MetaSelf We are tightrope walkers on a beam of light
How to use MetaSelf
<< How MetaSelf is Built >>

What We Need:
A Unifying Image for Our Time

By Peter Vail Carleton ©1995

Many people, when approaching a complex topic, appreciate having a visual aid. Einstein himself is reported to have said, "If I can't see it, I can't understand it." This article presents a visual aid to understanding one of the most difficult topics of all, human nature and the individual self.

We can expect a good visual model of the self to benefit us individually and culturally. On a general intellectual level it would support the understanding that people are not mere collections of miscellaneous experiences but rather have the tools to struggle toward psychological, social and spiritual unity. This would help us as individuals to clarify particular situations and to get an overview of our personal development. On a cultural level, to the degree that the model is based on things everyone shares, it would help us to bridge differences and foster a sense of common humanity.

The fundamental structure of the human body and the way it moves in space and gravity are things people have in common. This bodily structure, reduced to its simplest elements, has an inside and outside and three perpendicular axes, top/bottom, left/right and front/back. These shared physical realities enter into our familiar metaphorical ways of speaking in English about all aspects of experience, including the mathematical and scientific, the artistic and psychological, the social and political, and even the spriritual aspects. For example, when we praise people by saying "You're tops" or put them down by saying "You're the pits," we are employing the vertical axis to express our opinion of their quality in metaphorical spatial terms. Thus the body that we all share provides a vocabulary in which we can describe and understand our experience as individuals. I believe this shared vocabulary can also provide a way to discuss and transcend differences of belief, ethnicity, race and individual appearance.

The project of building a model or picture to help us understand human nature must take into account the current cultural scene with its overtones of relativism and cynicism. A significant number of people have given up hope of finding things that all human beings truly have in common. From their point of view, the great diversity of human behavior and belief suggests that no ideas or values are valid for everyone; creating a model must be a prolonged undertaking involving arduous research. So announcing that one is going to present the basics of a model of the self in a single article is to step up to the plate and say, "I'm going to hit a home run over the left field fence."

I am not entirely foolhardy, so I must lower expectations a little. First, the idea of a model of the self based on bodily dimensions is not brand new. A number of models have done the same thing, diagramming the self using its simplest bodily elements like the general contrast between top and bottom or up and down. A model that used more specific contrasts, such as that between head and foot, would be too cumbersome to remember or use, and it would also fail to be general enough to cover all the important aspects of experience the way simple spatial contrasts can. A second caveat is that, while the model I will illustrate does include important social and political aspects, its emphasis is on the individual bodily self as a starting place, which probably makes it more congenial to Western than Eastern cultures.

What, then, is new about the model I will be offering? Explicitness. Other models that have used the three axes of the body have failed to make clear the full force and flexibility of this procedure, the richness and variety of experience that it can capture. They seem by and large to have been content with relying on a few spatial metaphors, treating them as incidental organizing elements instead of acknowledging them as fundamental roots of our experience. If we instead step back and become aware of the body's axes as general tools used in building models of the self, we will be assming a better vantage point from which to compare various models and either choose between them or reconcile them.

We will return shortly to the details of how a model is built. Right now, however, let us ask what the audience is for a model of the self. I believe that a good model, which presents important aspects of experience and uses a variety of techniques, will interest a broad range of people, from average seventh grade students, through college-age seekers of the psychological or spiritual kind, to skeptical adult intellectuals.

Young students will find that the model presented here puts a lot of apparently miscellaneous information about how we speak and think into a few important clusters. This categorization should make students' thinking clearer and quicker. In addition, the clusters fit into one overall image that visually reminds us of the underlying unity of science, art, social relations, psychology and ethics. Thus the model may help students find an integrated vision of what they are doing in school.

Older students, right up through college age, will find more profound and sophisticated uses for the model. It is a framework that, with a little discipline, may provide them with a tool for psychological insight and a way to approach some profound spiritual questions. They will have not only an image that brings together the various different sides of being human and presents them in a unified way, but also a tool with which to investigate their lives and bring about personal change. I am convinced that the model can serve this function because, over the years I have worked on it, it has transformed my own life.

Intellectuals want to talk meaningfully about our human similarities without losing sight of individual and cultural differences. Because they often hesitate to take a religious viewpoint, which they know can be divisive rather than unifying, they hope for an alternative vision of the self that would make our existential situation more understandable and workable. This vision would speak persuasively about values to both liberals and conservatives, humanists and religious believers, the non-academic person in the street and the professional skeptic. Responding to this hope is a great challenge. At the end of his book The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas summarizes the difficulty any emerging vision of humanity currently faces: [It's] "not unlike having to string the great Odyssean bow of opposites, and then send an arrow through a seemingly impossible multiplicity of targets." (p. 409) Yet that, I believe, is what we must try to do. We must hit a home run if we can.

Enough extravagant announcements! We need to be specific about how to create a visual model that accomplishes all this. Where does one start, and what approach is simple yet profound enough to do the job?

Initial Requirements

A model of the self, a literal picture, must be easy to grasp so that it will engage an audience. Its bold skeleton should remain simple so that we can remember it even when we are under stress, while its detailed meaning may be fleshed out over time. Kinesthetic elements like motion and balance would provide additional impact. We would like it to use a non-technical vocabulary; the jargon of the academic disciplines would merely require translation. Ideally, this model's visual nature, its kinesthetic character, and its vocabulary would all fit together in a natural way.

If we're lucky, the resulting combination will satisfy not only any person of ordinary intelligence but also different kinds of people like artists, scientists, politicians, ethicists, religiously and spiritually inclined people, and those concerned with psychology and ecology. All should be able to look at the same basic image and see at least some important aspect of it they would particularly want to emphasize. Of course, specialized disciplines of all kinds would continue using their own images, vocabularies and theories. But being human is surely more like being a generalist than a specialist.

It would be especially helpful if even fairly young children could understand simple aspects of the model. Having to wait for everyone to acquire an adult education in philosophy, psychology, politics and spirituality makes no sense as a social program. People must start in childhood to grow into their ideas about being truly human, instead of waiting for some esoteric system to which they give their assent upon coming of age.

For now, these are our general requirements.

Strategies: Metaphors and the Body

I used two strategies in building the model of the self, which I carried out consciously and thoroughly. First, I based the model generally on metaphors, and, second, I specifically chose familiar metaphors tied closely to the body and the way it is structured and moves in space and gravity. Let's examine these strategies a little more fully.

Why is it important to use metaphors? Metaphors give us the ability to speak and think about one thing (in this case, the complex human self) in terms of another (a model); they make it possible to talk about things we cannot see or touch in terms of something visible or tangible. Consider, for example, a line from an old song. - "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine." This describes a person in terms of something perceptible - sunlight. This person's effect on the speaker is compared to that of sunlight as a source of light, warmth and growth; something we can see (sunshine) is used to describe something more abstract like personality - being cheering and encouraging.

Moreover, an explicit awareness of metaphors enables us to critique the abstract ways we think; it grounds our language in concrete experience. By placing ourselves at the metaphorical fulcrum between literal meaning and abstract meaning - between, for example, being literally up in the air in a balloon and being figuratively up in the air (undecided, uncertain) - we can make the literal and the abstract kinds of understanding complement each other. We can look at both our bodily selves and our consciousness, both the sensory self that perceives physical objects and the mental or conceptual self that perceives meanings. This way of positioning ourselves will prevent us from becoming either unduly literal or unduly abstract; using metaphors will make it possible to elaborate an observable model, an actual visual aid, that helps us understand intangible things like personality, character and spirituality. At the same time, these concepts can be checked against physical experience. Happily, we will not have to invent new metaphors for all these things. There are concrete metaphors already in standard usage for important aspects of human nature like courage, respect, justice, honesty, and so on. We have only to assemble and organize these metaphors as Renaissance artists and scientists organized the facts of visual perspective.

My second strategy for building a model of the self was to select familiar metaphors that are closely linked with our own bodies, most especially how we are structured and move in space and gravity. Now, although the senses of taste, smell and hearing do offer a number of possibilities - a person can be called "sweet," "salty," "sour" or "bitter"; behavior can be a breath of fresh air or can "stink"; and people have "loud" or "quiet" personalities - I have been unable to get very far with these aspects because they are not only hard to point to, but hard to measure and illustrate precisely. To build a comprehensive visual model of the self, we need to concentrate on metaphors based on something more tangible and kinesthetic. I have chosen our bodily structure in gravity and its simplest spatial elements, which give us all a clear, literal sense of contrasts like up and down, front and back, near and far, and so on.

Consider some of the familiar metaphors we can draw on to build a model of the self and world. We can start with the up/down axis. Feeling "up" or "down," "high" or "low" is a metaphor describing elation and depression based on our own internal sense of energy, posture and self-respect. Socio-economic class and power are conveyed in terms of being situated "above" or "below" other people in a hierarchy. Looking "up to" and looking "down on" are ways to speak about admiration and contempt. Or consider distance: Degrees of intimacy are spoken of as feeling "close" or "distant," while "too close" suggests an overly emotional view and "too distant" means unemotional, out of touch and uninformed. The scope of metaphors like these is clearly promising. They enable us to talk about fundamental things in human nature and the human situation. Even more amazing, we shall see that they can be put into a single overall image that starts with basic concepts and then gets more detailed and profound.

The tangible and the abstract meet most closely in our bodies. Our bodily sense of up and down, front and back, left and right, gives us all an immediate appreciation of the three Euclidean geometrical dimensions - the way we measure the world along three axes at right angles to each other. These axes are abstractions, but our experience of them is clear. Unless we are dizzy or otherwise perceptually impaired, we can tell what is up and what is down. Even in the dark with our eyes closed, we (like the denizens of Plato's cave) know what the vertical axis is, we experience gravity. The top of someone's body is very different from the bottom; usually we can instantly tell the front from the back; and with a little thought we can see an isolated hand and know whether it is a right one or a left one. These bodily contrasts enable us to talk about such things as power, control, social position and status - being "on top," or being "on the bottom." They let us phrase contrasts and comparisons - "on the one hand," ..."on the other hand." And they provide us with a way of speaking about something as abstract as time: we look "forward" to something or look back "back" over our lives. These are but a few of the many examples that could be given, but they make plain the starting point of my thesis--that our model should begin with bodily experience where it directly interacts with abstract or metaphorical communication.

