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Symbolic language

Steven Pinker has a good stab at explaining metaphor, but his belief that brains work like computers proves a big limitation. We still need poets to understand the imagination

By John Cornwell   October 2007

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, by Steven Pinker Allen Lane, £25

Steven Pinker begins a key chapter of his new book, The Stuff of Thought, by unpicking the US declaration of independence to reveal the metaphors beneath the abstractions. The very title, “declaration,” he maintains, appeals to the task of clarifying, making clear, dispelling the murk. The colonies, moreover, are said to be connected by “bands” to England, which it was necessary to “dissolve” in order to effect a “separation.” In the final analysis, according to Pinker, the metaphors allude to a single, unstated…

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