks post titled ” “Mass Hysteria” closes school”. Also, a solemn and personal request, please do not jump to conclusions, read or try to co-relate things out of context- or try to make sense of psychological concepts based on everyday usage of terms. If you do not understand any concepts mentioned above, read related literature and focus on that aspect alone- to the exclusion of other distracting eye-catchers. In case of any persisting confusions, feel free to ask your local psychiatrist/ psychologist/ psychology professor as to what those concepts mean.

PS: I believe that the post has become difficult-to-read, this was not done intentionally. Again, there might be spelling mistakes/ grammatical errors- don’t get alarmed/ confused that this reflects racing thoughts etc- just point them out and I’ll fix them- most of the times the editorial errors (some of them quite funny) are due to lack of time to revise/ lethargy to read. Also, this is also a part of my ongoing series, where I have posited that their may be gender differences in cognitive styles. Some of that may also be a required reading.

Unification of psychology in either direction

There is an interesting endeavor going on at PsyBlog to document the unity of psychology journey and current issues.

I got hooked to the same as I am also currently reading Consillience by E. O. Wilson and thus on the lookout for unified theories. Thanks to Mind Hacks via which I discovered this thread.

As per the Tree of Knowledge of Henriques, Psychology (on the mind plane) sits between Biology (on the life plane) and social Sciences (on the culture plane). He bridges the efforts of Skinner (towards the biological end of the spectrum) with Freud (towards the sociological end) as under the umbrella of psychological domain.

What interests me, is my own obsession at the two ends of the spectrum. While the Cognitive Map and research of Tolman seems to me a marking phase in psychology where behaviorism led way to the more cognitive approaches belonging to psychology proper; I am also intrigued by Conceptual Metaphors and linguistics which sits at the intersection of psychological phenomenon like thoughts and cultural phenomenon like language and its effects (the sapir-whorf hypothesis).

Hopefully my idiosyncratic tastes in Psychology would help the readers onwards on their own journey of unifying the Psychological stream of inquiry.

Conceptual Metaphor Theory: The ship for all seasons

There are some articles online by Lakoff, that pertain to the Conceptual Metaphor theory and are a must read for anyone intrigued by that figure of speech called Metaphor. For a layman, Metaphor is when a literal reading of a sentence/phrase has to be abandoned and the utterance understood ‘figuratively’. This definition may be more appropriate to the Novel metaphors / image metaphors that rely more on conjuring up image-schemas to make sense. The ‘figure of speech’ or ‘figurative speech’ descriptions may themselves be part of the conventional metaphor “LANGUAGE IS DEPICTION” and are explained by mappings between language: an abstract target domain being mapped to a more concrete source domain of (cave art) symbolic depictions/illustrations. While some concepts would be represented by symbols in the source domain of art representation, others would be not be representational, but based on form of figure would be equivalent to actual physical objects (hieroglyphics). Thus, the very definition of (novel) metaphor is grounded in Conceptual metaphor theory.

Lets us start with an example of metaphorical mapping given by Lakoff: ” LOVE IS A JOURNEY” with the metaphorical mapping deconstructed as (emphasis mine)

-The lovers correspond to travelers.
-The love relationship corresponds to the vehicle.
-The lovers’ common goals correspond to their common destinations on the journey.
-Difficulties in the relationship correspond to impediments to travel.

Although I would have preferred to frame the “LOVE IS A JOURNEY” AS “LOVE IS A VOYAGE (OF DISCOVERY)” so as to remove the burden of having a well defined destination as a goal for the journey by a relatively carefree discovery (about each other) as the destination/goal of Love, yet, in keeping with the “LOVE IS JOURNEY” metaphor it is instructive to note that the VEHICLE (of source domain) is mapped to relationship (of target domain) and the word relationship contains “ship” a popular vehicle for traversing difficult terrains like the sea. More interestingly, many similar associated words like friendship, courtship, companionship too have the word ‘ship’ embedded in them.

To elaborate, while “relationship” to “vehicle” mapping is present in the “LOVE IS JOURNEY” metaphor, the mapping is of superordinates in the sense that the “VEHICLE” itself is abstract and can be a ship, a car, a boat; also while Lakoff doesn’t mention this, the relationship can be substituted by companionship/ friendship in case of some other related metaphors like “FRIENDSHIP IS A JOURNEY”. What Lakoff does discuss is some sort of inheritance hierarchy whereby the structure of a base metaphorical mapping like “PURPOSIVE LIFE IS A JOURNEY” is inherited by a derived metaphors like “LOVE (LIFE OF TWO) IS A JOURNEY” or “CAREER (upward purposive) IS A JOURNEY”.