Some people might want to start such a project with something important that we cannot observe, such as the soul, or the beginning of the universe, or perhaps a god who may have created it. I contend that it is easier to start our discussion with things we can point to or touch. And since we'd like to be able to explain human nature in a simple way to young children, it is a help that children do in fact understand literal spatial contrasts like up and down quite early in their linguistic development. More importantly, over a period of about ten years they acquire a facility for using metaphors, although naturally their awareness of how to organize these tools develops more gradually.


The spatial bodily contrasts we all experience, like up/down, left/right, front/back, inside/outside, near/far, can be collected under the umbrella term "image-schemas." The idea of schemas goes back to the philosopher Immanuel Kant. This term has more recently been used by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, best known for their stimulating and popular book Metaphors We Live By.

Why are image-schemas so important and useful?

First of all, they are few in number yet extremely versatile. Compared with the vast number of metaphors based on specific objects and substances (such as: You are the pearl in my oyster, the gem in my crown, the cream in my coffee, the unicorn in my garden, the bull in my china shop, etc.), we can use just a few schemas to organize many different kinds of experience, artistic, scientific, psychological, spiritual, political and more. This versatility saves us from having to employ different metaphorical objects for all the different realms of the self. As will become clear, many realms of experience are conceptualized along the same fundamental spatial lines. Naturally, we can continue to use the more colorful metaphors any time we need.

Second, precisely because image-schemas rely on images, they can be illustrated in a way that other kinds of contrasts cannot. How would you diagram the four contrasting elements of taste - sweet, sour, salty and bitter? They seem to constitute an entire schema, but they conjure up no distinctly spatial or visual characteristics. And, although the contrast between hot and cold does employ a spatial quality for organization (we say "heat up," "warm up," and "cool down"), not much can be done with this to build a model of the whole self.

Third, schemas make it easier, once you get the basic idea, to build a model of the self. This is true because schemas underlie familiar metaphors scattered throughout both colloquial speech and the writings of psychologists, scientists, philosophers, and spiritual thinkers. These metaphors can be understood relatively easily by anyone who understands the basic schemas. For instance, the inside/outside schema enables us to grasp such ideas as the inner child (the hidden earlier potential of the self) or the outside observer (a disinterested person in a position to be more objective), and the question of whether we can really stand "outside" any system of thought. Since all humans have the same three bodily axes and an inside and outside, schemas will go a long way toward creating the universality in our model that we desire.

Once one gets accustomed to thinking about how models are built, it is easy to recognize the bodily axes within other models. There is Plato's famous simile of the cave, with the light moving horizontally through the cave casting shadows of people's bodies on the back wall. Yoga's spinal energy centers called chakras of course follow the vertical axis, as does Abraham Maslow's familiar hierarchy of human needs, although he uses the shape of a pyramid. Rolf Von Eckartsberg, too, used a pyramid and synthesized a very detailed diagram using chiefly the vertical axis. Christianity's unifying symbol, the cross, features two of the body's axes, and, as Charles Hampden-Turner's book Maps of the Mind shows, a number of authors have expanded on the cross as a diagram, adding the third perpendicular axis.

Five Clusters of Metaphors: The Concrete Organizing Notions

The familiar spatial schemas we have been discussing fall into a cluster having to do with static spatial organization. We can call this entire cluster Structure. Structure is one of five broader conceptual categories we will be using, each of which is called a concrete organizing notion (CON). The others are vision/light, location, locomotion, and balance. Each cluster or organizing notion is comprised of a number of closely related familiar metaphors and, as we shall see, is embodied in the particular model I will describe.

Let's consider for a moment the metaphors that cluster around the second concrete organizing notion, vision and light. Think of all the things this notion conjures up. Views (opinions) and viewpoints, outlooks and perspectives, reflective thought, introspection, insight, having foresight and hindsight, being nearsighted or farsighted ("seeing" ahead to make plans, etc.), having illusions (meaning delusions) and blind spots, being blinkered, and winking at misdeeds. It is plain that this cluster of metaphors serves us extremely well in everyday speech, but how has it been used in philosophy, religion and psychology? A few examples will have to suffice. Light is used as a metaphor for the Good by Plato (the sun we are drawn to outside the cave) and for transcendent consciousness in Hinduism; shadow represents the unconscious for Carl Jung; clarity constitutes a test of correct thinking for Descartes; and transparency stands for honest self-disclosure in the psychology of Carl Rogers. Without getting entangled in objections that have been raised to these thinkers' views over the years, we can extract their metaphors of vision and light and use them to refer to a lot of ideas about human nature.

Metaphors of the kinds I will summarize in clusters like this serve us so well, and turn up in so many different contexts, that I am convinced they constitute a fundamental set of tools for thinking and personal growth. But, while these notions are all concrete in the sense that we can observe them, point to them and sometimes measure them, it is their simultaneously concrete and metaphorical aspect that makes them so powerful in our conceptual system. In fact, if we were to stop using just these five crucial notions and the ways of speaking based on them, we would severely cripple our whole language, including our ability to discuss human nature. I will return to the subject of the concrete organizing notions after we look at the particular way I have embodied them in a visual model.

As we move toward assembling this visual model it is important to remember that, although we are starting from the observable body, we don't want to reduce the self to the body. Rather, we want to refresh in our minds the vital links between the body and those metaphors based on the body that help us conceptualize the rest of ourselves. Nor do we want to reduce the body and the whole self to just the schemas, any more than we would want to live with only a skeleton and no flesh, only black and white geometrical drawings and no art with color, shading or interesting shapes. We simply want to be able to see the structural elements shared by our bodies and our conceptual system.

Compared to many other things in our experience, the schemas are both familiar and relatively constant. The vertical axis, for instance, is a reference whether we have our noses in the air or are slumped over with sad defeat. The meanings of the body's relationship to its top/bottom and front/back axes, while complex, are probably about as cross-cultural as the basic facial expressions of babies. The spatial schemas seem to be an aspect of our bodies that the conceptual mind can process easily. A model of the self and world based largely on spatial schemas closely tied to the body should be something we can draw on intuitively, even under stress.

Embodying human values and psychological principles in a model that has been based explicitly on the axes of the body will make more comprehensible all the earlier expressions of wisdom that have used these same spatial schemas. For instance, because the image's elements are visual and kinesthetic, we can talk in detail about the sense in which social class is a hierarchy, or compassion is a matter of imaginatively understanding another person's position while staying separate, or justice and fairness are a kind of balance, and so on. We will have a set of intellectual tools for looking at expressions of wisdom in a critical, grounded way.

My thesis so far, then, is the following. There is a model of the self residing unassembled and implicit in our English language. This model has existed in the structure our bodies ever since we evolved into beings with upright posture, bi-pedal balance as a response to gravity, and our present mode of physical locomotion. First these features became expressed in our literal language of up/down, front/back, balanced/off balance, etc. Then, over time, because everyone could refer to them quite clearly, they became incorporated piecemeal into our figurative language and our abstractions. This long linguistic development is often taken for granted; we do not put the miscellaneous spatial features back together in an explicit overall picture or model. Instead we rely, in a merely fragmentary way, on our bodies as an intuitive frame of reference, an implicit model.

Late twentieth-century developments, however, have begun to bring the figurative parts of our conceptual system back into the spotlight. For instance, a spatial phrase like "She needs her space" originated in part as an attempt to find a cultural vocabulary that could speak to people of very different backgrounds about the need for respect, privacy and autonomy. Recent scholarly work on spatial metaphors has also called our attention to the fact that very important aspects of human beings have regular spatial figures of speech associated with them. If one brings these facts together with the lack of a unifying image in our culture, the natural next step is to see if one can build a literal and metaphorical picture of the whole self and its place in the world.

Before we put more effort into understanding a model of the self based on spatial metaphors, let's check whether this method is capable of representing important human qualities. How, for example, do we understand compassion spatially? At first this question sounds strange, but in fact there is a standard spatial way of speaking about compassion. Two factors combine in what we call compassion. First, it is an ability to empathize with other people, feel what they feel. And second, it is an ability to remain detached enough to be calm, caring and helpful, not identified too completely. We commonly express these two abilities as being able to put oneself in someone else's shoes and as being able to stand back and be centered and grounded enough so that people can lean on us for support and help. In visual and location terms (two of our five clusters), it's like seeing things from the other person's perspective (getting "inside their skin or head") but also seeing them in a somewhat detached or objective way. Visualizing oneself in another person's location or position and also as detached from their situation is an excellent spatial way to conceptualize compassion. Only sympathizing with them, only feeling what they feel in their position, may be overwhelming to the sympathizer; similarly, only feeling from one's own position, not theirs, may amount to unhelpful pity or the simple incomprehension of an "outsider." A model of the self, if it is really good, will help us structure this kind of visualizing into an overall image. It will accurately embody a multitude of figures of speech that characterize the self socially, psychologically, and spiritually.

The particular illustrative model I am assembling, while it is not the only way we could embody the schemas, is really quite convenient. What does it look like? Anyone who has glanced ahead at the drawings knows that my model does not use a picture of the body itself. I strip away the body's particulars and leave a schematic geometric figure, one that essentially has only our three axes and an inside and an outside. This produces a structure on which we can hang a great variety of linguistic meaning, while omitting physical details of skin color, race, facial features, body type, and sex. As we know only too well, these details often evoke prejudices and cause us to forget fundamental things all humans seem to have in common, such as their need for dignity, their respect for courage, their desire for justice. At the same time, the model is explicitly and commonsensically connected, not just to our own individual bodies, but to space, gravity and motion in general. That is to say, the model is in contact with our everyday knowledge of physics and the natural world. This makes it very different from a description of human nature comprised of a list of ungrounded, abstract, metaphysical ideas with no connection to our sense of space.

Here are the three axes of our bodies, which are familiar as the x, y, and z axes of geometry. They are pictured as if viewed from slightly to the left and somewhat above, a perspective that is followed in the other illustrations as well. Figure 1.

