December 2022
Volume 22, Issue 14
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   December 2022
Sensory Metaphor and the Interface Theory of Perception
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Frank Durgin
    Swarthmore College
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  Swarthmore College Faculty Research Funds
Journal of Vision December 2022, Vol.22, 4437. doi:
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      Frank Durgin; Sensory Metaphor and the Interface Theory of Perception. Journal of Vision 2022;22(14):4437.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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One theory of the use of sensory metaphors (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980) presumes that much of abstract linguistic meaning is grounded in our ontogenetic perceptuomotor experience of the real world. Perhaps an amiable person is understood as “warm” to the extent that we associate literal warmth with positive social proximity. A general theory of perceptual experience is that the phenomenal aspects of our various senses form a kind of grand illusion that fulfills the evolutionary goals of information transmission by selecting representational structures that promote evolutionary fitness over accuracy (The Interface Theory of Perception, ITP, Hoffman, 2020). In support of this idea, there is ample evidence that gross perceptual distortions of perceptual variables can be functionally valuable (including, for example, perceptual adaptation). Upon reflection, it seems that ITP suggests that the use of sensory metaphors may represent the retrieval of phylogenetically-developed meaning entrenched in our evolved perceptual interface. In a first attempt to discover evidence of such sensory-based meaning, we found that concepts that share a common sensorimotor orientation metaphor (e.g., happy is “up”; more is “up”) are fairly well aligned with each other (more is happy), using an IAT methodology. In the present experiment we extended this method to 7 additional sensory metaphor pairs. Instead of finding direct support for the ITP-inspired idea of abstract conceptual alignment, we instead observed evidence primarily of shared affective alignments as defined by Osgood’s semantic differential method. Although such affective alignments are intriguing, they may mask the more specific content of sensory metaphors, or they may reflect that metaphoric speech is often intended primarily to convey affective evaluation relevant to, for example, approach and avoidance. This latter view seems consistent with the agent/affordance-based interpretation of ITP that suggests that the structure of perceptual experience is all about agency.


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