Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Form VI

In Anthologies, philosophy, Quran, universe, Words of Gold: The Quran on April 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

Metaphors are utilised in the Qur’an in the even broader sense of ‘isomorphism’. As readers of this blog might recall↓, isomorphism is the mirroring of one set of information onto another. This might be examplified by the usage of symbols and literary metaphors or in the way brain processes information coming in from the world, or in the way on-screen pixels take the shape of live-action images in real world.

Thus, whereas in case of metaphors similarity lies in between one piece to another piece of information (source and target), isomorphism is more broad-scale with likenings (or, structural mappings, using Lakoff’s terms) between two series of information.

Evidence of isomorphism in the Qur’an


يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ

فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ لِّنُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ ۚ

وَنُقِرُّ فِي الْأَرْحَامِ مَا نَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ثُمَّ نُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ۖ

وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّىٰ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْلَا يَعْلَمَ مِن بَعْدِ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا ۚ

وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ هَامِدَةً فَإِذَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهَا الْمَاءَ اهْتَزَّتْ وَرَبَتْ وَأَنبَتَتْ مِن كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ 

O PEOPLE, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed,
We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot,
and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed – that We may show you.
And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term,
then We bring you out as a child, and then [We develop you] that you may reach your [time of] maturity.
And among you is he who is taken in [early] death,
and among you is he who is returned to the most decrepit [old] age so that he knows, after [once having] knowledge, nothing.
And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain,
it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind. [Al-Hajj 5]
 In the above ayah, three different types of growths have been likened to each other:
  1.  development of the embryo inside the mother’s womb,
  2. progression of the born human from birth till senile age, and,
  3. the blossoming of foliage from barren earth into beautiful grass.

The common thread between all three types of growths is the fruition from a non-existent or immature stage to the fully developed stage. The wilting of luscious grass into brown hay is not mentioned here but has been mentioned in similar vein otherwise. Each living thing’s cycle of growth infact shows similar progression with basically the same two end-points: a) beginning of life and b) reversal of prime followed by death. The ayah thus succintly points out that no matter which stage or whose growth one might look at they all mirror the same pattern. This isomorphism in turn strongly suggests the sameness of the penultimate source of this cycle, in contrast to ‘random mistakes’ as suggested by the evolutionists.


 وَلَقَدْ جِئْتُمُونَا فُرَادَىٰ كَمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ وَتَرَكْتُم مَّا خَوَّلْنَاكُمْ وَرَاءَ ظُهُورِكُمْ 

“AND you have certainly come to Us alone as We created you the first time, and you have left whatever We bestowed upon you behind you.” [in Al-An’am 94]

As per the above ayah, the two end-points of the cycle of growth themselves mirror each other: a progression from nothing to nothing. We are born empty-handed. Whaterver we acquire during our lifetimes (money, property, skills) is a part of the process of growing up in the world. In the end we leave empty-handed again. This mirroring was also catptured in the second example of the above ayah: God reminded there that after our birth we progress until old age where we become ignorant and unaware just as we were when we were born. The special aspect of the particular ayah now referred is that the sameness of the two unobserved phases of human existence has been implied: the phase before our birth and the phase after our deaths. We came from nothing (nothing here means only in the ‘physical sense’) and we return to nothing: matter and material are a midway stage observed only in this finite world.


إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّـهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was. [Al-i-Imran 59]

On a theological subject, the Quran here points out the inherent sameness in the birth of Hazrats Adam and of Isa (alaihima-s-salaam). The Christian tendency is to regard Isa as (na-‘uzubi-Allah) Son of God on account of his fatherless birth to Bibi Maryam. Allah (subhanahu ta’ala) here gently points out how Hazrat Adam was created from scratch without a father or a mother. Birth to all sorts of creation in this world, of indeed the whole universe, and of the universe of heaven and hell that is invisible to us, is by virtue of God’s powers. It is after having descended Hazrat Adam onto earth with wife Hawwa that the familiar system of human reproduction was put in place. However, it goes without saying, that the Creator can re-create another sample of any being in whatever manner He wishes as a miraculous reminder of His Great Powers. Thus the birth of all human beings, indeed all living beings in this world are isomorphic to each other. This agains points to the unity of the Source of all this creation.


Usage of isomorphism in the Qur’an

The three examples we have considered are sufficient to illustrate how isomorphism differs from metaphors in their more narrowed, literary sense. Isomorphisms point out the correspondence and basic sameness of apparently different phenomenae. They seem to be more factual, used to point out big cosmic realities. On the other hand, literary metaphors might be used more often as examples and illustration.



