Conceptual Blending (aka Conceptual Integration) is a general theory of cognition. According to this theory, elements and vital relations from diverse scenarios are "blended" in a subconscious process known as Conceptual Blending, which is assumed to be ubiquitous to everyday thought and language. Insights obtained from these blends constitute the products of creative thinking, though conceptual blending theory is not itself a theory of creativity, inasmuch as it does not illuminate the issue of where the inputs to a blend actually come from. Blending theory does provide a rich terminology for describing the creative products of others, but has little to say on the inspiration that serves as the starting point for each blend.
The theory of Conceptual Blending was developed by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner. The development of this theory began in 1993 and a representative early formulation is found in their online article Conceptual Integration and Formal Expression. Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier cite Arthur Koestler´s 1964 book "The Act of Creation" as an early forerunner of conceptual blending: Koestler had identified a common pattern in creative achievements in the arts, sciences and humor that he had termed "bisociation of matrices" - a notion he described with many striking examples, but did not formalize in algorithmic terms. Conceptual Blending theory is also not formalized at the level of algorithmic detail , but its various optimality principles provide some guidance for those building computational models.
A newer version of blending theory, with somewhat different terminology, was presented in their book The Way We Think (ISBN 0-465-08786-8). Their theory is partially based on basic ideas advanced by George Lakoff in his 1987 book Women, Fire and Dangerous Things and in Lakoff's coauthored 1980 book with Mark Johnson Metaphors We Live By. It is also related to Cognitive architecture theories like Soar and ACT-R, and to frame-based theories of Marvin Minsky, Jaime Carbonell among others.
Blending Theory belongs to Cognitive Linguistics enterprise and, in particoular, it is a part of Cognitive Semantics. One of the key claims of this field of study, particularly as developed by conceptual metaphor theorists, is that human imagination plays a crucial role in cognitive processes and in what it is to be human. This theme is further developed by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner. Blending Theory was originally developed in order to account for linguistic structure and for the role of language in meaning construction, particularly “creative” aspects of meaning construction like novel metaphors, counterfactuals and so on. However, recent research carried out by a large international community of academics with an interest in Blending Theory has given rise to the view that conceptual blending is central to human thought and imagination and that evidence of this can be found not only in human language, but also in a wide range of other areas of human activity such as art, scientific endeavour and others.
Mental Space Theory is a theory of cognitive semantics which locates meaning in speakers' mental representations, and construes linguistic structures as cues that prompt speakers to set up elements in referential structure. Elements in mental spaces refer to objects in the world only indirectly, as objects in speakers' mental representations, real or otherwise. Initially devised to answer questions about indirect reference and referential opacity, mental space theory has proven to be useful for describing various sorts of semantic and pragmatic phenomena (see Fauconnier 1997 or Fauconnier and Sweetser 1996 for review). In fact, mental space theory does not only pertain to meaning in language, but can be seen to apply to meaning in other domains, including math, gesture, and music (e.g. Goguen 1999; Liddell 1998). Mental spaces contain partial representations of entities and relations of any given scenario as perceived, imagined, remembered, or otherwise understood by a speaker. Elements represent each of the discourse entities, and simple frames represent the relationships that exist between them. Because the same scenario can be construed in multiple ways, mental spaces are frequently used to partition incoming information about elements in the referential representation. For example, the sentence “When I was twelve, my parents took me to Spain” prompts the reader to construct two mental spaces, one for the present utterance space, and one for the time when the speaker was twelve years old, the event space. The correspondence between the focal participant in the utterance and the event space is represented via an identity connector between the two. Partitioning the information into two mental spaces allows the reader to understand that while the speaker was in Spain at age 12, she need not currently be there. The virtue of mental spaces is that they allow the addressee to divide information at the referential level into concepts relevant to different aspects of the scenario. Although different spaces can contain disparate information about the same elements, each individual space contains a representation that is logically coherent. Because elements in one mental space often have counterparts in other spaces, an important component of mental space theory involves establishing mappings between elements and relations in different spaces. These mappings can be based on a number of different sorts of relations, including identity, similarity, analogy, and pragmatic functions based on metonymy, synecdoche, and representation. In “When I was twelve, my parents took me to Spain”, there is an identity mapping between the speaker at age twelve and the speaker at the time of utterance. Although linguistic cues provide the listener with important information as to when to partition referential structure, and which elements are linked to which, meaning construction operations are not completely specified by grammatical information. One instance of the underspecification of meaning can be found in the observation that speakers can use the same grammatical constructions to set up a large variety of mental space configurations.
