RAW maps, models… frames?

‘To grow means to reframe, or to change reality-tunnels’
 RAW, Cosmic Trigger II

How to promote a new book on semantic framing – to Robert Anton Wilson fans?

“Models and muddles”, “semantic maps”, belief systems, etc (RAW’s favoured lexicon) – I regard as synonymous with cognitive frames. Both approaches (RAW’s and framing) refer to experiential symbolic constructs (what else is there to talk of?) – language and metaphor as brain “software”, grounded in notions of embodied cognition (as opposed to disembodied reason).

Both have a (post-)modern worldviews perspectivism that sometimes seems mistaken for anything-goes subjective relativism, and which presents “challenges” to an ancient “objectivist” view/habit that still seems prevalent nearly everywhere. Both can facilitate insight, tolerance and irony on tricky matters of politics, media, culture and ontology.

Frames = models?

I think I can demonstrate that I didn’t overstate when I wrote “synonymous”. Firstly, read a good account of metaphorical framing (I’d recommend browsing something weighty – or, alternatively, read my book if you’re feeling lazy, since it’s written especially for idlers). Next, read the substantial passages in RAW’s Prometheus Rising that include the word “model” – I count around 20 such passages. (You can do this quickest by searching the digital version). Hopefully this will confirm for you what I claim. And hopefully it will blow your mind!

Here’s a quick example (covering just one aspect of what I’m talking about):

“[T]here is a neurological basis for the linkage between mapping and manipulating. The right hand manipulates the universe (and makes artifacts) and the left-brain maps the results into a model, which allows for predictions about future behavior of that part of the universe.”Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising

RAW’s notion of symbolic models forming as a result of one’s bodily manipulations finds confirmation, and gets further explanation and clarification, in the cognitive framing literature. On one level it seems kind of obvious (I can imagine people thinking, “Sure, but so what?”). But when you “get” it… whoa, staggering. Perhaps the most easily understandable example of this can be seen in our models/frames for causality

If we have a tendency to model (and, in fact, “see”) causation in a certain way – direct, physical causation between two things, say – then it probably follows that we miss or de-emphasize other types, eg subtle, largely invisible systemic causation, or the type that’s only visible statistically across a population, or across a much bigger timeframe, etc. Or maybe we’re “blind” to phenomena that can’t be modelled by any of the causal frames cognitively available to us. And we perhaps impose simple notions of causation on phenomena where it doesn’t exist. (The phrase, “correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation”, indicates some popular awareness of this kind of thing).

The fun part is when you look at politics and media – and how influencers exploit our less-than-optimal semantic habits/reflexes. I expand on this in my book, where I write about everyday causal headline metaphors and their implications, using real examples taken from newspapers.

Here, though, I’ll make one up for RAW-flavoured illustrative purposes: ‘UK ECONOMY HIT BY VIRAL AGNOSTICISM’ (not too far-fetched as Daily Mail headlines go). Suppose this comes from an economic “think-tank” report that claims a correlation between UK religious-beliefs trends and economic performance in certain limited cases (again, not such a far-fetched scenario, headline-wise, as it happens). In other words, the newspaper supposes a factual basis for claims of some kind of statistical relationship between “viral agnosticism” and the national abstraction known as “the economy”. Pretty feeble and spurious, no doubt – but no problem! It’s sorted with that little headline metaphor, “hit by”. One can observe several different, seemingly innocuous, causal metaphors like this, used by headline writers to suggest a particular causal logic (which might not be “supported” by the facts).

As I’ve previously noted (and I hope it’s not gratuitous of me to repeat it here), Wilson has commented on the same phenomenon – common everyday words with metaphorical implications and social consequences that we might not be fully aware of. He even cites the word, “the”, as one such example (in the chapter, Models, Metaphors and Idols, from The New Inquisition).

What’s in the book?

It’s a much updated/extended 2023 version (210 pages compared to the original 68-page eBooklet). I begin by describing frames and conceptual metaphors in simple terms, and give some examples of how everyday phrases – and media clichés – reveal unconscious metaphorical formulations of our reality tunnels.

For scrutiny of politics and media, I’ve used a “deep” moral frames model (pioneered by George Lakoff) that has some close parallels to the Patrist/Matrist thesis of G. Rattray Taylor that RAW outlined in several books. (Beginning substantially with Ishtar Rising, and continuing throughout his writings, you can view many of RAW’s social/political critiques as deconstructing or satirising “patrist” aspects of culture from a more “matrist” leaning).