All exposition regarding the ayahs relies on basic exegises as found in Maulana Maududi’s Tafheem-ul-Qur’an and Mir Taqi Uthmani’s Ma’ariful Qur’an.



THE QURAN CYCLE: Illuminating Metaphors – III

In Admiring Literature, cognition, excerpts and quotes, language and communication, literature, perception, philosophy, poetry, psychology, sources of knowledge, The Method on December 8, 2011 at 12:09 am

Linked to Part I and Part II

The irreplacability of a metaphor

The potential meaningfulness of metaphor does not yield to simple paraphrase, its meaning cannot be reduced to a nonmetaphorical, propositional format without loss. This is the reason for the enormous creativity that metaphor displays not only in poetic discourse: In ordinary everyday life it can restructure ingrained patterns of thinking. And in scientific contexts it can have a heuristic* function.

*heuristic= “serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation.” (dictionary.com)

The above ‘creativity hypothesis’ of the cognitive theory of metaphor (as summarized by Jakel↓1) mentions one of the reasons why metaphor is an irrerplacable part of any effective verbal message: it is has no simple substitute for meaning. Its meaning can only be elaborated, explored, interpreted, speculated upon to an extent; but it cannot be specified exactly and absolutely.

We need the metaphor in just the cases when there can be no question as yet of the precision of scientific statement.*

*see the last post for source

As the above quote from the previous post reminds us, we depend upon metaphor to express abstract or obscure phenomenon in terms of familiar, concrete and imaginable terms. As Andrew Ortony (↓2)  puts it, “somethings are by their nature not describable.” (p. 14), and it falls upon the metaphor to express the inexpressible.

My references so far may relegate the ‘irreplacibility’ of a metaphor to the way things are: we simply use the metaphor when we have no way around it, when we lack more straightforward ways of describing something. But that view is certainly wrong. Through a literary example, see how metaphor creates new worlds of meaning to whom no other effective entry might be possible other than through the metaphor itself:


Fursat mein sun shaguftgi-e-ghuncha ki sada

ye wo sukhan nahi jo kisi ne keha bhi ho


When free, listen to the sound of the roses’ glee.

This is not speech that has been uttered.

The above is a Nasir Kazmi couplet, both in the original and in translation by me, from a previous blogpost. ‘Roses’ glee’ is a metaphor in itself (to be considered later here as an example), but right now i’m concerned with the ‘sound of’ part. The reader is forced to stop and try imagine what the sound of roses’ glee must be like. Upon analysis (which the readers of that pertinent post linked above may recall), the sound of roses’ glee most likely refers to the many messages of metaphysical nature the poet discerns in the sights and sounds of nature. Yet the interpretation is still open beyond the meaning already considered. And in terms of imagination, the metaphor forges new ground by inviting us to imagine an event that has never been experienced before. Philosopher Mark Johnson↓3 explains well what happens in such cases:

… one experiences the insight that two entire systems of implications… belong together in some fundamental way. The cognitive activity at this level… consists of the alteration of certain experiential structures (e.g. categorizations, concepts), such that one discovers a formal unity between previously unassociated things. 

We automatically associate sound with animate beings; that is the way we experience the world. When presented with Nasir’s couplet, however, we have to re-conceptualize sound as ‘a channel of communication’ or more precisely, as ‘a general aura of meaningfulness that emanates from all beings that have a purpose in their existence’ to get to the meaning of the verse. We similarly recast the flower as ‘an object created with a purpose’ from its foremost conception as ‘a part of the natural world’ or as ‘an object of beauty’.

This is not a rare phenomenon in the rarified arena of literature; more everyday examples abound. For instance, ‘my boss is a shark’ creates a new concept of ‘sharkness in humans’ that is different from both the literal shark and from the usual concept of brutality (for an elaboration of this example and the theory behind it follow the reference in Note 4. below).


The intensity of a metaphor

There is a sense of shock about a metaphor… which results from the clash of juxtaposed literal sense.

__ Paul Henle↓5

One puzzling aspect of the expressive capaciousness of metaphor takes the form of an image’s potential for focusing both thought and emotion in a particularly intense, economical way.  

__ Robert Rogers↓6

…by circumventing discretization [metaphors] enable the communication of ideas with a richness of detail much less likely to come about in the normal course of events.