When we look at the model I have constructed to represent these elements (Figure 2), we see that the object I have chosen to stand in for our bodies has the same three perpendicular axes. Its six sides are at right angles, and their edges are parallel to its three axes (top/bottom, left/right, front/back). The screws that hold the model together suggest the first two of these axes. What we see is simply a box-frame suitable for displaying artwork or other three-dimensional objects on the wall. Although frames like this are not universally known and come from the realm of art or display, they are general and open in their connotations. Their essentials are easily grasped and can be sketched with a rudimentary kind of depth (full perspective is not necessary). I happened to be enclosing my own artwork in frames like these when I stumbled on the idea of adapting them as a model of the self. As I describe the box-frame, I will point out a number of its advantages. But you may eventually want to suggest a model that illustrates the basic thesis in a different way.


                 |\\                                 \\      wall
                 | \\               o                 \\
     wood        |  \\_________________________________\\
     board_______|_  |                                 | \
     painted     |   |\                                |  \
     color of    |   | \                               |   \
     wall        |   |  \                              |    \
     (the body)  |   |   \                             |     \
                 |   |    \                            |      \
                 |   |     \___________________________|_______\
         screw___|_o |     |                           |       |
         head    |   |     |                           |       |
                 |   |     |                           |       |
                 |   |     |                           |       |
                 |   |     |                           |       |
                 |   |     |                           |       |
                 |   |     |                           |       |
                 |   |     |                           |       |
                 |\  |     |                           |       |
                  \\ |     |                           |       |
                   \\|_____|_________0_________________|       |
                    \      |                            \      |
                     \     |                             \     |
                      \    |                              \    |
                       \   |                               \   |
           clear________\  |                                \  |
           acrylic       \ |                                 \ |
           cover          \|__________________________________\|
           (the mind)
                                         Fig. 2

Normally anything to be displayed in this kind of box-frame would be mounted on the board at the back, but this model is left empty; it's the overall structure that is the point here, not the contents. As with a standard picture frame, a length of wire (not shown) is strung across the back and hung on the head of a screw in the wall. This board (actually a piece of plywood and four wood struts) represents the human body, which is a structured opaque shape that exists in gravity and that is the location of our emotions and bodily sensations. The board's natural wood echoes our natural body.

The space enclosed in front by a crystal-clear acrylic cover represents the figurative space we call the conscious mind. In this right-angled space we can imagine either artistic or scientific images, both of which commonly use the vertical and horizontal axes as basic references. Artists use the horizon and the vertical for perspective, and usually their canvases have right-angled corners; science relates variables on perpendicular axes in charts and graphs. The fact that we do not ordinarily see or focus on the clear cover of a frame is being used here to represent the idea that the mind is a figurative space, not a space we can see. We use literal space to construct figurative, imaginative space. Thus the board and cover combine in a natural image of the self.

What this drawing does not show is the shadow cast by the box-frame onto the wall. An ordinary box-frame would be flush against the wall; very little shadow would be visible to someone standing in the room. This arrangement fits the meaning of our model very nicely because it represents the unconscious or the Jungian "shadow" - the various things we put out of mind, including our latent and undeveloped aspects - as another figurative space at the "back of the mind." There is a hollow space at the back of the board. When the box-frame is mounted on the wall, this space would normally be in shadow. An important thing the box-frame does for us as a model, then, is to show us two actual spaces that can be used figuratively to represent parts of the mind, the conscious and the unconscious. The mind is a concept, something we cannot see. We visualize the mind instead of see it, and the model shows us concretely one of the ways we can do this. The right angled edges of the board (body) are paralleled by those of the acrylic cover (the mind): the structure of the mind (and our concept of the mind) adapts bodily space. (The unconscious or sub-conscious is sometimes thought of as being below the conscious; feelings are suppressed, "shoved down," made less accessible. This is natural. Depth can be either from front to back or from top to bottom. Consider the term "depth psychology.")

An important feature of the model is the wall itself. It is a concrete way to represent the limits of any situation or system in which we find ourselves. It is a taken-for-granted background that surrounds whatever is going on in the room. The viewer notices what is on the walls rather than the walls themselves, and the box-frame looks into the room, putting the wall behind it. Significantly, the shadow self is squeezed between the back of the box-frame and the wall, as if the self were trying to exclude it from the overall view of things.

Because the wall or room supports and in fact contains the box-frame, when it is taken on a very grand symbolic scale it can represent Nature by which we are all supported and surrounded. In this model, then, the emphasis is on our ecological dependence on Nature; we literally hang down from it and are supported by it. In effect, the horizontal ground that has supported our fertile evolution has been transposed upwards to become the vertical wall, which of course ultimately runs down to the ground. For, despite the fact that we human beings have supposedly raised ourselves "above Nature," we still depend on it and can be defeated by it. We have taken natural materials and built them up into things like houses, cities with walls, and museums that display images abstracted from reality, but these man-made constructions can be swept away in a moment by floods and earthquakes, or by man-made ecological disasters. Because we plan and construct complex societies, we set ourselves up for a greater fall; our lives hang by a technological thread of our own spinning (represented here by the wire on which the box-frame hangs). The same vulnerability exists on other levels of scale, since the wall can also represent the boundaries of any system by which we are encompassed, such as the solar system or the entire natural physical universe. Just as the dinosaurs apparently were, we could be wiped out by an asteroid.

The box and the whole room in which it exists imply yet another space with important figurative meanings - the space beyond the room. This is the metaphorical location of the many things we place "beyond space and time" and describe as "transcendent." To different people this "beyond" signifies things like God, Heaven, eternal values or the Good, the highest transpersonal Self, atheistic nothingness, or a Zen void. I will have more to say about this figurative space later.

Back inside the room, the space between the viewer and the box-frame symbolizes the space of social relationships, what goes on between two (or more) people. This is what the British psychologist D.W.Winnicott calls "potential space" in which relationships grow and become real; Martin Buber would describe it as the transcendent that comes into being "between I and thou," the immanent God that emerges in dialogue between people.

This brief tour shows us that we have several spaces (some solid, some open air) arranged along a single axis that goes from the viewer in front of the box-frame, through it, and out its back. In sequence, these spaces represent social interaction (action between viewer and box-frame), rational/artistic activity (the front of the box), our bodily/emotional experience (the backboard), the unconscious or shadow (behind the box), our dependence on Nature and ecological reality (the wall that supports the frame), and the transcendental aspects of the self (localized in a figurative space beyond the wall). These are all different planes, volumes or "spheres" of existence.

The Broader Model

We are now in a position to expand this model of the self and the world by developing certain of its elements into a more comprehensive and detailed representation. This expanded model consists of a whole room hung with a sequence of fifty-one developmental variations on the standard box-frame we have been examining. An area of blank wall is a fifty second (non-)image. Putting all the images into a single room enables us to play with the conventions of an art gallery or exhibition hall.

Remember, of course, that we are looking at one particular way to model the self using the body's spatial structure and its related English metaphors. I will mention only the most essential highlights of this broader model; the complete series is set forth in a book, currently titled Being Human: a Visual Aid, where each of the fifty-one box-frames, whether standard or a variation, represents a state of being, a way of thinking, a role, or a stance toward existence. A general impression of the complete sequence is all that is needed to make clear my fundamental points--that we can diagram the self's existence and development across time using a sequence of box-frames going around the room.

The entire sequence is divided into seven groups of images that take the viewer from (1) very simple ideas of cosmology, to (2) the conception and birth of the individual, (3) a dependent relationship with a parental figure, through (4) early cognitive and ethical development, (5) inner conflict and growth, and (6) relationships dealing with power and love. The final group, (7), has to do with wisdom, spiritual awareness, transcendence and the connection between what is figuratively outside the room ("beyond" it) and what is inside it. This whole series is the model in its individual aspect, the narrative development of a single self in a loose sequence across time. But the whole room full of images, the whole collection, can also be seen as existing at the same time together, like members of a community.

Take a minute to visualize the full picture that is now in place. Imagine walking into a big exhibition room in a museum of science or art, a place where we go to learn and enjoy looking. Or just imagine any large room. A number of constructions are arranged around the walls numbered from left to right (because English, unlike some languages, goes from left to right). The contents of the whole room with all its frames and visitors represent an entire cast of social characters. By entering the room, one enters the world or life; one comes into existence. Just as a baby is a "new arrival," someone who has died is the "departed." ("All the world's a stage...their exits and their entrances" comes to mind.) Transcendence could perhaps be conceptualized as a way of properly relating to the spaces both inside the room and outside. This whole image is familiar, almost a cliche, partly because it employs the inside/outside schema, one of our most pervasive devices for structuring meaning.

Our knowledge of the image-schemas makes it possible for us to diagram some common ideas of the transcendent in terms of this expanded model of the room. Consider, for example, the different connotations of various locations of the transcendent: - inside the room between people (Buber's immanent aspect of God "between I and thou"); in the walls (Nature which surrounds us but which has been altered by human behavior); outside and above the room and thus to be held in reverence; outside the walls but on the same level as people, and thus super-natural but non-hierarchical and more friendly; or below the floor (an earth Goddess or Tillich's "ground of being"). These are very ordinary examples of how we talk about the transcendent, but the model, the schemas and the organizing notions are good concrete tools for seeing how our language works for us and how other languages work. They provide an open structure for discussing our different views of the transcendent. The question of how much meaning actually resides in the schemas and how much we give to them would be a matter for discussion. I am inclined to believe that the truth lies in the fit between the inherent and the given meaning.

More About the Concrete Organizing Notions

We can now return to examine more closely the five clusters that I introduced earlier, clusters that I call Concrete Organizing Notions (CONs is the unfortunate acronym). Their standard, everyday figurative meanings are well represented in our model, making the model a summary of how we think, feel, see, and judge.

Vision and light. I have already mentioned some associations with the concrete organizing notion of vision and light, which frequently represents consciousness (light = awareness; darkness = ignorance) and even cosmological creation ("Let there be light"). We use terms like visionary, enlightened, and reflective. In the gallery-room that serves as the overall context of the model, there are ordinary sources of light. In addition, the first image in the whole series of fifty one is called light. A simple screw in the wall, it lies along the z axis of geometry that, like a ray, connects three things - the viewer-self in the room, the model of the self on the wall, and the invisible world "beyond" the room where, to some ways of thinking, we can locate a transcendent Self (with a big S) or the soul or other transcendent beings. The viewer's typical line of sight when looking at a wall-mounted exhibition is much the same as this front/back axis of the box-frame, although actually the frame's center is often at the level of the heart or navel. This axis goes through all the various aspects of the self that we have teased into separate metaphorical spaces, posing the question of how to re-unite them. For instance, how do we reclaim that which we have repressed in the unconscious in order to become whole again; how do we regain any sense of unity with nature? One thesis of this article is that metaphor is at the very heart of both the way we tease out experience along the z axis and also the way we re-unite it. Since we figuratively break our selves up, we need a real spatial image the puts us back together. Otherwise, we are left with the feeling that the intellect can only fragment our understanding of ourselves.