To have more clarity on the ‘conceptual’ part of the conceptual metaphor theory consider metaphors that we normally use for some concepts like time (already discussed earlier in one of the posts), quantity, quality, category etc.

The first of these semantic concepts is “CLASSICAL CATEGORIES ARE CONTAINERS” metaphor. Here, an item (object) can be either ‘in’ a category (container) or outside of that category( container). Of course a third possibility exists that the item “is and is not” in that category(is on the surface of the container), but this is not discussed by Lakoff.

The other mappings like “QUANTITY” of an object is spatial direction “UP” is based on the 3-D internal representation of Cartesian space and relies on our commonsense concrete observations like a pile grows in upward direction when more quantity is added, or that a fluid in a container rises up when more liquid is poured in. Thus we have statements like ‘the crime graph soared up while the economy dwindled.’

The “QUALITY” of an object (or linear scales measuring it) is a “PATH” metaphor, again uses the underlying structure of path whereby the movement is in front direction (possibly radial direction) direction and is based on the fact that distance in the radial direction is equivalent to more or less of a quality. Thus, statements like ‘in terms of Intelligence he is way ahead of you’. It is interesting to note that PATH metaphors rely on angular geometry concept (with the travelers or subjective origin) always present implicitly in the metaphor.

Another interesting metaphor is the underlying structure mapping time. Hereby, “TIME IS MOTION” (OF AN OBJECT/ OF A SUBJECT THOROUGH A LANDSCAPE).

Of the first of these dual Time metaphors exhibiting duality of object/landscape, time is motion of object assumes that Future Time is (someone/thing personified) coming towards us and past time is receding from us. This leads to expressions like The time will come when… The time has long since gone when … The time for action has arrived. That time is here. In the weeks following next Tuesday…. On the preceding day, … I’m looking ahead to Christmas. Thanksgiving is coming up on us. Let’s put all that behind us. I can’t face the future. Time is flying by. The time has passed when etc

It is instructive to note that Aymara have a reverse metaphor , whereby their backs are towards future. Logically this makes more sense as FUTURE is not visible to us (unless we have good predictive powers ) and so should come from behind us and surprise us, while past is there for us to see till eternity and should be in front of us. Anyway, this metaphor representation too represents the TIME as linear motion. What is more interesting concept is that of time as circular (and thus periodic/ rhythmic) Motion. The interesting metaphor here would be standing close to a merry go round and watching events flow past oneself. Here too differences can arise based on whether one is watching things in counter-clockwise motion or clockwise motion. Interesting to note that many concepts related t time are circular(spherical/ rhythmic) in nature and even concepts of clockwise rely on concept of clock/time.

The other metaphor for time is TIME AS MOTION OVER A LANDSCAPE. This I believe is no different from first one,except in the sense that it relies more heavily on “NO MOTION” . Thus when the passage of time does not lead to any noticeable changes (CHANGE IS MOTION), then one may be apt to treat the time as a location. The examples given corroborate this.

  • He stayed there for ten years.
  • He stayed there a long time.
  • His stay in Russia extended over many years.
  • He passed the time happily.
  • I’ll be there in a minute.

Even the last example illustrates that not much will happen in the ‘minute’ and thus minute is exemplified as a location/container.

A very important metaphorical mapping discussed is of EVENT structure.
The EVENT domain is mapped to basic concrete domains of space, motion and forces.

  1. States are locations (bounded regions in space).
  2. Changes are movements (into or out of bounded regions).
  3. Causes are forces.
  4. Actions are self-propelled movements.
  5. Purposes are destinations.
  6. Means are paths (to destinations).
  7. Difficulties are impediments to motion.
  8. Expected progress is a travel schedule; a schedule is a virtual traveler, who reaches pre-arranged destinations at pre-arranged times.
  9. External events are large, moving objects.
  10. Long term, purposeful activities are journeys

I would like to distribute this in my 8-fold path with the first five of these describe the event in terms of the entities involved. The next 3 in terms of the context or environment in which the event happens.