This model shows how “positions” on various issues that we associate with a given political “identity” (eg conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist) fit together in a moral-metaphorical schema – even though there may be no apparent “logical” connection between those positions for that political identity. For example, try explaining the rational, logical connection between prototypical “conservative” views on, say, gun control, abortion and taxation. Or try the same for “progressive” viewpoints.

(For libertarian RAW fans who might be put off Lakoff’s model by what they regard as his political association with the US Democrats, I should point out that I’m no fan of either major US political party (but not equally so – I find the Republicans worse, like an armed proto-Nazi madhouse seems worse than a corrupt bureaucracy), and my news framing examples are taken mainly from the British press. In later sections of the book, which look at social media and algorithm-boosted populism, etc, I have US/global examples – I’m critical of some Fox News/Glenn Greenwald framing, for instance.)

In addition to examples of news framing, I look at tabloid stereotypes (briefly visiting prototype theory and ‘salient exemplars’, ‘misleading vividness’, ‘churnalism’, etc). Then I devote a few chapters, respectively, to financial framing (eg the 2008 global economic collapse) and war framing (starting with Iraq, and ending with Russia/Ukraine and retroactive framing confusion). Then, chapters on Framing vs “Orwellian language”, anxiety-inducing frames, and… I could go on, but it’s probably easier if I direct you to the fairly detailed table of contents in the “look inside” preview that Amazon provides.

US Amazon link for Lazy Person’s Guide to Framing
UK Amazon link for Lazy Person’s Guide to Framing
(Available in paperback and eBook)

New kind of thinking?

Aside from the political and media examples, I’d (very modestly) hope to “popularise” a kind of thinking that has more awareness of its own metaphorical nature. (Popularise in the sense of making it more easily understandable, not in the sense of bringing it to a bigger audience – don’t make me laugh!). We think mostly in metaphor. Appreciating this seems like a new way of looking at thought and belief. Present already in RAW’s writing, but often overlooked: conceptual metaphor’s primary, fundamental importance for him – not as rhetorical icing. The profundity gets foregrounded and fine-tuned with frame semantics. And to think that some people see it as superficial word-play, sloganeering, etc…

It also seems helpful to me in “clarifying” the various ideas and categories arising in contemporary “spiritual enlightenment culture”. Not necessarily in a materialist or reductive way (as one might assume from an approach that seems grounded in brain/neuro sciences). I’ll leave that for another time – but if you’re intrigued, check out Jody Radzik’s articles and his interview with Erik Davis, which starts properly at around 9 minutes, after Erik’s rather long-winded intro.

RAW frames – beyond “objective”/“subjective”

RAW calls it “transactional”; George Lakoff and Mark Johnson call it “experiential”. Other terms one might use as broadly synonymous with what I’ve been talking about (if you’re fuzzy and indolent like me): “holistic”, “synergetic”, etc – used in a sense of “going beyond” the objective/subjective dichotomy (in which objectivism implies cognition-independent absolute “reality” containing objective “meanings” and symbolic language that fits those meanings to that reality by means of absolute truth/falsity conditions (Aristotelian logic); and in which subjectivism perhaps implies romantic/poetic realms, anything-goes ungrounded relativism, kooky solipsism, or just relatively worthless and “obviously biased”, ie emotion-tainted, “baseless” opinion, etc.

Here’s how RAW puts it, in Natural Law (page 60, in my old version):

And here’s how Lakoff and Johnson put it, in Metaphors We Live By:

What the myths of objectivism and subjectivism both miss is the way we understand the world through our interactions with it. What objectivism misses is the fact that understanding, and therefore truth, is necessarily relative to our cultural conceptual systems and that it cannot be framed in any absolute or neutral conceptual system… What subjectivism specifically misses is that our understanding, even our most imaginative understanding, is given in terms of a conceptual system that is grounded in our successful functioning in our physical and cultural environments.

– Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff & Mark Johnson

4 thoughts on “RAW maps, models… frames?

Add yours

  1. Well, I bought it and I’ve read it. It’s a brilliant book, quite a quick read but my head is exploding with the info overload. A lot to process here, but a pleasure to read because it’s well written. The arguments have a solid feel tackling a difficult subject but in an easy to follow style. I think I did “get” it (as you put it) on metaphor, and it really is an “epochal” thing (one of the words in one of the quotes somewhere). My only criticism is that the sections on algorithm framing and Russia-Ukraine, although intriguing, left me wanting further explanation. But that might be because they are ongoing in reality, so we’re all waiting for conclusions. Maybe in a a future edition. As a Brit, I appreciated the British press examples in the earlier sections.

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