Stories & Metaphors

Connecting to embodiment, culture has always influenced our perception of our body and mind of external and internal experiences. This ties into the embodiment of social roles such as the sick role (mind and body physically sick), the caring grandparent (sacrificing oneself for the welfare of your family), and the inmate (a prisoner to oneself), share many cultural differences constructing who we are and how we feel. Anthropologist Rebecca Seligman examines the acquisition of specialized cultural roles and how they can affect our physiological states and biological responses through bio-looping (Sloane Lecture #17). This specialization of cultural roles is significant concerning how a person might “objectify” their inner psychological distress or emotional experiences in a culturally constructed behavior based on the local moral world which influenced their health and psychological experiences. It also depends on the social role of the individual (Sloane Lecture #15). For instance, the sick role may play the case where an illness or emotional experience is objectified through sorcery and thinking. Connecting to the local moral world, community and family can influence the health and psychological experiences by recognizing the illness and performing actions such as “joint praying and ceremonies to call on the power of other spirits to cast our harmful possessors” (Sloane Lecture #15). They well showed this in Thomas J. Csordas’ article “Paradigm for Anthropology” discussing how “embodiment begins from the methodological postulate that the body is not an object to be studied in culture or as the existential ground of culture” (Csordas, 1988). This emphasizes how our embodied knowledge can influence the decisions we make, our behaviors, and the memories based on the cultural, communal, and familiar aspects which affect our experiences as individuals.

Self-narratives are unique individual stories of the introspective recounting of one’s personal development in life. We can utilize them in many cultural resources including metaphors and defense mechanisms influencing our perceptions and physical experiences. Self-narratives, stories, metaphors, and defense mechanisms reactivate lived experiences and mentally stimulate certain sensory-motor processes and can “create neural associations” which can change the perceptions of our brains and mind-influencing and ease our physical experiences.

Metaphors are a foundational tool that has shaped the processes of our daily experiences, mean-making and impacting our culturally-informed embodied experiences to others. They almost play like simulations, redirecting our biological spirals “concretizing abstract experiences in the body with something more understandable and familiar. . .and reactivate lived experiences and mentally stimulate certain sensory-motor processes” (Sloane Lecture #17). Metaphors can serve as the meaning of our experiences and our use of cultural resources to influence our perceptions and physical experiences through the imagination of different embodied experiences and physiological influences. More specifically, mental metaphors can make preconscious decisions without fully being aware of how the connections are happening. For example, individuals who have dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease interesting describe their bodies as a house or different parts of one’s house as if diseases are invading their home. This demonstrates the embodied experience of dementia and how you can inspire one’s body to respond differently based on certain metaphors.

Rebecca Seligman observes these metaphors can be used to inspire different types of transformation internally and associations internally going forward. She observed biolooping and meaning-making as methods of spiritual healing through “ritual and training sessions attaching certain physical sensations to conceptual meanings (Sloane Lecture #17). Then when the meanings would be invoked, it would “be associated and paired with those cognitively paired” creating spiritual fulfillment and less negative symptoms of psychopathology. Rebecca Seligman in her article, “Mind, Body, Brain, and the Conditions of Meaning” discusses how metaphors and defense mechanisms can be beneficial and healthy methods to internalize new normal (Seligman, 2018). Her article discusses the relationship between the mind and the body. Focusing on experiences of illness and Seligman exhibits how the conditions of one’s body can influence the cognitive process of meaning-making which and impact the understanding of embodiment (Seligman, 2018). We can state the same case for defense mechanisms where individuals would use subcultures, such as tattoos, as culturally constituted defense mechanisms and psychoanalytic anthropology in a recognized idiom to influence our perception and physical experiences (Sloane Lecture #15). Like metaphors, defense mechanisms “may also be a crucial part of how such abstract concepts come to mean since they create neural associations between perceptions and action-based knowledge and such concepts” influencing our perceptions and physical experiences (Seligman, 2018). Hence the significance of self-narratives, metaphors, and defense mechanisms can be beneficial for individuals as they can “create neural associations” which can change the perceptions of our brains and mind-influencing and easing our physical experiences.

Another instance of self-narratives or stories we tell ourselves about ourselves can be highlighted in Neely Anne Laurenzo Myer’s article, “Toward An Applied Neuroanthropology of Psychosis: The Interplay of Culture, Brains, and Experience” observing the psychotic disorders which emerge between the relationship of culture, brain, and experience. Myers utilizes Leroy’s story and his early experiences of psychosis (Myers, 2012). He experienced vivid hallucinations of women trying to seduce him and the guards becoming devils. His self-narratives, “provides an excellent example with which to speculate on how such studies could be useful to researchers, clinicians, and public policymakers” (Myers, 2012). This ties into the meaning of our experiences and our use of cultural resources to influence our perception and physical experiences, altering the embodied trajectory of an individual. Self-narratives, stories, metaphors, and defense mechanisms reactivate lived experiences and mentally stimulate certain sensory-motor processes and can “create neural associations” which can change the perceptions of our brains and mind-influencing and ease our physical experiences.

Work Cited

Myers, Neely Anne Laurenzo. 2012. Toward an Applied Neuroanthropology of Psychosis: The Interplay of Culture, Brains, and Experience. Annals of Anthropological Practice 36: 113–130.

Seligman, Rebecca. 2018. Mind, Body, Brain, and the Conditions of Meaning. Ethos 46(3): 397–417.

Sloane, Julia. 2022. Lecture #15

Sloane, Julia. 2022. Lecture #17

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Student @ucsdbiosciences @ucsd_ghp ’22 | Fencer & Referee @usafencing | Researcher @sqatucsd @stanfordmed | #MedEd

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Nathan Jeon

Nathan Jeon

Student @ucsdbiosciences @ucsd_ghp ’22 | Fencer & Referee @usafencing | Researcher @sqatucsd @stanfordmed | #MedEd

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