How to Move a Mind: Barry Lopez on the Power of Metaphor Over Data

What it takes “to assume summary issues by on a number of planes on the identical time, to remain alert for symbolic and allegorical meanings, to understand the utility of nuance.”

How to Move a Mind: Barry Lopez on the Power of Metaphor Over Data

For all their ravishing magnificence, numbers stay abstractions chilly and austere and not using a foothold of similitude within the residing world, the world of contact and sight, of issues and thingness. Seven has no that means to the human thoughts with out an object — we have to know seven what in an effort to fathom its sevenness. This can be why information, regardless of their numerical grandeur, maintain poor sway over the human soul; why metaphor, with its tangible tapestry of abstraction and concreteness, can transfer the mountain of the thoughts extra powerfully than any human implement.

That’s what Barry Lopez (January 6, 1945–December 25, 2020) explores in a fraction of his altogether magnificent posthumous assortment Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World (public library), which additionally gave us his treatment for our existential loneliness.

Artwork by Sophie Blackall for “Dirge With out Music” from The Universe in Verse.

Echoing Rachel Carson’s poetic-scientific statement that as a result of our origins of the Earth, “there’s in us a deeply seated response to the pure universe, which is a part of our humanity,” Lopez writes:

I’ve felt for a very long time that the good political questions of our time — about violent prejudice, international local weather change, venal greed, worry of the Different — could possibly be addressed in illuminating methods by contemplating fashions within the pure world. Some take into account it unsophisticated to discover the nonhuman world for clues to fixing human dilemmas, and knowledge’s oldest device, metaphor, is commonly regarded with wariness, and even suspicion, in my tradition. However abandoning metaphor completely solely paves the way in which to the rigidity of fundamentalism. To my mind-set, to choose to dwell a metaphorical life — that’s, to assume summary issues by on a number of planes on the identical time, to remain alert for symbolic and allegorical meanings, to understand the utility of nuance — versus residing a literal life, the place most issues imply in just one manner, is the norm amongst conventional individuals just like the Warlpiri.

With an eye fixed to his a few years of residing, touring, and dealing with native individuals, Lopez observes a definite distinction in kinds of argument and persuasion — native cultures make extra open-ended arguments that aren’t “trapped in literalness,” whereas industrialized societies default to logic and bulldoze with information. And but, as human beings, we reply far more deeply to the previous. Lopez writes of the older type of persuasion:

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The aim in these conversations, from a conventional viewpoint, is to place off for an excellent whereas arriving at any conclusion, to proceed to observe, as a substitute, a number of avenues of strategy till a door nobody had initially seen all of a sudden opens. My very own tradition — I don’t imply to be overly essential right here — tends to imagine that whereas such conversations ought to stay respectful, the result should conform to what my tradition considers “actuality.”

Artwork by Arthur Rackham for a uncommon 1917 version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. (Obtainable as a print.)

Actuality, after all, is a tapestry of subjectivities and tacit consensuses, trapped typically within the frames of reference laid down by any given life and all the time within the limitations of human consciousness, with its myriad blind spots for strata of actuality we’re physiologically and psychologically unequipped to understand. It is just by metaphor that we are able to start to conceive of what we can not understand, be it an atom or the black gap on the heart of our galaxy or the ache of one other.

Complement with poet Jane Hirshfield on the facility of metaphor, Nietzsche on its peril, and the story of how Newton propagated certainly one of humanity’s most enduring metaphors, then revisit Giorgia Lupi and Stevanie Posavec’s poetic mission Pricey Information and Blaise Pascal on the artwork of persuasion.

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