Metaphor and the Brain 1997

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Review of: "Metaphor and the Brain: Behavioral and Psychophysiological Research into Literary Metaphor Processing". Written by: Johan Hoorn. Reviewed by: Yeshayahu Shen Department of Poetics & Comparative Literature Tel Aviv Univ
The dissertation under review aims at studying metaphor processing in different textual conditions. It does so by evaluating three of the major theories of metaphor currently prevailing in cognitive psychology, literary theory and related disciplines, namely, the anomaly, comparison and interaction theories. These theories are modeled by using a set theoretical approach, which assumes that the A- and B-term (topic-vehicle) activate one or more sets of semantic features or properties. This step allows for their being comparable. The models of metaphor processing derived from these three theories, and the predictions yielded by those models, are developed and formalized in the first three chapters explicitly. The next chapters (4 to 7) report several experiments followed by discussions on their results, aiming at evaluating the predictions made by each of the three competing models. Chapter 5 uses feature elicitation task in various conditions. Chapter 6 measures the reaction time in two- and three- choice tasks, and chapter 7 measures the electrocortical effects of reading metaphors under certain conditions. These chapters provides a full-fledged evaluation of specific predictions derived from the competing models with respect to the above tasks and measures. Finally, the author proposes a new model of metaphor processing: The parallel two-stage anomaly race model, to account for the findings obtained in the above experiments.

This is, by no means, one of the most important contributions to the study of metaphor comprehension, and definitely the best dissertation I have ever read in this and related areas. The first three theoretical chapters develop the three widely held theories of metaphors into testable full-fledged models with specific predictions that are comparable, in a way that has not been previously done. Needless to say, this, in itself, seems to an outstanding contribution to the study of metaphor. Furthermore, the clarity of his theoretical argumentation, sophistication and rigor of his theoretical and methodological studies are excellent. Johan Hoorn shows outstanding ingenuity in developing innovative experimental methods for testing the hypotheses derived from the competing models (I am referring in particular to the examination of electrocortical effects of reading metaphors), as well as highly sophisticated theoretical tools for interpreting and evaluating the data obtained. This dissertation sets very high standards of ingenuity, clarity, precision, and rigor to the entire field. All in all, this is an extremely major contribution to the empirical study of literature in general, and to the study of metaphor in particular, and I am sure it will have an enormous impact on the field. Any up-to-date state of the art's statement in the area of the empirical study of literature in general, and in particular in the area of metaphor processing must, in my opinion, include Johan Hoorn as one of its leading figures.