… the emotive as well as the sensory and cognitive aspects [of the subject of metaphor] are more available [in mind], for they have been left intact in the transferred chunk [of meaning].

__ Andrew Ortony↓7

As Ortony explains so well in his essay, metaphor “lies much closer to perceived experience” in a significant way that makes it a particularly vivid phenomenon. We experience the world in a continuous and holistic fashion. Our stream of consciousness is a flow of sensations of all kind coming in simultaneously, whether at that time we are interacting with the outside world or going through our own ideas, emotions, or memories. We don’t experience things in a discrete, fragmented, one-by-one fashion as when we see concepts graphically displayed in a presentaion, or dissected frog parts laid out on a science lab table. Metaphor does the same by not spelling out the new grounds of meaning: it just poses an image before us and our attempt to apprehend it (holisticall, continuously) does the job. 

The following short poem by Emily Dickinson (found at bartleby) illustrates the point well:

It dropped so low in my regard

I heard it hit the ground,

And go to pieces on the stones

At bottom of my mind;


Yet blamed the fate that fractured, less

Than I reviled myself

For entertaining plated wares

Upon my silver shelf.


Without spelling out what ‘it’ was and why and how it came to be discarded from its high place in the author’s mind, the intensity of the mental event, the vivacity with which the poet experienced it, the emotions associated with the whole episode, and the strong sentiments with which the poet seems to regard in general the contents of her mental life, are all immensely clear from just one reading of the poem.

There is another reason for the vividness of a metaphor, and that is its compactness (Ortony, see notes for source): By juxtaposing two apparently unrelated objects in the readers’ minds (human emotion and a flower in one of Nasir’s examples) and forcing them to envisage a new kind of relationship between them, metaphors posit endless shades of meaning for the reader’s appreciation. For instance roses’ glee could be a reference to their beauty (smiling happy faces have been often likened to flowers), to the emotion that a beautiful sight such flowers create in us (a thing of beauty is a joy forever), to the purity associated with sights of nature, to the freshness of flowers, to their swaying on their stalks like children swinging gaily, to the pleasant sensation generated through their smell, etc. All these shades of meaning and more have been packed into a single two-word phrase, what Ortony calls the ‘compactness thesis’ of his theory.


The memorability of a metaphor

Compactness, vividness, and irreplacibility make for a memorable image: well-suited for educational purposes. In class-room, it were always the skillful lecturers who made the often remote-from-routine-life concepts of __ math, physics, medicine, psychology __ alive in our imagination so that we could picture them easily (and even enjoy the lecture!) that were more successful. Not possible without good metaphors:

The educational power of metaphors is thus twofold. The vivid imagery arising from metaphorical comprehension encourages memorability and generates of necessity a better, more insightful, personal understanding. But also, it is a very effective device for moving from well-known to the less well-known, from vehicle to topic.  

__ Ortony, (p. 17)

Humanliness of the literary metaphor 

Literature’s world is a concrete human world of immediate experience. The poet uses images and objects and sensations much more than he uses abstract ideas … The world of literature is human in shape, … where the primary realities are not atoms or electrons but bodies, and the primary forces are not energy or gravitation but love and death and passion and joy.

__ Northrop Frye↓8

Human beings become human through the acquisition of language, and the acquisition alienates humans from all those things language names. The name is a substitute for the thing, it displaces the thing in the very act of naming it, so that language finally stands even between one human being and another. Much of our poetry has been written to undo this situation, to remove the veil of language that covers everything with a false familiarity… 

__ Robert Scholes↓9

… literary metaphor depicts the themes that occasion it, communicating meaning imagistically by rendering it presentational.

__ Phillip Stambovsky↓10

The success of the  metaphor thus lies in recreating for us the lively vivid life in our reading experience which is so close to us. Thus it most effectively performs its fundamental function in literature: giving it the human shape we need to connect with it; and, as Stambovsky reminds us, performs it in the very manner so essentially familiar to us. This latter feature of the metaphor may be called intimation through a metaphor and is psychologically enticing and influential for the reader…


Intimation through metaphor

There is a unique way in which the maker and appreciator of metaphor are drawn closer to one another. Three aspects are involved: (1) the speaker issues a kind of concealed invitation; (2) the hearer expends a special effort to accept the invitation; and (3) this transaction constitutes the acknowledgment of a community.