Conceptual Metaphor theory is one of the first product of Cognitive Semantics. It has been proposed by Lakoff and Johnson in 1980 (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) and have been a great fortune in cognitive science. What is a conceptual metaphor? Imagine a love relationship described as follows: "Our relationship has hit a dead-end street." Here love is being conceptualized as a journey, with the implication that the relationship is stalled, that the lovers cannot keep going the way they’ve been going, that they must turn back, or abandon the relationship altogether. This is not an isolated case. Natural languages have many everyday expressions that are based on a conceptualization of love as a journey, and they are used not just for talking about love, but for reasoning about it as well. Some are necessarily about love; others can be understood that way: "Look how far we’ve come." "It’s been a long, bumpy road." "We can’t turn back now." "We’re at a crossroads." "We may have to go our separate ways." "The relationship isn’t going anywhere." "We’re spinning our wheels." These are ordinary, everyday expressions. They are not poetic, nor are they necessarily used for special rhetorical effect. Those like Look how far we’ve come, which aren’t necessarily about love, can readily be understood as being about love. Two questions are common from a linguistics (and cognitive linguistics) prospective:
The answer to both is yes. Indeed, there is a single general principle that answers both questions. But it is a general principle that is neither part of the grammar of English, nor the English lexicon. Rather, it is part of the conceptual system underlying English: It is a principle for under standing the domain of love in terms of the domain of journeys. The principle can be stated informally as a metaphorical scenario: The lovers are travelers on a journey together, with their common life goals seen as destinations to be reached. The relationship is their vehicle, and it allows them to pursue those common goals together. The relationship is seen as fulfilling its purpose as long as it allows them to make progress toward their common goals. The journey isn’t easy. There are impediments, and there are places (crossroads) where a decision has to be made about which direction to go in and whether to keep traveling together. The metaphor involves understanding one domain of experience, love, in terms of a very different domain of experience, journeys. More technically, the metaphor can be understood as a mapping (in the mathematical sense) from a source domain (in this case, journeys) to a target domain (in this case, love). The mapping is tightly structured. There are ontological correspondences, according to which entities in the domain of love (e.g., the lovers, their common goals, their difficulties, the love relationship, etc.) correspond systematically to entities in the domain of a journey (the travelers, the vehicle, des tinations, etc.). To make it easier to remember what mappings there are in the conceptual system, Lakoff and Johnson (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980 adopted a strategy for naming such mappings, using mnemonics which suggest the mapping. Mnemonic names typically (though not always) have the form: TARGETDOMAIN IS SOURCE-DOMAIN, or alternatively, TARGET-DOMAIN AS SOURCEDOMAIN. In this case, the name of the mapping is LOVE IS A JOURNEY. When I speak of the LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor, I am using a mnemonic for a set of ontological correspondences that characterize a map ping, namely: THE LOVE-AS-JOURNEY MAPPING
It is a common mistake to confuse the name of the mapping, LOVE IS A JOURNEY, for the mapping itself. The mapping is the set of correspondences. Thus, whenever I refer to a metaphor by a mnemonic like LOVE IS A JOURNEY, I will be referring to such a set of correspondences. If mappings are confused with names of mappings, another misunderstanding can arise. Names of mappings commonly have a propositional form, for example, LOVE IS A JOURNEY. But the mappings themselves are not propositions. If mappings are confused with names for mappings, one might mistakenly think that, in this theory, metaphors are propositional. They are, of course, anything but that: metaphors are mappings, that is, sets of conceptual correspondences. The LOVE-AS-JOURNEY mapping is a set of ontological correspondences that characterize epistemic correspondences by mapping knowledge about journeys onto knowledge about love. Such correspondences permit us to reason about love using the knowledge we use to reason about journeys. Let us take an example. Consider the expression, We’re stuck, said by one lover to another about their relationship. How is this expression about travel to be understood as being about their relationship? We’re stuck can be used of travel, and when it is, it evokes knowledge about travel. The exact knowledge may vary from person to person, but here is a typical example of the kind of knowledge evoked. The capitalized expressions represent entities n the ontology of travel, that is, in the source domain of the LOVE IS A JOURNEY mapping given above. Two TRAVELLERS are in a VEHICLE, TRAVELING WITH COMMON DESTINATIONS. The VEHICLE encounters some IMPEDIMENT and gets stuck, that is, makes it nonfunctional. If they do nothing, they will not REACH THEIR DESTINATIONS. There are a limited number of alternatives for action:
The ontological correspondences that constitute the LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor map the ontology of travel onto the ontology of love. In doing so, they map this scenario about travel onto a corresponding love scenario in which the corresponding alternatives for action are seen. Here is the corresponding love scenario that results from applying the correspondences to this knowledge structure. The target domain entities that are mapped by the correspondences are capitalized: Two LOVERS are in a LOVE RELATIONSHIP, PURSUING COMMON LIFE GOALS. The RELATIONSHIP encounters some DIFFICULTY, which makes it nonfunctional. If they do nothing, they will not be able to ACHIEVE THEIR LIFE GOALS. There are a limited number of alternatives for action:
The alternative of remaining in the nonfunctional RELATIONSHIP takes the least effort, but does not satisfy the desire to ACHIEVE LIFE GOALS. This is an example of an inference pattern that is mapped from one domain to another. It is via such mappings that we apply knowledge about travel to love relationships.