Those who see the self as primarily something tangible and visible may prefer to think of the space beyond the wall as merely metaphorical, placing primary emphasis on the end of the z axis that is in the room. Those who view the worldly self as just a manifestation of an invisible transcendent consciousness may see the end beyond the wall as primary. The model does not settle this question, but situates the self just inside the wall that, on the largest scale, represents Nature. In fact, the model shows a way to bridge these two views, with the axis of meaning running through the entire arrangement as a spatial element that helps us visualize and conceptualize our entire existence.

Balance. This is the second concrete organizing notion in the model. As far back as Aristotle, balance has generally meant such things as equivalence, equilibrium, fairness or, more specifically, the balance of economic exchanges, a mean between extremes, and virtue. "Balanced" can mean mentally and emotionally steady or poised. The box-frame represents all these qualities literally by not tilting down to the left or the right; it's like a balanced scale. Just as we ordinarily try to balance our bodies on our feet, we can also have a strong kinesthetic urge to straighten a tilted frame on the wall. Balance is a picture of comparison and of making good judgements between alternatives; we use figures of speech like "on balance" (all things considered) and "the weight of the evidence tilts my decision toward..." We learn physically to balance our head on our neck, then our upper body on the ground or floor, and finally our whole body on our feet. This very physical skill becomes incorporated in figures of speech like a balanced diet, a balanced artistic composition, balance of accounts, balance of trade, balance of (governmental) powers, and the balanced decision of a judge or other leader who weighs various people's interests on the "scales of justice." Thus a quality of pre-linguistic bodily structure and kinesthetic experience is extended to describe one of the highest of all virtues. Interestingly, balance signifies both equality and the need to make decisions between closely similar alternatives, suggesting that equality and justice are difficult to harmonize. Balance and transparency were the two literal qualities of the box-frame which I first noticed had such pervasive metaphorical meanings, persuading me that I could use this ordinary object as a model of human nature. Eventually, the whole box-frame became a reminder of the body as an image of the whole self.

Locomotion. This is the model's third organizing notion. In everyday metaphor, locomotion represents a number of things: action and intention in general ("I'm going to..." and "Go for it!"); psychological cause (such and such a motive "moved" her to act); change; progress (Latin. pro-gredi, stepping forward); development ("Has she arrived at the teething stage yet?"); and the passing (!) of time. In the overall model, locomotion is conveyed by the sequence of images and by the viewer's path from left to right around the room. In talking about time, which can seem so abstract, we use phrases like "the march of time," "this clock is running fast," "the minutes crept along," "time stood still." Locomotion (along with the idea of a location as a state of being or state of mind) can describe someone's psychological "drive" or spiritual development, as when we say "She has moved to a new place in her life." Thus we have spiritual "journeys," "the road less traveled," and the path to enlightenment. We also have the Shining Path of South American Marxism-Leninism and the war path. Other kinds of motion: "Sail on, O Ship of State!" "His career was a comet, bright but brief." "It's going swimmingly." Locomotion is a very general notion that can be used many ways. In the mind of the speaker, it can suggest progress, but one may disagree about the absolute reality of that. (Consider also regress, digress.) A relationship can be spoken about as a "two- way street." The locomotion metaphors in our everyday speech are exceedingly numerous, but many of us have never had our attention called to them as a class; they seem merely miscellaneous to us. In fact, until relatively recent scholarship (such as Lakoff and Johnson's book mentioned above) shifted our point of view, many people seem to have considered metaphor to be a mere rhetorical device, an unnecessary curlicue.

Structure is the fourth concrete organizing notion. When a substance has enough solidity to have a persistent form or shape of its own, it can have distinct parts or can be a part of larger arrangements. Under this concrete organizing notion I list a number of diverse ideas: (a) form, shape and gestalt (although I don't give these much attention because I am looking for something even more general); (b) parts and wholes; (c) fit (consider concepts of truth that speak of a "fit" between reality and a picture of reality, and the "fit" between someone's behavior and their less public feelings or motivations); (d) connections or links; (e) containers, which are often an image of categories; (f) channels; and (g) the familiar three perpendicular axes.

The metaphorical meaning of solid structure often pertains to the arrangement of the parts of an abstract entity such as the personality. This rather elusive idea can best be grasped through an example: the fact that our bodies have a solid form and a usual orientation in gravity means that we can meaningfully describe our conscience or "higher self" as somthing "riding" us. "Higher" would be a problematic notion if we lived floating in the weightlessness of outer space, but the way our body is configured in gravity makes it meaningful to say that something is on top of us and behind us, in control and either spurring us to do something or reining us back.

Structure is embodied in the model most noticeably by the three axes of the box-frame (which are oriented to gravity) and by its being a container with an inside and an outside. Thus the box-frame is like our bodies and the room, which are obviously physical containers or limited spatial volumes. We can think about the human body's structure as being organized by a number of image-schemas, among them up/down, front/back, left/right (our bi-lateral symmetry), and inside/outside. The transparency of the box's front and the shadow at the back give dimension and subtlety to the sharp inside/outside distinction.

Location is fifth. It is commonly used figuratively to mean a stage of development, a psychological or spiritual state, a condition, a social position or role, or a period of time. In the overall model, location is represented first of all by one's being either in the room or out of it (to some ways of thinking, physically existing or not existing). More particularly, each of the locations occupied by an image on the walls represents a condition or a "stage" in a loose human developmental sequence from dependence to interdependence. Familiar uses of the idea of location are a "position" at the bank (job or function); a place in line for promotion; one's "social station" or "place" ("You forget you place, sir!"); being "in a good place"; taking a position in a debate; and being "in an awkward position," that is, an unpleasant but transient social situation of some kind. ("Situation" is in fact another locational term.)

These five clusters of standard spatial metaphors clearly encompass enormously important conceptual areas. Beyond balance and (loco)motion, I have not yet dealt with kinesthetic metaphors very much - imagery like the "impact" of something on someone psychologically or "leaning on" them to make a decision. These are obviously important, but so far I have concentrated on locomotion and have gravitated toward spatial arrangements and relationships. This gives the model a rather classical, rationalist tone. I look forward to seeing how metaphors of force could augment the model.

A firm grasp of these five clusters should - given that explanations are often a matter of sorting many details into a recognizable pattern - afford anyone a greater sense of comfort with our shared conceptual system. Phrase after phrase of both ordinary speech and formal academic writing will gain a familiar ring, like notes heard as part of a tonality. The five concrete organizing notions I emphasize are all represented in our model and can be recalled through it, making it a teaching tool for helping people realize how much of our thinking is organized in these ways. Wittgenstein said that to philosophize is to assemble reminders for a particular purpose. This model provides us with a culturally transmissible reminder. It can be deliberately taught instead of absorbed in tiny apparently unrelated fragments, and it can be represented visually so that everyone can understand it on an ordinary perceptual scale. Teilhard de Chardin used the whole sphere of the Earth, which I find difficult to relate in an immediate way to my psychological self and to my relationships. However, the room in the model I am presenting can imaginatively be scaled up to the Earth, the solar system or the entire universe. Granted, right-angled boxes and solid perpendicular walls are unfamiliar in some cultures that use round pots and woven baskets, and live in yurts, teepees or igloos. One might speculate that they would experience the six-sided box-frame as foreign and might possibly like better a round, clock-faced model with its 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock markers and the axis for the hands.

The CONs are also a way for people whose mind-set has become too abstractly mental to reclaim their bodily self, a stepping stone (to use a locomotion metaphor) away from a too intellectual place to a deeper, more rounded appreciation of the integration of mind, feelings, body and spirit. The core of our conceptual system includes, and may in fact be largely constituted by, our intuitive sense of space, movement and kinesthetic balance and all their metaphorical meanings. If we lack a strong physical as well as intellectual sense of this conceptual core, we are likely to drift up into highly abstract metaphysical speculations (as Hegel did) or to try to understand our existence solely by digging down into the micro level of quantum particles (reductionist scientism).

Virtues and Values

I want now to discuss more fully the ideas of value, principle and virtue that the model serves to recall to our minds. We have already mentioned such qualities of mind and character as light = awareness; balance = judgment and fairness. Of course, not everyone will subscribe to any value a model presents or execute it in the same way, nor can we force anyone to abide by a value simply by referring to the model. Rather, my hope, my belief, is that a clearly integrated image of the self based firmly on principles of a bodily organization we all share will have a combined moral, logical and aesthetic force that might begin to address the relativistic confusion and conflict of our contemporary world. Let's look at some features of the box-frame in this light.

First, truth, honesty and self-knowledge comprise a group of values symbolized by the box-frame's transparency, which is part of our Light/vision concrete organizing notion. Transparency at least indicates an openness to the light of knowledge and reason (in Augustine's Latin phrase, lumen intellectus agentis). This kind of knowledge or reason is something like a correspondence or fit between the contents of the clear, conscious, reasoning mind (the front of the box) and the world that the mind looks out on. But transparency suggests more. Transparency is used by Carl Rogers to denote a willingness to be self-revealing in order to create intimacy: we know ourselves and allow others to see into our hearts, we have insight into ourselves and permit others to have it also. Insight, of course, is another visual metaphor. Insight takes us first into what is literally inside the body - that is, the feelings or bodily sensations that can be informative about emotions; unless we are aware of our emotions, we can hardly make honest promises and realistic plans. Beyond that, insight can reach even "deeper" to what is inside the figurative space of the shadow, the repressed (pressed back) contents of the unconscious. Thoroughgoing insight, applied to ourselves, is the value summarized in the maxim "Know thy self." Applied to others, insight is a compound of empathy and wisdom about the human heart.

Sincerity, authenticity, and integrity are often visualized in terms of congruence, that is to say, a similarity between what someone shows outwardly and their inner feelings, a fit or match of shape between what is in front of the backboard and what is in the backboard. Whatever is behind the backboard, however, may remain hazy and paradoxical. I might note here that, in the full sequence of the model, the material of which the backboard is made eventually becomes transparent acrylic, symbolizing a very complete kind of self-knowledge, an enlightened conquering of the shadow.