__ Ted Cohen↓11

Perhaps the reason why so many metaphors have a peculiarly poignant beauty is because each of them kindles in us momentarily a dim memory of the time when we lost the outer world–when we first realized the outer world is outside, and we are unbridgeably apart from it, and alone. Furthermore, the mutual sharing of such metaphorical experience would seem, thus, to be about as intimate a psychological contact as adult human beings can have with one another.

__ Harold Searle↓12

Some authors even believe that the force of a metaphor’s image can lead to an exchange of material from the unconscious to conscious mind in the reader (in Rogers, p. 11). We must now consider what exactly constitutes this force; what is it in a metaphor that leads to such influence. Let us see.


The metaphor can be disclosive in the sense of being an eye-opener, helping us to understand hidden relations between the [target and source].


Poetic devices and imaginative literature do not necessarily provide us with new information. What they do best is to give us insight into the (tacit) knowledge we already possess.

__ Snaevarr↓13

Both Snaevarr and Stambovsky associate certain terms with metaphorical comprehension that help us realize how metaphor induces an intimate connection with the author, the subject-matter, and, potentially, the world at large. Snaevarr argues how, when we understand a metaphor, we go through the same process of ‘seeing something as something’ involved in many instances of purely sense-based perception. For instance, when an object (such as a cat) is before us, typically, we merely notice what it is. Here our knowledge/concept of the object helps us quickly recognize it: perception nearly depends here on pre-existing knowledge. But when an ambiguous oil painting is presented before us and, while appreciating it, it suddenly ‘dawns’ on us that it depicts a beautiful cat: that is what Wittgenstein↓14 called ‘seeing as’.

from wikipedia 

An easy-to-relate example would be of the famous Necker cube which can be seen either as a cube projecting away from us on its northeast side or as a cube projecting on its southwest side. This kind of seeing-as is internal and spontaneous: external descriptions do not necessarily lead us to see the two different possible cubes in our mind, it has to come from within. There is also a kind of filtering and ‘foregrounding’ involved. When our mental image switches from one possible cube to the other, the first one seems to disappear and certain features of the new cube seem to ‘lighten up’ in the image. The same happens when the meaning intended by the metaphor dawns on us. The metaphor foregrounds a part and when we appreciate it a new meaning dawns on us, or an old obscure or forgotten meaning lightens up with new significance, or a subtly familiar one is brought into explicit focus.

When applied to less visual material, such a seeing-as is better termed ‘insight’: understanding the inner nature of things. The process of insight is both intuitive (that is, it does not involve conscious reasoning) and spontaneous. It also has the quality of an ‘enlightment’ and is often (specially in problem solving) sudden. It gives a feeling of familiarity with the subject in question by suddenly casting it for us in a new light (in the above stated ‘seeing as’ fashion) that we were not able to appreciate before (see famous cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon‘s paper for good descriptions of both intuition and insight). The kind of effective lectures I mentioned before created this in us: a feeling that now we really knew the topic, we knew how things really worked, how it really feels. Good metaphors achieve the same effect. Perhaps that is why:

Metaphors which provide insight into an unknown, transcendent, or mysterious subject thus can have an extremely powerful effect on those who accept them.

__ Stallman↓15 

As Snaevarr clarifies, what metaphor really does is to lighten up a piece of tacit knowledge we already possessed. The most comprehensive definition of tacit knowledge that I could find online is that it is:

Unwritten, unspoken, and hidden vast storehouse of knowledge held by practically every normal human being, based on his or her emotions, experiences, insights, intuitions, observations and internalized information. 

Indeed the feeling of intimacy and closeness will not be produced if we did not realize that the metaphor focused us on a thought or feeling we were familiar with but had never been consciously aware of. For instance consider the following verses by Nasir Kazmi, in translation by me along with the original Urdu in Roman script:


On the town’s vacant station

A passenger must have alighted

[shehr ke khali station per

koi musafir utra hoga]


 Hear it immersed in the depths of heart

No song is indeed a song of glee…

[dil ki gehrayion mein doob ke dekh

koi naghma khushi ka naghma nahin]


Shivering, the long nights put to us a haunting question

Their laden sound-like silence hisses answers…

[ye thitri hue lambi raaten kuch poochti hein

ye khamushi-e avaaz numa kuch kehti he]


In your lane all day

I pick the pebbles of grief

[teri gali mein sara din

dukh ke kankar chunta hoon]


From the nameless reaches of the islands of memory

The waves of your voice still reach

 [yad ke benishan jazeeron se

teri avaaz arehi he abhi]


These verses conjure up in us strange unspeakable feelings (and certainly many more shades of the atmosphere related to) respectively, lonely change or movement through life; the sombre sadness associated with awareness of existential realities that give rise to creative expression; introspection on the nature of our existence that typically transpires in the dark and silent moments of night before we fall asleep; the rambling recall of the many pleasures of a friendship after it has terminated; and the persisting subconscious connection with a long lost love… experiences we have all encountered in life, directlyor indirectly. That is why we relate to them and their author, and feel affected by them.