  1. States are confinements of space.
  2. Changes are movements
  3. Causes attributed are underlying forces amongst the objects/ force field.
  4. Outward Observable Actions are equivalent to self-propelled motion with no observable external cause
  5. Purpose or reason for the event is mapped to there being destinations or goals.
  6. Means used to achieve the event-happening is mapped to there being paths (multiple) for the purported destination and choosing of one path over others.
  7. There are 3 factors affecting outcome when one means(path) is chosen- difficulties mapped to impediments to motion in the path; subjective assessment of progress mapped to scheduled milestones in the path; and unpredictable and outside control other (synchronous) events mapped to external large moving bodies ( that may curve the time space). It also interesting to note that large , moving objects are conceptualized in terms of Things, Fluids and Horses ( in the last of which balance is required to control the motion).
  8. Finally, The events that are meaningful (have purpose and right means etc) and are extended are equated to Journeys or voyages though time-space.

Lakoff also maps this event structure to duality of object-location whereby events may be attributes possessed or happening in a location (space time). Thus, one can either be ‘in trouble’ or ‘have trouble’. In the former case one is conceptualizing the event (trouble) as being confinement in some space-time that is associated with trouble. In the latter, one is conceptualizing trouble as a possession or attribute that one has.
In my view the right framing is one that uses location metaphors as that is more related to paths, journeys etc. rather than object metaphors which necessarily signify events (even related to other persons) as objects of gratification.

While time is sometimes personified while doing CMT, another interesting case is that of DEATH usually personified as a drivers etc. This bodes well with other metaphors like BODY being a VEHICLE/CONTAINER for traversing this sea of life and transcending to other other end. The death personified serves as a driver taking one from life domain to the other transcendental domain. No surprise in MATRIX revolutions, Sati meets NEO while the DEATH driver for the train is coming to take NEO to the underworld (of death).

Before closing would like to add a few notes on poetical metaphor or Novel metaphor (which will deserve their own posting). I believe they involve conjuring of actual images in the mind to work and are slightly different from conventional metaphor. They may in time become entrenched and lead to conventional metaphor.

Before closing I would like to point to one previous post on this blog, whereby just like ” NATION is A SHIP” metaphor , I compare a COMPANY to a RIVER-RAFT.
Also , In my earlier poems I have been heavily using metaphors like COURTSHIP is LIKE FISHING and GROUP OF FRIENDS IS like a SHIP.

Finally, here is a list of some common metaphors outlined by Lakoff.

Metaphors, Framing, Lakoff/Chomsky

There is a wealth of interesting posts related to Metaphors on Mixing memory retrospective section. I have discussed conceptual metaphor theory and how that relates to time-space perception earlier.

In the Metaphor related posts, Mixing Memory discusses the 2 main theories for explaining metaphors, the structural mapping and the attributive categorization theories and leaves the third theory related to cognitive linguistic approaches because of Mixing Memories long-time disagreements with the proponent of that George Lakoff:-)

Lakoff/Chomsky stand out as they believe in things like linguistic framing and how that relates to propaganda and have taken political activism related to the same.

While I will be addressing framing and the cognitive linguistic view of conceptual metaphors in a subsequent post, there is a recent Science Daily article reporting on another type of framing– Framing of economic statements in terms of either gains or losses and thereby by invoking the risk-averse cognitive structures leading to different behavioral outcomes, when game theory and mathematical probabilistic behavior would have predicted a same response. In a nutshell, if questions are framed such that out of 50$ I have, I would either have the option of keeping 20 $ for sure or 40% probability of keeping the whole amount (and 60 % probability of losing the whole amount), then my responses of whether I take the gamble or stay with assured amount would be different if the question was framed as I would lose 30 $ for sure or have a 40% probability of keeping the whole amount. In the latter situation, the mere use of word like ‘lose’ is sufficiently powerful to make one averse to that situation and thus wager for the second option viz. of 40% chance of retaining the whole amount.

This is just one example, but many game theoretic experiments are accumulating evidence that framing is important and has real economic consequences.

Time Space Metaphors: Do we have different metaphors based on different cultures( mouse traps)

Reading about “conceptual metaphor theory” may be useful for understanding the rest of this mail.

There are 2 great articles regarding space time metaphors on Mixing Memories. Yet the research seems to be focussed only on linear representations of time as Space is automatically assumed to be the Cartesian space of X,Y and Z co-ordinates and the metaphorical mapping of time to space is thus limited in this regard. Also, in the article time perception is regarded as based on either-or of future-movement or ego-movement.

Even when linear metaphors of time are concerned, one can have both future-movement or ego-movement simultaneously. I remember when I was giving IIT-JEE, and the date of exam was approaching, I used to sing a lot a hindi song “Tu hai meri kiran” from Baazigar and liked one of the lines of the stanza the most ” faasle aur kam ho rahe hain, door se pass hum ho rahe hain” which means “The distance is becoming lesser and we are approaching each other from distance to closeness”. This metaphor that I had used was more of event-based whereby both I (ego) as well as future(the test) were moving towards each other to meet at a particular instance/ event.