A network of mental spaces is assumed: at least two input spaces, a generic space that contains conceptual structure shared between the two inputs, and a blend space, where elements from other spaces interact. The input spaces contain information related to the concepts evoked by the stimulus (e.g. the encyclopaedic entries related with the concepts evoked by the two content words present in a nominal metaphor such as “This lawyer is a shark”). Not all the elements from the input spaces are projected to the blend.
A selective projection takes place. Only the matched information required for local understanding are projected. In the example of the metaphor "This lawyer is a shark” the input space related with the word “lawyer” can contain prototypical example of a good lawyer such as Perry Mason. This information is not projected in the blend because it is not matched with elements of the other input space. Much of the structure in the inputs is irrelevant to, or even inconsistent with, the emergent meaning under construction. This type of information is therefore not projected into the blend. Selective projection is one of the reason why different language users, or even the same language users on different occasions, can produce different blend from the same inputs. In other words the process of selective projection is not deterministic but flexible. The genetic space establishes counter-part connection with the input spaces. These connections are established by matching the conceptual operation responsible for identifying cross-space counterparts in the input spaces. The connections can be established, for example, on the basis of identity or role, or based on metaphor.
The blend is the core of the Blending Theory. There are three component processes that give rise to emergent structure: (1) composition; (2) completion; (3) elaboration.
A further consequence of conceptual blending is that any spaces in the integration network can, as a result of the blend, undergo modification. For example, the LAWYER space, because remains connected with the blend can be modify by the structure emerging from the blend. This is called backward projection. The encyclopaedic knowledge system of the addressee can be integrated by the information constructed in the blend. In a related manner, although integration networks are typically set up in response to the needs of local meaning construction, blend can, if salient and useful, become conventionalised within a speech or cultural community. This is the case, for example of a lot of idioms. The idiomatic meaning of expressions such as “kick the bucket” is lexicalised. The figurative interpretation is the most salient one for a lot of people while its literal interpretation is not transparent. In the first times the figurative meaning was probably constructed by a process of blending. Now, this interpretation is fixed in the lexicon. The processes have been discussed compose the constitutive processes of Blending Theory. These processes together comprise conceptual integration and the conceptual blending that arises from integration.
Perhaps because of its descriptive power, blending theory runs the risk of being too powerful, accounting for everything, and, hence, explaining nothing (see Gibbs 2000 for a nice articulation of this point). In response to the charge that blending processes are unconstrained, Fauconnier and Turner (1998) suggest a number of “optimality principles”, or constraints under which blends work most effectively. Satisfaction of these principles is selective, and satisfying one constraint is often inconsistent with satisfying another. However, given a range of interpretations of a given blend, the interpretation that best observes the following constraints is the one most likely to be adopted. Constraints include:
The charge that blending theory is arbitrary, and overly powerful is to some extent answered by Veale and O'Donoghue (2000), who present a computational model of blending that demonstrates the applicability of the theory to problems of metaphor and analogy comprehension. The model, known as Sapper, is based on the principles of blending theory and is shaped by its optimality constraints. Sapper explains the felt novelty of metaphors, accounts for how metaphors can be extended, as well as how old, dormant metaphors can be revived. Veale and O'Donoghue show that the optimality principles can be algorithmically implemented, and demonstrate the computational tractability of conceptual Blending Theory. Moreover, they argue that the computational perspective offered by their model can contribute new insights to blending theory. In their discussion of analogy and metaphor, Veale and O'Donoghue note that analogical reasoning is complicated by the fact that we often draw analogies between domains that have been defined at different levels of granularity. For instance, in an analogy between a car's motion and an animal's motion, we might assume a mapping between the car's wheels and the animals legs. However, in this case, the counterpart for LegMuscle will depend on our representation of the car domain. If our model is that the Pistons control the Wheels, the counterpart is Pistons. If, however, our model is that the Pistons control the Crankshaft which in turn controls the Wheels, the counterpart is Crankshaft. Veale and O'Donoghue suggest that in cases like this it is often useful to either “stretch” or “contract” the structure in the target domain to optimize the analogy.