Metaphors are closer to emotional reality for the same reasons that they are closer to perceptual experience. To say of an unexpexted event that it was a miracle is to say far more than that it was inexplicable: it is to express joy, admiration , wonder, awe and a host of other things without mentioning any of them.

__ Andrew Ortony↓16

Remember that tacit knowledge encompasses a great number of sources such as bits and pieces picked up incidentally, subconsciuosly or by implication; by engaging in non-verbal skills; through general observations and readings; and knowledge of internal states personally experienced or understood through empathy. That is why, metaphor is a powerful and often the sole means of expressing our internal states. And “the particular ability of imaginative literature to disclose the unique, not least the uniquely personal” (Snaevarr, p. 361) most probably depends on metaphor.


The psychological power of metaphor

If a new metaphor enters the conceptual system that we base our actions on, it will alter the conceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system gives rise to.

__ Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 111

In their book Metaphors We Live By (1980), Lakoff and Johnson make the case of how metaphors do not just represent our perception of common realities, they have the power to create realities themselves. For instance, the prevalence and conventionality of the metaphor “argument is war” not only represents but also reinforces in turn a culture of argumentation where it is viewed as competitive rather than as a cooperative social exercise; whereby it is supposed to be won or lost rather than as taken to be a means of forwarding consensual decisions.

Consider the example of a fresh metaphor: ‘problems are solutions’, where solution is used in the chemical sense of the word. Actually, the authors took the metaphor from a real example of their Iranian student who thought that the expression ‘the solution of my problems’ was metaphorical. The student visualized “a large volume of liquid, bubbling and smoking, containing all of your problems, either dissolved or in the form of precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others”. The metaphor is not actually in use anywhere, but, as Lakoff and Johnson demonstrate how this metaphor creates a new, more profitable view of ‘problems’ than is currently prevalent. In this new view, derived from the new meaning constructed by the metaphorical comparison of real-life problems with a chemical solution, problems are accepted as a more or less recurring part of life. We use certain catalysts which temporarily solve some problems but the same process, or the disturbance in the combinations of catalysts created by a single-instance usage may lead to the precipitation of some other problem. “Rather than direct your energies toward solving your problems once and for all, you would direct your energies toward finding out what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing problems for the longest time without precipitating out worse ones. The reappearance of a problem is viewed as a natural occurence rather than as a failure on your part to find “the right way to solve it”.”

In contrast the more current view of problems as puzzles reinforces the expectation that there is one solution to each problem, that once applied, it will make the problem go forever. Recurrence of the problem implies a failure on the part of our ability to solve it. While the problem lasts, a state of confusion and frantic attempts to solve it and resolve it continue. Etc, etc.

Similarly, James Geary mentions research to the effect that when finance journalists use ‘agent metaphors’ to describe stock market behavior (such as ‘prices climbed higher’, or ‘the market fought back’) “an enduring internal goal or disposition” is inferred with the implication that the trend “is likely to continue tomorrow” (p. 31). In fact, it is in this sense of metaphor’s effects that scholars such as Lakoff and Johnson have highlighted the political, or let’s say, ideological power of metaphor…


The ideological power of metaphor


The people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to define what we consider to be true.

__ Lakoff and Johnson↓17  

What therefore is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which became poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding;

 __ Friedrich Nietzsche↓18 (in James Geary, p. 116)

Indeed we are familiar with presidential candidates, regimes, or factions in society popularizing and reinforcing ‘pet metaphors’ in their followers’ minds to ingrain their preferred sets of attitudes — their ideology. Similar examples can be given from the domain of religion. The budhist’s wheel of life and the muslim’s Straight Path are presented metaphorically, binding important aspects of their faith, creating their spiritual reality for them, defining the meaning and purpose of life to them, and motivating important attitudes and behaviors in each.

[This is not the place to argue, however, on the absolute relativity (or not) of truth (a topic with which this blog though is very much concerned and is yet to present a full-fledged treatment of the problem; though the topic has been touched upon in various posts).]