With reference to the second post on this blog describing how mice may get concepts of Space and develop representations that are either close to Cartesian geometry or alternately of Angular Geometry, it is reasonable to assume that the Time concept/ representation that such mice may develop would also follow the way they represent space.

Of particular interest to us is the metaphorical representation of time for those mice who have developed the concepts of Space as being in r, theta format of angular geometry (some critics may thrash this as regressing back to heliocentric view of the universe with Sun denoting the origin/ centre of universe…..but the representation of time is more Anthropomorphic or Ratothromorphic view, with the origin conceptualized as not the rat or human himself but something close by (preferably a light source) that can be used as reference) and would thus naturally map time to one of the dimensions in r, theta, phi…in this case view time as circular or repetitive or in rhythm. An article that traces internal clock mechanisms like circadian rhythms may be instructive.

Thus, considering the numerous mythical elements in Indian Culture regarding the circular nature of time ( reincarnation, repetitive Eng or ages, no distinction between word ‘kal’ representing either today or tomorrow based on context), i is reasonable to assume that it is possible that some humans/ cultures may have a circular, or at the least, rhythmic representation of time.

Thus while Amyara present a paradox in terms of viewing time backwards, the oriental cultures (esp. Indian) may represent another paradox in terms of viewing time circular or rhythmic. Also to venture into area that I’m ignorant of, this may explain the popularity of films like the ground hog day, explain deja vus and when eventually we would be able to ‘see’ the 4D time-space continuum, may require utilization of both 3-D Cartesian space representations and the angular (or curvature) time perception.

Also, while we are at the topic of time perception, please check this excellent article summing up the major approaches in studying time perception phenomenon.

Zen and the art of rapid change management

This is an article I finished recently comparing management of changes with Rafting experience. Tagged under Management, general and Rafting tags and not related to main theme of this blog which is psychological in nature:-)


I had gone some 2 yrs back on a maiden River rafting expedition and while I was reminiscing about that trip recently I came to realize how that experience had some valuable learning that could be applied to Management especially most relevant to management regarding rapid changes.

Co-ordination and teamwork: For starters, rafting demands harmonious and synchronus coordination between all rafters ensuring that all rowing movements by individuals are in perfect synchrony to the one in front and the one behind so as to enable the raft to make maximum possible movement and in the required direction. This much is apparent and trivial.

Unknowns and unpredictable: Then there are the current/wave directions and strengths that have to be dealt with and these are obviously unpredictable and uncontrollable. These are not unknowns also, as they can be discerned some time well in advance by an acute observer so as to adapt the rowing strategy accordingly.

Different stratagem’s based on changing priorities/external realities: There are different possible rowing actions and strokes and the guide who is watching the river current/waves keeps instructing the rowers to change movements on the drop of a hat, taking into account the way the wind/water is currently drifting and determining what actions would best ensure movement in the right direction…. and this is all very short term planning and maneuvering. The guide does not bother with very long term foresight into what the current/weather will be 5 hrs down the line. For taking into account unknowns that were not apparent, he would rather rely on advise of weather department and not take an expedition on the day bad weather conditions are forecasted. The guide himself actively uses an instrument situated at the back of the boat to keep steering and doing course corrections.

Apparently discordant behaviors in time and space: Not always everyone is rowing in the forward direction only. Sometimes the people in front and those in back have different instructions and rowing movements. Sometimes people on the left and those on the right have different instructions. Sometimes people on the right are REQUIRED to STOP rowing and rest and ensuring that only left rowers row, to ensure correct behavior and direction. Not all rowers need to understand why they are required to make the required actions on a particular time for ex just revering their rowing direction whereby one moment they were rowing forward and now they are rowing backwards,, but with experience they start getting insights that if they do follow the directions religiously they are better off keeping on track towards destination despite apparent short time backtracks or seemingly impossible currents which they though could not be navigated.

RAPIDS or Toppling Points: The most feared (by some) and awaited (by others) are the moments when the boat needs to navigate past the RAPIDS or areas in the river bed where there is a sudden change in river-bed depth, leading to turbulent local currents on the surface. These are avoided if possible, warned beforehand to all rowers, closely watched by the guide, forewarned to everybody that everyone needs to navigate with all their strengths during and prior to the Rapid crossing and special Tips given to each to ensure that neither the boat topples nor individuals are thrown off-board.

