graphic: MetaSelf Logo

The mind is
inherently embodied.

— Lakoff & Johnson



The Box-Frame Model

The following text illustrates the MetaSelf model using an acrylic box-frame for displaying my 3-D fiber art. This was the form, and metaphor, in which the ideas of MetaSelf came to me in the 1980s. It is still a good way to communicate the model to artists.

In order to highlight the spatial structure of the MetaSelf model even more clearly, we can remove the distinguishing characteristics (sex, clothing, etc.) of one of the people in the illustration above. What remains are the bare bones of our body's schematic structure -- three axes (front/back, top/bottom, left/right) plus the inside/outside contrast. One way we can choose to represent the structure is to use the kind of deep box-frame in which art or other three-dimensional things are commonly displayed. I was using a box-frame like this for my fiber art in the 1980's, when it dawned on me that, just by itself, a box-frame could serve as a model, a visual reminder of many spatial phrases describing the self and its world. The details of a standard box-frame's construction also give us a clear way to represent the "front" or "mask" someone puts up (Carl Jung's "persona"), the idea of a personal "boundary," and the "shadow" at the back of the mind (Jung's term for repressed problems and hidden potentials that are mostly unconscious).

graphic: The Box Frame Model
The Box Frame Model

Why is this schematic structure so very important? Because, if you want to have an integrated sense of your self, you have to describe abstract things like "mind," "virtue" (or morality) and "spirit" in metaphorical terms that are clearly grounded in bodily reality and intelligible to other people. Otherwise, they can be dismissed as "mere abstractions." The spatial/structural regularities of the human body are shared by all users of the language, making it possible to have something like a geometry of the self -- a structured, fairly consistent set of phrases that describe the self, including the mind, the virtues and the spirit. After all, though we are born with many bodily variations and sometimes with anomalies, we never have legs protruding from our head, a left hand on the right arm, or nipples on our backs! That would be confusing! So there is a regularity that is reliable enough to "constrain" (to use Lakoff and Johnson's term) our spatial metaphors for the self and that helps make them mutually comprehensible from one person's mind to another.

The mind, therefore, can be understood as a figurative space that extends bodily space and bodily structure by means of metaphor: thinking deep thoughts, my innermost thoughts, the back of my mind, broadminded, narrow-minded, high-minded, low-minded, etc.. The box-frame illustrates this fit between the body and the mind by using the wooden board at its back to represent the human body with its three axes, while the five-sided clear acrylic cover represents a mental "space" that is built onto that board, adopting the same three axes. When you also remember how many ways we organize our thinking in terms of space, the fit between bodily space and mental, metaphorical space becomes an overwhelming fact. In MetaSelf, the mind and body, which have sometimes been split in Western philosophy, are presented as co-existing on the same level and fitting together.

Because this model is based on spatial phrases and they, in turn, are based on our bodily structure in gravity, MetaSelf simply reveals what is already there. MetaSelf is not a new creation; it records some things that are implicit in our speech and thought as they have been elaborated out of our bodily experience. And because spatial structure does organize not just the mind, broadly conceived, but also some of our specific concepts of virtue and the spirit, we should not be surprised, as we proceed, to see all three of these ideas start to blend, becoming intertwined manifestations of the self.