graphic: MetaSelf Logo

The mind is
inherently embodied.

— Lakoff & Johnson



Structuring the Self in Figurative Space: The Up/Down Axis

Each of the three axes of the body contains a lot of metaphorical "wisdom of the body." We need to remember and integrate all three.

graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 01
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 02
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 03
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 04
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 05
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 06
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 07
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 08
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 09
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 10
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 11
graphic: Up/Down Slide Show 12

Click the left/right arrows at the sides, or the dots beneath the slides to navigate. Hover over a slide to pause the slideshow.

You can use the Up/Down axis to remind yourself vividly of personal goals and strengths, and to assess either a particular situation or your life in general. Abstract concepts like Virtue are hard to apply personally, but you can unpack their meaning using the spatial, bodily phrases on the right to invite your body to give you a sense of well-being and virtue relative to a particular issue. (This is similar to the way we grasp the slippery abstraction of Time by translating it into space: "I am looking forward to my vacation," which imples visual and locomotion metaphors.)

Naturally, much of the meaning of the vertical axis has to do with how we stand up or fall down, how we stay vertically balanced on our feet. You might try standing up and finding a stance that expresses how you feel at your best, or how you would like to feel about yourself.  Are you independent (not hanging on others too much), self-reliant (not leaning on others too much)?  Do you "stand tall" — feel like an individual agent with self-esteem? Are you strong enough to stand up for what is right against adversity (moral strength or fortitude)? Are you striving for high standards and yet also practical and grounded (the vertical axis points both up and down)?  Are you rigidly upright (uptight, unbending and moralistic), or able to bend the letter of the law to the spirit, or too lax and likely to collapse and give in? And so on.

Keywords and Prefixes for the Up/Down Axis
Up and down
High, middle, and low
Top and bottom
Over and under
Above and below
Super- and sub-, etc.
Phrases that Mediate the Up/Down Axis
Finding its own level, optimum, mean, median
Floating, buoyancy

The lefthand column of the chart below contains important abstract and subjective aspects of the self. The righthand column lists corresponding spatial phrases that ground these aspects in the body. 

Abstract Contrasts, Concepts, etc. Bodily/Spatial words and phrases
Quantity: increase / decrease More is up / down is less
"He got a raise"
Quantity: too much / too little Over- / under-
overdone / underdone
Accumulate Build up / go down, wear down
Intensity, purity, refinement Highly / slightly
Construction / destruction Put up / take down
Abstract / concrete;
the ladder of abstraction
Go up a level / get down to the facts;
over-arching concept / down to specifics
Induction / deduction Generalizing up / applying, implying down
Quality High, highest / low, lowest
Idealistic / realistic Up in the clouds / down to earth
Importance, priority Highly important, Highest goal
Improving / failing rising / sinking, falling
Better / worse than normal Super- / sub-; superhuman / subhuman
Levels of analysis Low-level learning, high-level logic and planning
Development and evolution Highly developed, highly evolved
Functioning / not functioning "Up and running" / "the copier is down"
Psychology, Character and Morality
Abstract Contrasts, Concepts, etc. Bodily/Spatial words and phrases
Elated / depressed Up / down
Motivation Highest ideals / baser instincts
Honest / dishonest Aboveboard / underhanded
Good / bad Upright / base, fallen
Sexually dominant / submissive Top / bottom
Approval / disapproval; yes / no Thumbs up / thumbs down
Life / death Thumbs up / thumbs down
Moral strength / weakness Remaining standing / falling, collapsing
Social Levels
Abstract Contrasts, Concepts, etc. Bodily/Spatial words and phrases
Controlling / being controlled Control over / under control of
Having power, ruling, deciding Power over, authority over
Chain of command Orders go down / complaints go up
Social class High, middle, low, over, under class
Rank High / low; the higher ups / underlings
Status, respect High esteem / low esteem
Hierarchy Top execs, middle management, low…
Respect / disrespect look up to / look down on
Abstract Contrasts, Concepts, etc. Bodily/Spatial words and phrases
"God as we understand god" "Higher Power", "In the highest"