We can think of different views of human nature as emphasizing different segments of the front/back z axis of the model. Augustine would say that the intellectual light in the front (conscious) portion of the box actually derives from God, who can be located farther out along this axis in the metaphorical transcendent space beyond the wall. Romantics would stress the enlightenment and intuitive creativity that is to be gained by uncovering the unconscious part of the z axis, the part passing through the shadow. Others (myself among them) would stress the fundamental importance of the part that is within the backboard, symbolizing the original "wisdom of the body," which includes our bodily form and our feelings. Still others would emphasize the social construction of our categories of reality, starting at the end of the axis that is centered in the room. This is a brief example of using the model to visualize different ideas about human nature by drawing on our ordinary bodily axes and the room to organize our images of the self and world.

The second virtue symbolized by the box-frame is courage, indicated both by the fact that the box faces directly into the room and by the fact that normally a viewer in a gallery stands directly in front of a frame. There is a strong connection between courage and looking at something along the same axis as it faces us, largely because this configuration is related to locomotion in that same direction: the shortest line between two points can bring us into physical contact or conflict. Con-front-ation is evoked by imagery like "going toe to toe with," "nose to nose," "at daggers drawn." We speak of courageously facing the truth and of looking someone directly in the eye. While on many occasions a failure to be direct constitutes a lack of courage, at other times we or the trickster in us can accomplish more by indirection, in round about ways, deviously, or by sidestepping or deflecting energy that comes straight toward us. But, while discretion can sometimes be the better part of valor, if we are never able to be direct, we may be seen as shifty or cowardly.

Another point about the way the box-frame faces directly into the room: Because the box-frame is flat and foursquare against the wall, it can look right and left, a full 180 degrees, just as we can when we stand head up, gently erect with our shoulders broad. The present, the now, is often thought of spatially as "here" or "directly in front of us and close to us." Because the series of images on the wall has a temporal as well as a developmental aspect, this wide view of the box-frame symbolizes a concern for the full narrative quality of an action, including the past and the future, as well as the present moment centered along the straight-ahead z axis.

Third, the vertical uprightness of the backboard on the wall reminds us of the meanings of the body's upright axis. First of all, the term upright means righteous, honest or just. There are also connotations of individuality and taking responsibility for one's own life, bringing to mind the phrase "In the end we all stand alone." Upright also suggests a natural self-respect and dignity as contrasted with extreme vanity or humility. Thus, if the frame were low on the wall and tilted up toward the viewer, it could suggest a self-abasing, worshipful attitude, while being high on the wall looking down could represent someone trying to be "one up." Instead, it is placed on the wall at a comfortable height for viewing, and it looks straight ahead.

The frame's normal height on the vertical axis indicates another virtue, one that is hard to capture in a single English word. This is the ability to cope with the tension between is and ought, the stretch from our grounding in practical reality to our aspirations and goals above. It's the delicate matter of what is too rigid ("uptight") and what is too lax and flexible - too idealistic versus too expedient or defeatist.

The term upright may have a somewhat stodgy ring for some cynical people, and we can concede them a point: sometimes we must reverse each of the virtuous qualities of the box-frame. The trickster in us upsets the balance, turns things on their head or inside out, goes about things circuitously, acts off-center or asymmetrical in order to keep us from taking for granted the way things are expressed and done. But we can find such reversals disturbing and suspicious when done for their own sake rather than for a larger good, and at that point we want to reestablish the standard virtue of the schema we are using. The trickster wants us to avoid getting "stuck" or "stuck up," but we still need the vertical as a symbol of our birthright of self-respect, our sense of dignified independence and responsibility. These are values most of us subscribe to; the question of how to re-establish them when we have been mistaken or defeated will be taken up later when I discuss "confronting the shadow."

Note the difference between two kinds of balance expressed by the model; one is on the left/right axis, the other on the front/back axis. By not tilting down to the left or right side, the box-frame is a symbol of the personal virtues of judgment and fairmindedness, of weighing sides in making a just decision. By contrast, the phrase "a level playing field" evokes a whole situation and the front/back axis that stretches between the box- frame and the viewer. Most floors, after all, are built level, and games are played on level ground to give everyone a chance to move in any direction with equal expenditure of effort; no one has the unfair advantage of high ground for gaining the force of momentum. The box-frame is placed at a standard height above the floor so that it can be viewed comfortably by a variety of people.

Translated back into the language of personal virtues, this level front/back axis represents the ability to equalize power relationships. People like this find a cooperative way to deal with people on a level comfortable for all parties, without abusing anyone's position above them or below them. Highly placed powerful people should be magnanimous, those weaker and lower placed should not feel diminished in dignity. The idea of hierarchy is evoked by the vertical axis, the idea of equality and justice by the horizontal axis. The puzzle is to put these two dimensions into proper relation. How horizontal, how vertical should a social system be? In sum, balance on the left/right axis suggests judgement, while on the front/back axis it evokes justice.

A slight digression here. Lest anyone think for a moment that the polarities of the image-schemas (high and low, front and back, etc.) can be interchanged without consequence (are so- called purely linguistic conventions), consider the comparative difficulty of crushing a can against the ceiling as opposed to under foot. Imagine what we would have to do to our language for the phrase "higher expectations" to mean that less was expected instead of more. What a counter-intuitive mess that would create! Similarly, the front to back axis cannot be easily reversed. Yes, we can tie an apron behind our back, but try mixing up a batch of cookies and placing them in the oven in this way, try driving a car backwards down the freeway. (The ghost of Dr. Johnson kicks the leg of a simplistic deconstructionist.) By contrast, however, left and right are so similar that we naturally use them as a way to express equality, duality, comparison - on the one hand, on the other. We do tend to emphasize one end or other of some image-schematic contrasts. As a result we sometimes have to go to the opposite end to pick up on what we have neglected. We regress in order to go over neglected developmental ground; we get down to basics, "touch bottom," before we confidently rise again; we venture into the nourishing darkness to find the hidden light. The fifth virtue suggested to us by the box-frame is a fit between mind and body, indicated by the way the wood and acrylic parts fit closely together and are attached by screws to make a complete enclosure. The right-angled edges of the backboard (the body) are paralleled by the edges of the acrylic cover (the conceptual system or mind). The model thus asserts that the mind should be understood as a visualized entity linked in very detailed yet flexible ways to the structure of the body. (In fact, I illustrate the idea of existential anxiety as a shrinking of the board so that there is a separation between the two bridged only by extra-long screws.) This body/mind virtue is closely related to the whole aim of my argument - to assemble an image of the self with scientific, psychological, artistic, and spiritual meaning. The shards of such an image lie all around us like a smashed skeleton in a desecrated tomb. The spirit has departed, and it is for us to call it back.

This is not an isolated, dryly academic task. Indeed, we are trying to make the greatest possible human use of the academic work on metaphors that has been done. We are addressing our everyday need for something commonsensical at the center of our being human. By "commonsensical" I mean three things. First, the model should be subject to discussion among people generally. Second, it should serve as some kind of guide. And, third, it should appeal to more than one of the perceptual senses. The model we are considering does bring together visual perception and the kinesthetic senses of balance and locomotion around the gallery-room, along with ordinary language that closely fits these elements but has important abstract meanings as well. Sensory perception and intellectual "perception" fit together in a clear fashion. A fit between mind and body is not one of the ancient virtues; the need for it has more recently become apparent. Having a model of the self with a good fit between mind and body makes life a great deal more manageable because it enables us to keep our eyes on several parameters at once.

Sixth is the human need for safety, protection and boundaries, signified by the protective acrylic cover. It serves not only as a symbol of the abstract axes of meaning which its edges parallel but also as a practical shield against violence. That is the beauty of transparent glass and acrylic: they let through light and keep out grosser forces. Cell membranes work best when they are semipermeable. (A blind person who needed a tangible kinesthetic substitute for visual imagery would be able to imagine this feature of the model in terms of a sieve or screen that lets in small bits of information but keeps out big destructive things; no bulls in china shops.) The container also signifies containment, self-control, and self-restraint. One person's need for protection is the mirror image of another's duty to offer such protection or at least gentle respect. Occasionally we need to retire to safe settings in order to lick our emotional wounds. If we feel embarrassed or fearful about this, it only shows that in the past we have not received the protection humans need. A protected setting is vital if we are to uncover and make sense of our repressed material, the baggage we have had to stuff in the darkness of our shadow. To seek out the appropriate kind of safety is a sign of respect for who we are, what we have gone through, and what we have yet to resolve.

Understanding Ethics in Terms of Space

Having seen how features of the box-frame embody virtues of the individual self, like honesty, courage, judgment and justice, we can now look at the idea of ethics in terms of the expanded model that includes the real-life viewer and the gallery room as a whole. Our sense of position in space gives us a very good way to conceptualize ethics. We can imagine ourselves either in the position of a real-life viewer in the gallery, or in the position of a schematized human image on the wall, giving us two positions that face each other. It is this imaginative ability that gives meaning to a figure of speech like "Put yourself in her position and think how you'd feel." The change of position is one way to express the golden rule - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The same is true of ideas like "Put yourself in his shoes," "Walk a mile in his moccasins," "See yourself through others' eyes," "Look at it from where I stand," and so on. One of the reasons we can have ethics is that we can imagine things from others' points of view, and this is easier to do knowing that we share a vocabulary of space. We can identify with others, we all stand in the same room together, and we all have the same three axes.

There is an interplay here between metaphors of vision, location, and locomotion. There is also an imaginative kind of balance in the idea of switching positions to see something from more than one position, and this speaks directly to the ideas of fairness, justice, judgment and compassion. The balance of the box-frame on the wall is an internal, almost intellectual idea of these virtues; one can talk about it without necessarily feeling it. But the idea of switching positions makes it more vivid, as if the front/back axis were a see-saw. By imagining switching positions, we can feel in our bodies what someone else might feel if they were being kicked, just as we can get sweaty palms simply by vividly imagining standing at the edge of a cliff. This kind of imagination can be strengthened by role playing in which children or adults exchange seats and act out a scene - a powerful educational and therapeutic tool. Of course on occasion it can be hard to imagine how other people feel, but this is hardly sufficient grounds for saying that everything we believe about other people is utterly subjective. Moreover, we are often not confined to imagining what people feel, we can also ask them.