A criticism that has been levelled against Blending Theory, and Cognitive linguistics in general, related to a perceive lack of empirical rigour. Despite advances in recent years outstanding challenges remain. Raymond Gibbs (2000), for example, observe that many psychologists complain that work in cognitive linguistics that attempts to infer “aspects of conceptual knowledge from an analysis of systematic patterns of linguistic structure leads to theories that appear to have a post hoc quality.” (Gibbs, 2000) In other words the problem is that cognitive linguistics theories seem to be circular. They assume without adequate evidence that the conceptual system has certain properties in order to account for the properties of language.
Blending Theory proposes itself as a theory about conceptual processes but is forced to posit underlying mental spaces and an integration process in order to account for linguistic usage. This is a great problem for a theory that would be scientific. It appears to not be empirically falsifiable, because it does not make predictions about the properties of conceptual structures that could be empirically tested. The possibility to falsify a theory is one of the crucial elements of a scientific theory. An example of empirical study consistent with Blending Theory is the ERP registration carried out by Coulson and van Petten (2002). In this case the results suggest that the demands of conceptual integration affect the difficulty of both literal and metaphorical language modulating the amplitude of N400 due to the amount of conceptual integration which is necessary.
Other really interesting results are those collected by Grady (2000). He considers the role of spreading activation in conceptual blending, but from a neurobiological perspective. Reviewing the literature on object recognition, Grady describes how activity propagates from one neural ensemble to another, and how even an incomplete visual representation can activate neural structures responsible for the recognition of a partially occluded object. Grady suggests that conceptual operations might work analogously such that the activation of some concepts might produce a spread of activation that would ultimately result in the activation of a closely related concept. For example, given the task of imagining a modern philosopher characterizing her opposition to Kant's position by first stating her own opinion, and then Kant's, the process of spreading activation might result in the activation of a debate frame.
If the perception of abstract similarities recruits mechanisms that work analogously to object recognition, spreading activation might constitute a neurally plausible implementation of the integration process Fauconnier and Turner (1998) refer to as “completion”. Besides completion, Grady considers how other blending operations might be explained by basic cognitive and neurological processes such as binding and neural inhibition. In fact, his account of selective projection points to a potential weakness in the blending model, for blending theorists often talk about selective projection as if individuals construct input spaces with elaborate knowledge, and then actively select a subset of that knowledge, inhibiting the rest. Describing children's capacity to understand complex blends, Grady warns against wholesale acceptance of the idea of selection and inhibition implicit in many accounts of conceptual blending. He suggests that one reason children can easily comprehend the blends in nursery rhymes (such as the cow jumped over the moon), is that they lack the domain-specific knowledge adults might need to inhibit. One might speculate that the need to inhibit irrelevant structure will depend on the accuracy with which the relevance problem described by Veale and O'Donoghue (2000) is solved. If only relevant information is initially activated, there is no need for suppression.
Coulson, S. & Van Petten, C. (2002), Conceptual integration and metaphor: an event related potential study, Memory & Cognition, 30, 958-968.
Evans, V. & Green, M. (2006), Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
Gibbs, R.W. (2000), Making good psychology out of blending theory, Cognitive Linguistics,11, 347-358.
Grady, J. (2000), Cognitive mechanisms of conceptual integration, Cognitive Linguistics 11, 335-345.
Fauconnier, G. & Turner, M. (1998), Conceptual Integration Networks, Cognitive Science 22, 133-187.
Fauconnier, G. & Turner, M. (2002), The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities, New York, Basic Books.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M., 1980, Metaphors we live by, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Veale, T. & O'Donoghue, D. (2000), Computation and blending. Cognitive Linguistics 11, 253-281.
Redirecting to Conceptual blending