Christopher Ramey

Christopher H Ramey Ph.D.

The Metaphorical Mind

When AT&T asked us to ‘Reach out and touch someone’, did they mean that literally?

Reach out and touch someone--literally.

Posted Jul 07, 2008

“If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice; if traveling across the ocean by ship had not been introduced, my friend would not have embarked on his sea-voyage and I should not need a cable to relieve my anxiety about him.”

We use technologies so that we may be closer to those for whom we most care and we use them so that we may keep our distance from those we cannot or will not yet face. It is in this ambivalence that our language and metaphors seek some expression.

The contrast between ‘reaching out and touching someone’ and reaching out and touching someone reveals something more than simply our use of metaphors or so-called literal language: it reveals who we are as human beings. The kind of psychology necessary to understand us as human beings is one that does not smooth over our paradoxical beliefs and behaviors as if our mind were merely a mirror of a straightforward and less-than-metaphorical nature. Human beings are complicated and psychology ought to be more so than what textbooks present.

In one sense, one can regard language and metaphor as the making publicly observable of one’s private observations. It is a blurring of boundaries of sorts. This is a blog by someone whom you have not met. I doubt it will ever prove ‘touching’ in some overly sentimental sense of that word, but it is certainly true that even though we are no closer to each other than strangers, these words have brought us together for a short while. What language in general and a metaphor like ‘reaching out and touching someone’ in particular reveals is that—despite our seemingly paradoxical search for personal identity and individuality, as well as our insistence on privacy—we seek each other out. All psychology is inherently and constitutively a social psychology.