A crucial shift is taking place here, from looking at the self as some parts trying to be whole, to the self as a part of larger wholes, such as relationships, communities, nations, ecosystems, or a transcendent totality. The model provides a simple way to visualize each of these wholes. One-to-one relationships are easily diagrammed by the viewer/frame dyad, where the frame represents a second person instead of a schematic diagram of the viewer-self. All the various frames in the gallery could amount to a small organization or community, but they each can also be seen as a representative of various types of people who coexist in a larger national community. The wall and the dependence of the frames on it provides an image of our dependent relationship with our natural surroundings. And the space outside the room is an image of a Whole that is greater than the sum of all its parts.

A Test

One test of the model's effectiveness is whether it can make spatial sense of various other ways we split up the self conceptually. To take but one example, Carl Jung divided the self into intellect, sensation, emotion, and intuition. How would the model deal with that?

Take intellect first. We already have the image of a ray of light going through the box. The section of this axial ray in the front part of the box can stand for that kind of consciousness we call "the light of reason" and "clear thinking." Additionally, the right angles of the box-frame organize the mathematical and scientific ideas of ratios (rationality as right proportion) and the relationships between variables shown in graphs with two right-angled axes. The same right angle is at the corner of most artists' canvases, it structures lines of print, the pages of books, and the lines and columns on a computer screen. It's a fundamental tool of both the abstract thinker and the carpenter. Individual artistic expression can also be thought of as taking place within the open front space of the box-frame, although, of course, art, being what it is, sometimes breaks out of that restricted format to dramatize new, imaginative meaning.

As for sensations, I would locate tactile sensations at the surface of the wooden board. This board, however, is painted white as a background for artwork or other displays and can also serve as an image of the retina of an eye on which images can be projected. Inner body sensations (proprioceptive sensations like stomach cramps, heartache, and adrenaline rushes) would reside within the wooden backboard. Beyond these two types, there is the difficulty that we do have sensations we are not usually aware of, like our back against the chair. Becoming aware of them is like their coming to the surface of the board; our thinking is focused in the front part of the box-frame and the feelings "surface" in our consciousness. Or we stop thinking and bring our attention into our bodies where the feelings arise. Repressed sensations would be located in the shadow behind the board, and they can arise in the body or, in a symbolic form, in our thoughts.

Where would emotions go? The proprioceptive sensations that are the feeling part of emotions, like a feeling of anxiety in the chest, are partly physical and to that extent are located in the body of the board. But these sensations are affected by the way we interpret ("see") our situation - cognition. In the movie theater, our heart rate goes down when we see that the burning screen is in fact only a clever cinematic device of the film's director. Thus emotion, the third of Jung's quadrants, would be located partly in the body and partly in the person's outlook, how they see their situation, which I visualize as the box looking out like an eye on the room. Eventually insight and spiritual imagination give the self a deeper aspect - a context that includes Nature and the transcendent.

Intuition, of the four features Jung mentions, is commonly believed to be the most difficult to describe. It is thought of as coming from deeper inside a person. I see intuition as feelings or thoughts that are pre-organized by the bodily image- schemas. These schemas are there in the literal spatial structure of the body before the mind is added on as a metaphorical space, so it's natural to see intuitions that arrive already organized as "deeper." The bodily organization of meaning and creativity is so deep in us that meaning can break out (or through) into the mind without being consciously constructed. This is my way of explaining why our conscious minds (the front of box) can say "That -feels- right" even when we are talking about an idea. The schemas have a logical aspect that we try out on ideas that arise; when there is a good fit, a match between the conscious schemas we are using and those embedded in the intuitive material, we tend to think the intuition is correct. This process can be mistaken, but often it is right. (This view of intuition seems consonant with recent theories of consciousness that omit any central executive self and instead picture the mind as the survival of the patterns - neural and conceptual - that best fit the environment and each other.)

The schemas exist all along the front/back z axis of the box; they operate in the body and in Nature, but they also work in art, science, logic, and human relationships. Because schemas are such a deep part of bodily experience, they reach into the unconscious itself. The Jungian shadow and archetypes seem to have a logic of their own because the schemas are inherently dual and lend themselves to paradox, reversibility, and the unity of opposites. The schemas also enter into our conceptualizing the transcendent as the "beyond" - a location that is out of sight (in the model, outside the room) and beyond ordinary perception (the wall is opaque). This localization of the transcendent, however, is contradicted by another spiritual intuition that is also expressed spatially. I have in mind the remark, quoted by Ken Wilber, that the Absolute "is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." This uses the spatial contrast of center and periphery to make a religious or mystical point. Because schemas are inherently a matter of contrasts whose components are related like yin and yang, they help us string the Odyssean bow of opposites - the dualities and paradoxes of life that are part of wisdom, spiritual knowledge and mysticism.

The Model and the Transcendent

No model suitable for a twenty-first century culture will fail to make space for differing views of reality. The open space in the box where artistic expression occurs and scientific theories are set forth is one such space, and it can accommodate a great many visions and versions. The space beyond the wall is even more ambiguous, even more contentious, than the worlds of art and science, but we need to encompass it as well.

In the context of the model, the location beyond the wall can have many figurative meanings. Or, to some people, these meanings may be a kind of real location I have not experienced and grasped yet. I will not try to judge the truth here.

Heaven, the place where God lives.
Where souls go after death.
An imageless God.
The domain of light.
The location of Platonic Forms, e.g., The Good.
The location of universals (as opposed to particulars)
The place where our highest potential comes from.
Where the transpersonal Self "dwells."
A Zen void or Buddhist spaciousness all around us.
The Whole that is greater than the sum of all the
parts found in the room.

The buddha-self or observer-self.
The One as opposed to the many (Plotinus).
The Absolute (Hegel).
Alternate realities, other worlds.
Other "dimensions."
Existential nothingness.
The Comprehensive (Karl Jaspers).
The eternal __ "beyond" space and time.
What is "outside" our system and therefore cannot
logically be talked about or named at all (Goedel
and Wittgenstein).
The unknown.

It is appropriate that in this model the self is situated between the social world of the room and the indescribable that is outside the room. Metaphor puts us, as I suggested at the outset, at the fulcrum between the tangible and the intangible, the visible and the invisible. It is our axis between what we can know and what is unknowable by ordinary means, the tightrope for our existential balancing act.

Using the Model in One's Personal Life: Another Test

I regard what we have now assembled as a model in several complementary senses of that word: 1) We can see it diagrammed and retain it in our visual memory. 2) Its parts can be labeled so that we can speak about them clearly. 3) It gives us an overall awareness of how we function, the way a cross-section of a real engine shows its inner workings. Some kind of awareness of how we work is presumably necessary if we are to make conscious choices and change our behavior. If a model can make us aware of how we function, it can help us take conscious command of our lives. 4) The model shows us something about how we ought to work as human beings and thus has a normative or moral aspect.

As 3) above suggests, to be convincing a model must say something about how we work, how we function. What does this really mean? One way to know whether we actually have a working model of the self is to ask whether it can help us recover from adversity and modify our behavior. This is a more demanding test than merely describing our behaivor.

Can we come up with familiar spatial figures of speech and a variation on the box-frame that will help us make steps in our personal development? I believe we can. The three bodily axes and the inside/outside contrast are again the key. Let's take them one at a time.

First the front/back axis. Remember that the contrast between the light on the front of the board and the shadow at its back constitutes a visual image for the contrast between the conscious and the unconscious. The shadow (not shown in the illustration because it is out of sight, out of mind) is the "dark side," the Jungian shadow, the repository of denied needs and rejected potentials. Just as we conceptualize the memory as a figurative storage space where thoughts and feelings go, so we use a hidden "unconscious space" to explain where potentials that feel unsafe go when they are repressed. Indeed, the unconscious can be thought of as a peculiarly deep pocket in our memories, and for this reason the unconscious and the memory blur together in our image of the box-frame and its shadow. Because unconscious potentials are split off from the conscious mind, they can be out of proportion, distorted, incomplete, irrational. As we'll see, we can picture the healing of this split by having the board shrink, allowing the divided figurative spaces of the conscious and unconscious to mix and evolve into a more integrated self.

There is a second way to picture the unity of the self along the front/back axis. It does not see the self as split up parts that must be reunited so as to evolve in a better way. Instead, the true self is viewed as an ideal that already exists elsewhere. This picture locates the true self either in the wall that stands for Nature, or farther out in the transpersonal realm of souls and deities. The space in the wall or the space beyond it are ways to concretize the idea of an ideal self. One is either in the process of coming into being, coming into the room, or attempting to transcend oneself and go beyond where one is now.

We can use the front/back axis in yet a third way. This way puts the emphasis on its entire length as a way of visualizing the spirit, with the self shifting its awareness and its position along this axis like a tightrope walker commuting between the worldly and the transcendent. Such an interpretation of the the z axis encompasses all the partial planes of the self (social, mental, bodily, emotional, unconscious, natural, and transcendental). One does not move out beyond the room to identify fully with a transcendent God, nor does God literally enter one's life. Instead, the spiritual aspect of life is seen as properly activating all segments of this axis and bringing them into alignment. In any case, all three of these ways of seeing the z axis place the whole, true self in an overall spatial framework and get us started asking how to realize our potential.

The next axis to consider in creating an image of personal development is the one that goes from left to right around the room through each of the box-frames in the series. It conveys the concrete organizing notion of locomotion, but its figurative meanings are time, goal-oriented behavior, and developmental change. In imagining one's own developmental "steps" and "leaps," one would normally picture them as motions going forward along the front/back axis of one's body. But in the model on the wall, these steps are spread out for illustrative purposes like a series of snapshots of a motion across our vield of vision: the viewer walks around the room following a developmental series of images. To convey a smaller developmental step instead of an entire life, we can reduce this sweeping left/right motion around the room to a smaller shift on the wall, one, perhaps of three feet. A motion to the left will mean a doubling back to learn a developmental lesson that we missed; psychological regression is a going "back" to an earlier stage. When we have achieved some insight, our forward motion to the right is resumed. Regression (literally, stepping back) and progress (stepping forward) are two familiar locomotion metaphors.

The third and final movement in our new composite image will be along the vertical axis. The box-frame can move up or down from its standard height as a way to describe states of mind and bodily energy: elation and depression; feeling "up" and feeling "down," "high" and "low"; high energy and self-esteem -vs.- low energy and self-esteem. Someone can be "feeling on top of the world" or "crushed," buoyed up by hope or weighed down by cares and responsibilities. Things are looking up, or going downhill.

Now we can combine these three axial dimensions in a single mandala-like image with the title confronting the shadow. This image is #27 in the full developmental series of 51 images (plus blank wall).