After having explored the concept of metaphor, establishing its power and significance from the point of view of both the sender and receiver of a communication, we are now set to see how the topic relates to the Quranic corpus. It’s easy to find all kinds of metaphors in Qur’an; important systems of extended conceptual metaphors that present, educate, and penetrate to the heart and mind of it’s readers; beautiful, visualizable, and novel, original metaphors that capture the sentient nature of its target audience and leave lasting and powerful impressions; metaphors so original and absolute as they must be for depicting realities beyond the periphery of ordinary human perception.

I feel excited at this point of my journey in the realm of the Metaphor. For these past few months, having thought about familiar metaphors from the Quran against all my developing understanding of metaphors in general now makes me feel as if I am approaching the great universe of the Qur’an with fresh eyes.

Till then, fi aman-i Allah


1. Olaf Jakel (2002). Hypotheses revisited: The cognitive theory of metaphor applied to religious texts, metaphoric.de, vol. 2, pp. 20-42. Found at http://www.metaphorik.de/02/jaekel.pdf

2. Ortony, A. (1975). Why metaphors are necessary and not just nice. Reprinted in Cultural Metaphors: Readings, research translations, and commentary, Ed. M. J. Gannon, 2001, Sage Publications. Found at http://books.google.co.in/books?id=Ih0BUezsl6kC&printsec=frontcover

3. Johnson (1980), taken from Bob Stallman (1999), Divine hospitality in the Pentateuch: A metaphorical perspective on God as host. PhD Dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, pp. 40-41. Found at http://eagle.northwestu.edu/faculty/bob-stallman/files/2011/03/2.pdf

4. Sam Gluckseburg (2008). How metaphors create categories — quickly. In Metaphor and Thought, 2nd ed., Ed. Raymond W. Gibbs. Cambridge University Press. Found at ftp://ftp.turingbirds.com/ai/The%20Cambridge%20Handbook%20of%20Metaphor%20and%20Thought.pdf

5. Paul Henle, (1958), Metaphor. Reprinted in Philosphical Perspectives on Metaphor, Ed. Mark Johnson, 1980, University of Minnesota Press, p. 102

6. Rogers, R. (1978). Metaphor: A psychoanalytical perspective. University of California Press, p. 7. Found at http://books.google.com/books?id=zxH3W27COqgC&printsec=frontcover

7. (1975), from Cultural metaphors, pp. 16-17

8. N. Frye (1964) found in Phillip Stambovsky’s (1988), The depictive image: Metaphor and literary experience, University of Massachusetts Press, p. 50.

9. Scholes (1985) in Stambovsky, 1988, p. 89.

10. Stambovsky, 1988, p. 3

11. T. Cohen (1978) from Stallman (1999), p. 44

12. Harold Searle, Collected Papers on Schizophrenia. Quoted in Rogers, 1978, p. xi

13. Stefan Snaevarr (2010). Metaphors, narratives, emotions: Their interplay and impact, Rodopi, Amsterdam, p. 83 and p. 360 respectively.

14. Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is credited with this conceptamong many others he theorized upon in his now classic Philosophical investigations. For a simple explanation of his concept read point 1 of this lecture presentation: http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/teaching_staff/ahmed/WittgensteinPhilosophicalInvestigationsLecture15.pdf

15. Stallman (1999), p. 41

16. in Cultural metaphors, p. 17

17. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980). Metaphors we live by. Originally published by University of Chicago Press. Found online at: http://www.pineforge.com/upm-data/6031_Chapter_10_O’Brien_I_Proof_5.pdf

18. in James Geary, (2011), I is an Other: The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world, Harper Collins, p. 116.



RUMI REVELATIONS: True knowledge, and actual ignorance

In excerpts and quotes, God, literature, philosophy, poetry, Quran, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, The Method on September 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm

The insights revealed by literature are sometimes more powerful and incisive than the best of sciences…

I have found many extracts from Rumi’s spiritual outpourings that expand and illuminate on the current topic of this blog.

My interspersed commentary is an attempt to both link the extracts and make them more accessible to readers. Note that any underlining in the excerpted poetry is mine.


Rumi on the true versus the weak sources of real knowledge↓:


Ignorent men  are the soul’s enemy

Shatter the jar of smug words

Cling for life to those who know

Prop a mirror in water, it rusts


We are coming straight from a discussion with the upshot that how science, despite all the progress it has incurred, must still fall short on revealing the true nature of this world and the truest guidelines for human living. It’s the divine which makes up for this lack in our lives, not the human. The wordy lectures and papers of the self-claimed ‘learned’ men while ‘informative’, actually tell us nothing about what we really need to know.