The Rapid Dynamics: In Rapids, though all who are rowing need to row with all their strengths, yet it is not the classical case of ‘all hands on the board’. The guide himself keeps watching, getting ready for action in case the boat topples to ensure that boat bumps back up, that all the oars that are needed for rowing further downstream are intact and not lost by the individual rowers to the water and above all to ensure that everyone (though they have life jackets strapped) are brought back on the boat as soon as possible. Also, most importantly, some people who are normally involved in rowing are asked to stop rowing, move to the front of the row and are required to strategically position themselves in the front of the boat, leaning towards the most forward point in the boat and putting their weight in the front, so as to reduce the impact of the onslaught of wave. These should ideally be people who have most weight.

The Thrill of Toppling : The most amazing insight was the revelation that some of the people most knowledgeable about water and rafting, good swimmers and experienced rafters, were also the ones who would most often ‘engineer’ the topples while navigating the rapids. Just like there are well known ways to avid the boat from toppling in the rapids, there are equally well known counter actions to engineer the topple. One straightforward, and apparent by now, way is to ensure that few like minded people lean backwards at the time of RAPID concentrating weight towards the back. No problems with that, one does get a different experience while the boat is turned upside down and one is floating by ones own in the water, and these people being good swimmers and all, would also be the ones who would put the boat back, et fellows on board and get a kick out of it in all ways: the thrill of topple and the subsequent opportunity to play the savior.

The Perils of Toppling
: Some people who have been exposed to that ‘drowning’ experience for the first time, though realistically there was no real danger with life jackets strapped, are left shaken with that experience. For them those 2-3 minutes in water, with water churning at great speed, chaos all around them with all team members floating by themselves, the boat and their guide himself in water turned upside down, some of them not knowing how to swim or even to keep afloat the water correctly with life jackets, with taste of water in mouth, over eyes and nostrils, those 2-3 minutes are very real to them and represent a reality that is not apparent to the more seasoned rafters/ swimmers. The guide of course is normally aware of this and so he avoids topples at all costs, but the more adventurous experts amongst the crew somehow never realize the repercussions or effects they may have on others. Some of those shaken by the experience react extremely with not going on a rafting trip again ( I am not one of them:-)…though unfortunately I have not managed to go on another rafting trip after that…in any case my raft had toppled but it was a genuine toppling….it was 2 of the other rafts which had the ‘engineered’ toppling.), others are just shaken to the extent that they dread the RAPIDS much more than is needed, while still others are barely affected and even enjoy the thrill- the most effect on them being some time sitting ideally recovering from panting and all, and getting back to rowing again.

Toppling: The Damage Control: The guide ‘inoculates’ the rafters (non-swimmers esp) against the bad version of toppling experience by encouraging them to float in water by themselves while the waters are calm. this ensures that they are exposed to the ‘real bad world’ and the exposure is under conditions that are not threatening. This also gives the guide time and occasion to instruct and observe whether the rafters know the correct way to stay afloat using their life jackets. More than anything else it ensures that the rafters are not nervous, but more towards being confident, when they face the rapid, or are actually thrown into the water. Also, early warning and special maneuvering, as well as very clear communication on severity of the rapid that is coming, the realistic assessment of toppling chance, and the assurance of rapid recovery ensure that not only the toppling probabilities are minimized, but the toppling experience is of a different degree.

Celebration/Relaxation/ Dangers of Rapids all the way: When the waters are calm one can relax and sing and have fun (you are supposed to have fun all the way) , when the current is strong it is not expected that you still keep rowing with all your strength, it is ensured that not many rapids follow each other on a particular course and there is ample scope for the team to recover its strength, stamina and composure before being asked to face another rapid. All said and done, rowing is an activity that demands immense physical activity from each team member- one needs hard work all the way —especially in rapids- and one also has to ensure that the hard work is done in a smart way (is inline with the directions of the guide). There is no simple trade off here between hard work and smart work. Hard work needs to be done smartly. If after exposing a rafting team to a volley of rapids that is never ending, and observing that the boat has toppled on 1 or 2 occasions, we conclude that rafters are either not working hardly or smartly enough and need to change strategy (may do more smart work than hard work) (or on a different note conclude that guide is incompetent, having a whale of time and maybe instead of doing the ‘overhead work’ needs to ensure that all rafters including himself and the ‘weighty’ ones are all the time exclusively involved in rowing- and rowing hard) and if we wonder why the rafters are finding the rafting experience not exactly enjoyable and not too keen on signing in for the next expedition or why the toppling is becoming more and more probable with time, then maybe we are missing something that should be apparent.