(If your www reader cannot show illustrations, you should still be able to imagine the illustration from the following description.)

The image here is a composite one, made up of eight small box-frames (8 x 8 x 2 1/2) arranged in a circle on the wall. If you visualize the face of a clock, then there is a frame at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions, with four more distributed between them, making eight. This arrangement gives us the variation along the up/down and left right axes described above. The rotation of the backboard within the frame gives us the necessary variation on the front/back axis. The basic sequence, exclusive of metaphorical meanings, is as follows. In the course of the eight positions, the backboard does a nosedive and then resurfaces. Starting at the top in the 12 o'clock position, the backboard is shown rotating forward in four steps until, at 6 o'clock, it is facing back toward the, wall. At this point, it faces its own shadow on the wall and we, see its unpainted back surface. In effect, it is confronting its own shadow. As the box-frames continue clockwise, the board in each rotates more until it is finally upright again and has returned to the standard position at 12 o'clock. There the, backboard, which has had to narrow to turn within the shallow acrylic cover, is full size again. All four of its edges again contact the inside of the clear acrylic cover and rest upright, as usual, at the back against the wall.

Only in the top one of the eight positions are there screws on all four edges of the board. At the other positions, its top and bottom edges do not contact the acrylic top and bottom; the lack of screws at the top and bottom frees the board to rotate around its left right axis. (For the purely practical purpose of securing each position of the board, there are two screws in either side instead of one.)

It is important to note that at the bottom (6 o'clock) position, the board is vertical but upside down. Also, it is out from the wall a little distance and faces its own shadow, which would be more visible on the wall than when the board is flush against it.

Let's consider the figurative meaning of this cycle, noticing what is happening on each of the three familiar axes. The self is at first "on top of things," at the twelve o'clock position. Then, going down in a clockwise direction, it stumbles and loses its balance, but its motion remains forward (rightward) on the wall. Then, at 3 o'clock, it gets depressed; it feels "down," "low," as indicated by the low position of the shrunken board within the box (internal feelings) and of the box on the wall (the lowered sense of self-esteem prompted by comparison with the surroundings). The box-frame at the four-thirty position has regressed; it is now to the -left- of the 3 o'clock position (from the viewer's vantage point), meaning that developmental lessons that it "skipped" earlier in life must be gone over again; "three steps forward, two steps back."

At the very bottom the self confronts some of the repressed material of the shadow and integrates it into the conscious self in a new way. This is an example of the first way (mentioned above) of using the front/back axis to symbolize a growth step. Thus, the self may acknowledge a personal weakness and grow in order to overcome it; there may be a need to express resentment over some past incident and request a change in a relationship, or there may be a need to forgive someone. All sorts of surprising things in the shadow can be combined with a changed attitude in the conscious mind, resulting in a growth step.

Here at the bottom position, the board has turned upside-down, it's upset. Its upright axis has been turned on its head, and we see the unpainted back of the board. The world looks topsy-turvy, crazy. The self has turned its back on the world and is up against the wall, up against the limits of its understanding. It is confused, but it faces its shadow (unconscious), the wall (Nature), and, beyond that, the transcendent.

The important thing, here, is that the backboard, although "upset," faces the wall from a little distance. This distance is the crucial difference between looking at the shadow and the frightening experience of being so close to the shadow that one seems to be in it. Thus the inside/outside contrast comes into play. By visualizing the "negative," repressed, dark side as a little outside, the emotional intensity is lowered and some objectivity is gained. Distance, of course, is a visual metaphor for objectivity; extreme distance represents denial and disowning, while on the other hand being "too close" indicates emotional overinvolvement. ("Detachment" and "attachment" are kinesthetic correlates.) Thus, by creating an image of part of the self and by acknowledging that it is a part of the self, not completely "other," a person becomes self-aware and can take responsibility.

In the illustration we see that the backboard is diminished in size. Partly this is just a technical point: it has to be smaller to rotate inside in a shallow box. But the deeper significance is that the contents of the two figurative spaces we call the conscious and the unconscious are able to mix. Sometimes the result is unpredictable, producing the "crazy wisdom" about which Wes Nisker has written. "Crazy wisdom flips the world upside down and backward until everything becomes perfectly clear."

And just at this point of confusion is where the acrylic box gets noticed and changes everything. It's an image that one can be conscious of, instead of merely being mired in one's own experience. Furthermore, the box-frame's mandala-like image is no longer just a description of what happens; it becomes a reminder of what one must do to get on one's feet again. Its edges have remained upright and level in relation to gravity, so it can rightly symbolize the virtues and needs represented in the standard box-frame.

First of all, the enclosing acrylic box represents our need for protection so that we can lower anxiety and feel safe enough to work on our inner "stuff." Its boundaries remind us that we need to find a supportive situation.

Second, the whole schematic image of the self that we have extracted and set visibly before us stands as our reminder that we can step back and look at how we human beings work. More particularly, we can move imaginatively from being in our feelings to experiencing them from a little distance. It would seem that both positions must be experienced for real change to happen; otherwise we just stay stuck in our old painful places.

Next we have the frame's own (left/right) balance as an embodiment of good judgment, along with switching places between the viewer and the box-frame (along the z axis) as a symbol of interpersonal balance, justice, fairness, and compassion.

Fourth, transparency reminds us of honesty, self-knowledge, and insight.

And, fifth, uprightness means standing up for one's values and needs as a self-respecting individual. (Needs, when one's social and personal surroundings are working well, can be seen as rights, but I don't believe rights are granted as blank checks from the universe.) This axis is also a reminder of the stretch between being grounded in materiality and aspiring to some ideal.

At this 6 o'clock point in the cycle, the self "touches bottom" or "bottoms out." Its needs become clearer. Intuition and reason have a chance to combine beneficially. With new insights and new self-acceptance, the person's self-esteem and energy rise (both the box and the board within the box rise). The self turns to face the world again, comes down to earth upright, and moves forward with a new sense of wholeness and expansiveness (the box again moves to the right along the developmental axis).

This image reminds me of the things I need to do when I feel lost and confused. It serves, literally and figuratively, as a frame of reference so that, in the middle of a downward dive, I can step back and an observer self comes into play. I calm down, feel compassion for myself and get some insight into the conflict I feel. Then I can make necessary changes and get on my feet again with a renewed sense of self esteem and forward motion.

At its most profound and demanding, the model becomes a reminder that our ideal is to correctly interrelate the totality of spaces that are spread out along the z axis, from the personal and social relationships in the room; through the consciously scientific and artistically creative mind; the body; the shadow (which becomes enlightened as we become more transparent); our relationship to nature; all the way out to the transcendent wholeness that we can locate surrounding the room.

Knowing that we can visualize the self as a distinct functioning image makes it easier to understand a number of important techniques for psychological growth and spiritual meditation. It makes clearer how to look at all sorts of painful and bewildering personal problems with the right kind of loving objectivity and become calmer in pursuing solutions. One can visualize stepping back from a problem to look at it. Instead of being the problem, one feels a little more like one has it; the feelings become reduced enough to manage. On the other hand, if one seems to have no feelings at all about an issue, visualizing it closer or as within the body can make it more vivid, eliciting any hidden feelings that are important to take into account. Similarly, other people can ask that one put oneself in their place so as to feel what they feel. The model shows that growth techniques like visualization, guided imagery, meditation, Focusing, and switching chairs in gestalt therapy are instances of a larger phenomenon, a built-in unity of body and mind that too often goes unrecognized, unspecified. Seeing this should make these techniques even more trustworthy and effective. Both lay people and professionals in education, psychology and spirituality will appreciate that the model could provide a tool or context for each of these disciplines.

The use of metaphor need not be limited to an explicitly visual level. It can be used to discover one's own individual kind of verbal meaning, like toying with words until one finds a unique poetic phrase that speaks volumes about one's life and innermost private nature. An imaginary example: "I am a steel rose whose stem sits in acid." Such a metaphor can summarize important things about a life and show the way to the next step. Ellen Siegelman's Metaphor and Meaning in Psychotherapy is an excellent discussion of this use of metaphor in a formal therapeutic setting, as well as being a fine introduction to the whole subject of metaphor.

But I have tried here to take our understanding to a more general level of analysis, one that provides a supportive theoretical and cultural context for individuals seeking personally relevant creative metaphors on a specifically linguistic level. I have summarized general spatial and bodily roots of the ways we visualize and speak about human nature so that, instead of merely rummaging around in our conceptual vocabulary to describe what we are going through, we can feel surrounded and supported by a model based consciously on our shared bodily structure in gravity. I mentioned a growth technique earlier, namely Focusing, which has been described by Eugene Gendlin in his book called Focusing. While the title is of course a visual metaphor, and while much of the technique is described using various bodily and visual metaphors, I am not sure how self-consciously this was done. In any case, I believe such metaphors are a large part of what makes this technique work. They provide a general structure within which a person can discover his or her personal metaphors, always carefully checking them against current life situations, immediate body sensations, and emotions. Change seems most likely when there is a fit or congruence between them all.

We have seen that compassion can be visualized both in relation to the dark parts of oneself (despicted in the image called confronting the shadow) and in relation to another person (changing places between the viewer and the second person represented by the schematic box-frame). In the first of these cases one steps back to look at a part of the self while also imagining oneself in that position so as to experience the emotions and identify the needs that are operating. In the second case, one does the same with regard to the position another person occupies. Now, a question arises in the latter case: why doesn't imagining the other person's feelings simply introduce conflict with one's own? And it's true, that might happen. So, how do we overcome this dilemma?

We must see a still larger picture here. We must look compassionately at the whole situation or system in which the two (or more) parties are involved, including their hidden dark sides. How would we visualize this in our model? How would we make an image that represented compassion toward a whole relationship, a community, the world or the whole natural universe? This challenge brings us to the final image in the entire series, one that involves the ambiguities in our idea of the transcendent.

In this final image, a square steel mirror is mounted on the wall using a single central screw like the solitary one called light that began the series and represented consciousness and creation. (The edges and the screw still manifest the three axes.) By visualizing ourselves in the position of the viewer's reflection in the mirror -- a little "outside" the situation or the world looking in -- we can picture a self "outside" the system, looking in. Emerson remarked that one cannot fully see a field while standing in it, and that is the dilemma we face. But by thinking of this image of the self reflected beyond the wall, one can identify in an appropriately qualified way with a still greater compassion and transcendent love that lies farther out along the z axis and also completely surrounds the room. The room's walls symbolize Nature; beyond that is the collection of things we call transcendent. This can be seen as a comprehensive Whole that is greater than the sum of all its parts.

