Bodily Metaphors Provide an Illusion of Constancy in the Midst of Change

Creating a sense of stability in the midst of the chaos of the physical world is recognized as a general feature of our mind/brain. Because time's arrow never stands still, the context of our experiences is never precisely the same. The mind/brain makes comparisons and searches for similarities, and this contributes to the illusion of constancy. In the construction of meaning, there is a sense of safety in the familiar.

Although visual perception is quite different from the construction of meaning, an analogy can be found in the neurophysiology of color perception. The neurophysiologist Semir Zeki (1993) has shown that our subjective experience of color as a constant property in the world is an illusion. Because we view objects under different conditions of illumination, the wavelength composition of light reflected from these objects constantly changes. The constancy of our subjective experience of a color results from a comparison that occurs within the brain. The brain compares the wavelength composition from the light that is reflected from a surface and the wavelength composition of the light reflected from surrounding surfaces. The neurophysiology of color, an unconscious process, is therefore a comparison of comparisons.

It may be the role of somatic metaphors, through the creation of an equivalence of meaning, to create an illusion of constancy. Metaphor then provides a bridge between disconnected experiences. The body, through the use of metaphor, creates somatic templates. I will suggest that Freud's libido theory is based on such somatic metaphors. Freud attributed libidinal continuity to what he thought to be a fact of nature, instinctual entities, whereas I am suggesting that the sense of libidinal continuity is something that we create for ourselves.

When discrete experiences are welded together, we think of them as developmentally continuous. Metaphor then contributes to the illusion not only of the constancy of the self (in current time) but also to the continuity of the self through time past. Inasmuch as metaphor is the means by which we find the familiar in something unfamiliar, metaphor is a necessary cognitive component in maintaining a sense of the continuity of our bodily selves.3

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