Reason, leave now! You’ll not find wisdom here!

Were you thin as a hair, there’d still be no room.

The Sun is risen! In its vast dazzle

Every lamp is drowned.




Water, stories, the body,

all the things we do, are mediums

that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,

and enjoy this being washed

with a secret we sometimes know

and then not.


4. From


Ascend from materiality into the world of spirits, hearken to the loud voice of the universe;

Then thou wilt know that God is glorified by all inanimate things: the doubts raised by false interpreters will not beguile thee.


5. From


Come, recognize that your sensation and imagination and understanding are like the reed-cane on which children ride.

The spiritual man’s knowledge bears him aloft; the sensual man’s knowledge is a burden.

God hath said, Like an ass laden with books: heavy is the knowledge that is not inspired by Him;

But if you carry it for no selfish ends, the load will be lifted and you will feel delight.


God with His Brilliance and Actuality certainly pales any other source of enlightenment and illumination possible. Not only that, Our Creator’s mysterious workings and intricate powers seem to have enmeshed themselves with the fabric of the ‘apparent’ world created for our temporary existence. Such that the closest possible examination of any corner or pattern on the tapestry of this world either blinds us (given the Dazzle of the Source of things). Burdened by the contradictory and mutative conclusions from our observations and the enigma of explaining what we can see and can’t see in the terms of our limited understanding, we remain ignorant and indifferent to the Light. Or, we experience a touch of the dazzle ourselves in form of awe, wonderment, a sense of being in the presence of the Sacred, and a sweet and submissive urge to bow down our heads before this Source.



Body of earth, don’t talk of earth

Tell the story of pure mirrors

The Creator has given you this splendour —

Why talk of anything else?




you’ve carved a wooden horse

riding and calling it real

fooling yourself in life

though only a wooden horse

ride it again my friend

and gallop to the next post

you’ve never really listened

to what God has always

tried to tell you


In the physical world, every level of existence (such as the cultural, the individual, the biological, the chemical, and the subatomical) requires it’s own set of explanatory processes and phenomena. How can we claim to deduce understandings of how this world was created by restricting ourselves to the level of this earth? This will never be possible, unless we stop taking the things of this earth as the end of the road, as the literal reality itself. We must take them instead as signs, pointers or mirrors to the deeper nature of things at a level far far beyond the earthly. Instead of restricting ourselves to the details of this earth, we should move ahead to what this detail signifies: the magnificence, the splendour, the sublimity of how it all came to be.



I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door. It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!


And so external observations are not the end of the road for the one earnest seeker of the Truth. After you’ve completed your observations, then, like Ibrahim, you must close the door of externality and turn on the fountain of contemplation from within.




‘Twas a fair orchard, full of trees and fruit

And vines and greenery. A Sufi there

Sat with eyes closed, his head upon his knee,

Sunk deep in meditation mystical.

‘Why,’ asked another, ‘dost thou not behold

These Signs of God the Merciful displayed

Around thee, which He bids us contemplate?’

‘The signs,’ he answered, I behold within;

Without is naught but symbols of the Signs.’


God has already planted the germs for recognizing the truth within us. When we trun inwards, rather than remaining blinded by the tangled mechanisms of the outer world, we come to access and reinstill these germs.




That which is real is nearer than the neck-artery, and you have shot the arrow of thought far afield.

The philosopher kills himself with thinking. Let him run on: his back is turned to the treasure.

Most of those destined for Paradise are simpletons, so that they escape from the mischief of philosophy.

While the clever ones are pleased with the device, the simple ones rest, like babes, in the bosom of the Deviser.


The huge enterprise of science is not even needed to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Those who know the art of looking within (rather than remaining stuck on the without) for answers, even if they lack the material sophistication of the externalists, have more easily acquired that personal and intimate connection with our God that we either are magnetically attracted to or crazily run away from.


I finish with an ayah and a quatrain…

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّـهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ 

OF ALL His servants, only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God. (in Sura Fatir, 28)



I know nothing any more, except

That knowing you, I know the source

Of Knowing ; this fire-spring you pull me in

Sometimes, where ‘you’ and ‘I’ burn.



All translations have been taken from the Rumi edition of the Everyman’s Library of Pocket Poets. In order of appearance of quoted poems, here are the translaters with page number references.