Of course, the image in the mirror is extremely ambiguous. Do we see it as another aspect of the self, such as our soul, the best potential in us, the observer-self, or our Buddha nature? Or is it another, separate consciousness? Does whatever we see have another unknown transcendent beyond it? Or, perhaps, is it all just a vain hope, an anthropomorphic projection? Thus the worldly self, the viewer standing in the room, confronts the reflected image beyond the wall. A remark by Heraclitus is apt in this context: "The One who alone is wise does not want and does want to be called by the name of Zeus." We are caught between naming and not naming the ineffable transcendent, between seeing the transcendent as human and doubting its existence altogether. But the model in and of itself is agnostic in this. Visualizing ourselves at different places along the front/back axis, including a place outside the situation as "outside observers," enables us to play with these ideas in a way that can eventually help us be compassionately detached and helpful. Whatever the result of this play, we can all work with the same spatial and bodily metaphors as a basis for dicussion and for intuitive spiritual insights.

In the last analysis it needs to be remembered that we are dealing with metaphors and images. We need to disengage ourselves from the model that we have teased out. We do not live literally as box-frames hanging on the wall, which is merely one way to represent the axes of the body and the meaning we attribut to them. There are spatial metaphors all around us, but by seeing them clearly we not only reclaim them as tools for getting our bearings but also detach ourselves a little from them. We attain a consciousness of ourselves as three-dimensional beings dancing out our lives with other beings in real, grounded space.


This has been a whirlwind tour of a rich and detailed model. I have tried to summarize a great deal about human nature and present it in a memorable visual image that accords with our ordinary bodily experience of space. Every point I have made had to rest on a minimum of representative examples. This format does not permit discussion of other aspects in detail, but I will mention the following points: First, self-awareness and self-reflective thought are visualized in the model as the reflection one actually sees looking from inside the acrylic cover. Second, psychological "projection" is shown by the absence of this cover in some of the fifty-one constructions, as if the self-image had been disowned and projected out onto the contents of the room. Third, such ideas as dependency and independence (which describe not only people but also variables in equations), and also interdependence and co-dependency are clearly variations of de-pend (down-hang), a concept structured by our gravity environment. Fourth, the Jungian persona (false self or mask) is symbolized by the white paint that covers the front of the board. Fifth, flow and path are discussed as (loco)motion metaphors for things like action and logic ("taking steps," "it follows that..., "this point flows from the last one," making "leaps" in thinking, etc.).

There remains the question of the model's "universality." Even within the context of an English-speaking culture alone, there are things about the model that temper our sense of its power. It needs to be said, for instance, that the schemas, as constant as they are, have certain exceptions, such as Siamese twins joined at the back, where the front/back schema might get a bit confused. Or people who are bent over or confined to bed. Wouldn't their sense of self-esteem rest less on their bodily experience of the up/down schema and more on something else no less valid? Perhaps another kinesthetic experience, expressed by a figure of speech like "Don't let him push you around," would do the trick. Exceptions like these are welcome food for thought.

Blind people can appreciate space kinesthetically and can "translate" visual metaphors; they understand the figurative exclamation "I see!" much as sighted people do. Since the geometry of angles and space is tactile and kinesthetic as well as visual, the sentences "What is your perspective on this?" and "What's your angle on this?" are understandable in the vocabulary of bodily motion: instead of the way someone "sees" a subject, we speak of the angle from which someone "came at" or "approached" it, or, on the other hand, the way it "struck" them. ("Way" is itself a dead locomotion metaphor.) Conversely, the kinesthetic factors -- position, motion, speed, force, and weight, and their metaphorical meanings -- can be understood by sighted people and should be strongly emphasized in any learning program based on this model so as to heighten its impact for blind and sighted students alike.

As persuasive as I find this model, it is merely one variant. One that places greater emphasis on the vertical axis can be imagined, with a box-frame placed on the floor like a low display case; the shadow would be below the base, with suppressed feelings and needs hidden there. I prefer my variant because of its appealing emphasis on the horizontal axis with its overtones of fairness, cooperation and heart-connection. On the other hand, the core image for a model could be two people on either side of a campfire, with their shadows behind them. This preserves the interpersonal significance of the front/back axis and grounds the figures in the earth, but it omits the wall as a symbol of the immediate system within which they are acting.

We will have to observe the reaction to the model I am offering, along with its teaching materials. I believe it will be found teachable in small steps starting at a fairly early age and that it really does respect different ways of talking about the transcendent. It stresses values like honesty, courage, justice, and compassion, although I fear that even this rather standard selection cannot avoid some controversy and distortion. I know I am not offering any kind of magical solution, only some conceptual tools of use in considering different images of the self, along with the candidate that I find particularly attractive.

Now, as a final armchair test of the model, let's consider briefly its cross-cultural possibilities.

The model is based on human similarities about as widespread and basic as one can imagine, similarities that transcend particular regional myths of personified gods, tales of totemic animals, and the local lore of plants. Its images are compatible with modern worldwide communication tools such as television and computers -- the so-called information superhighway. These tools make it possible to disseminate the model and its revisions as they develop, testing their cross-cultural suitability over time. Naturally, we have to be alert to cultural relativism. European culture, for instance, uses the heart as an image for love and the soul, but Urdu poetry uses the liver! At least I have avoided that problem by using the visible structure of the body. Because of the generality of the model's ingredients, it has been hard for me not to speculate that there might lie within it something like an accessible contemporary myth.

Given the current world situation, the question of a unifying cultural myth is a matter of some urgency, for, as communication squeezes mankind closer together, we will experience fierce struggles to preserve our individual and cultural identities. If we grant that there will be some kind of international culture and ideas that try to bridge different outlooks, it seems possible that we could optimize such a culture by making deliberate choices as to the images of the human self we use and the media by which we communicate them. Our chances for success might increase if we could fit our linguistic tools closely with our visual tools, suiting them all to our bodies like any organized, well labeled set of tools. Sight and hearing are the two senses that give and receive the most information at a distance, without the distracting pleasures and risks of physical contact. Through media that combine pictures and words (computer files that can be transmitted in seconds), we can disseminate widely a model that can be both easily grasped and reproduced.

In English, at least, we don't have to invent any basic tools that would fit with our schematic physical features; the image-schemas are already there in the language. They merely have to be noticed and organized into a visually memorable image, and the metaphors based on them must be thoroughly understood. I am told that in some languages, however, there may be problems. Some peoples think of the self moving with its back into the future, as if rowing a boat; they say we can see what happened in the past but can't see the future. That seems to make some sense. We're going to have to be very careful. No unified, self-evident picture of human nature emerges simply from looking at the body in space: we must become informed about different cultures and values, staying actively engaged in creating a wider culture.

On the brighter side, evidence of the breadth of the model's rootsystem as a verbal description of human nature can be found in the global incidence of what linguistic scholar Eve Sweetser calls the mind-body metaphor. Probably the most recognizable example of mind-body metaphor is the one used throughout the model. Namely, the sense of vision as a metaphor for knowledge, understanding, opinion and enlightenment in all their subtle shadings from outright belief to disillusionment. This correspondence is found throughout the large Indo-European family of languages, which takes in not only English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian but also Hindustani, Bengali, and many others.

There are three scenarios by which some version of the model I have presented might become widely dispersed and they are not entirely exclusive of each other. (Remember, I am speaking very grandly and speculatively!) --

In the first (minimal) scenario, certain local cultures and languages would -not- be very compatible with the spatial model we have seen implied in English usage. Perhaps there would simply be little interest in the schemas by which English organizes so much of its conceptual system. But, nevertheless, elements of that local language that -were- compatible with the model would be used in talking about the visual component of the model. The discussion would probably extend only to people in that culture who were educated and had concerns about international relations and similar matters.

In a second, quite different scenario, the structure of the body would in fact turn out -- like the "laws" of visual perspective -- to be such a handy and natural way to conceive of the mind and the whole self that it would be adopted, even on a popular level, by cultures that do not now use bodily structure very much. The model would spring up in a native form and in the indigenous language.

In the third scenario, one language, most probably English, would become an international, inter-cultural medium of discussion of ideas about the self, including this particular model. This discussion would of course co-exist with the local cultural views of the self in the accustomed language. In this scenario, the increasing worldwide popularity of English as either a first or second language and its use as the standard language of science and transportation would, in the long run, lead to English being an international medium of thought about the self for reasons other than its real fitness for the job (something very difficult to measure).

It is more than likely that the specific visual form of the model (i.e., the box-frame) would be appealing only to certain circles. Adaptations could perhaps be made that would retain the body's axes and their polarities but be diagrammed in a different way (stick figures in local modes of dress?). I have been unable to think of any other familiar object that has the simplicity and currency of the box-frame and the range of meanings that its variations can take on without losing intelligibility.

One can hope that the very generality of a distinctively spatial approach to wisdom and human nature would help prevent the model from unjustly attacking the truly spiritual content of traditional forms and cultures, although this is not assured. I may be overestimating the cross-cultural potential of the model, but it seems more concrete and less ideologically encrusted than many institutionalized religious systems. Neither a simplistic radicalism nor merely an elevated flowery ideal, it lays out a blueprint for a structure within which a wide variety of artistic, poetic, and spiritual expression could be housed.

We don't need a perfect model, a final answer; no such thing exists. But we can bring a degree of clarity by using a versatile model that comes readily to hand, readily to mind. At first, when set next to the horrifying social events we witness daily or nextto the painful particulars of our own lives, such a model may seem little more than a general context. But a good context, like a good "starter set," is nothing to be sneezed at. Real skill and conviction in using it may come in time. And without something of the sort, it seems likely that our hearts will get more bruised, our souls more torn, by the lack of a unifying vision of the self. We will be like Herzog in Saul Bellow's comic novel, caught in a life crisis and wishing we could instantly read the history of civilization and extract the wisdom we need. Like him, we will find ourselves saying, "What this country needs is a good five-cent synthesis."

         |\     |\
         | +----+-+
         | |    | |
         +-+----+ |
          \|     \|

© 1995 By: Peter Vail Carleton
E-mail addresses:

Reproduction Policy: Do it!

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".