  1. Andrew Harvey, p. 60
  2. Andrew Harvey, p. 62
  3. Coleman Barks, p. 86
  4. Nicholson, p. 128
  5. Nicholson, p.130
  6. same as 2
  7. Nader Khalili, pp. 76-7
  8. Coleman Barks, p.84
  9. Nicholson, p. 93
  10. Nicholson, p. 96-7
  11. Andrew Harvey, p. 163



MIND’S I EXPLORATIONS: Universal self and Perishment

In God, philosophy, psychology on December 12, 2009 at 11:11 am

“The Mind’s I: Fantasies and reflections on self and soul” is an anthology of writings on the nature of self and consciousness. Its editors Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett (who have also contributed to this anthology) reflect upon the issues expressed in each piece. Their major take on the issue is on how the physical brain creates the metaphysical mind or soul. However, each essay, since it is centered on a theme of most central significance to humanity, can be read at many levels: psychological, spiritual, social, and neurological.

Borges on self

The anthology begins with a translated version of Borges’ short story piece called Borges and I, which was originally published in his short story collection titled The Maker in 1960. Jorge Luis Borges was a famous Argentinean writer known for his fictions on matters of philosophical and metaphysical significance. In the story referred above, Borges explores themes that are in fact near to all of us by focusing upon his ‘social self’ as ‘someone different’.

Personal vs. the Social self

All of us can experience two distinct sides of us. One is our inner nature, the true us, that only we have real access to.  This is the inner side that God refers to when He says:

وَلَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسٰنَ وَنَعلَمُ ما تُوَسوِسُ بِهِ نَفسُهُ ۖ وَنَحنُ أَقرَبُ إِلَيهِ مِن حَبلِ الوَريدِ

 Translation: NOW, VERILY, it is We who have created man, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his neck-vein. (Sura Qaf, ayah 16)

The other is the more public side, composed of our outward behavior, our appearance, our sayings and doings, open for all the observers. This is the social self and our social self varies according to each different context that we enter in our lives.

This distinction also relates to a more basic subject-vs.-object distinction in nature. A subject can be said to be an observer, a being that is conscious, that knows. Whereas, an object is simply a thing that is observed.  Thus all subjective beings themselves are available as objects for others’ observation. Here, Borges is treating his own ‘objective’ side as something distinct from him, the subject.  

The Persona

As you will read the essay, you will see that Borges is aware of the ’empty’ and ‘artificial’ quality of the social facade to which others react with awe and admiration given that this social facade belongs to a famous person. Even though, most of us are not famous, still we can related to this feeling of discomfort when we are the focus of others’ attentions. We can feel the essential distance that remains between the real us and the ‘presentation’ we are giving before others. This presentation rarely matches the original inner story as it is. In simple words, there may be only a few rare relationships where we are able to interact spontaneously and genuinely without any distortion or gaps introduced. We have to mold our urges and impulses into behavioral patterns that will be acceptable in the situation we are in.

Carl Jung  in his analytical psychology, called this ‘medium’ or ‘the point-of-contact’ between the real us and the society out there as persona. He literally described the persona as a mask. Borges seems to be painfully aware of the empty and fake nature of his mask and feels averse to it.

But the story of self is not this simple.

The Shadow

Persona is a reality of life, a process that is necessarily there, that cannot be by-passed. Most of us do feel uncomfortable more or less when our persona is activated but still we accept it as a necessary compromise. The fact that Borges is feeling so averse to this persona hints to other things.

Our self-awareness is never complete. At birth we have been born with a myriad of tendencies, not all of them have had a chance to come out in the open yet. While one reason for our full potentialities not being conscious is that we have not encountered the environment which naturally evokes and instills those latent capacities; another important reason is the discouragement and punishment we receive from our elders in our up-bringing when our skills and tendencies are expressed in forms that they consider as undesirable. Urges and impulses arising from these hidden potentials then remain unconscious – what Jung had called as the personal unconscious. There was also a more colorful term to reflect this layer of the self: the Shadow.

The word shadow has a negative connotation. It is so because of the negative feelings often associated by our repressed/suppressed tendencies: the original shame, embarrassment, or hatred caused when we received our punishments, whether verbal, physical or nonverbal.

When we confront those same tendencies in others (other ‘objects’ so to speak), we react negatively. In a way we ‘project’ our own ‘weaknesses’ on to the objects around us and feel averse. Since Borges has treated his persona as an object, he now projects his shadow onto it and feels averse. Notice all the negative qualities of that other Borges he cites in the short piece.

When he says things like: “I am giving over everything to him” he shows that he is more and more realizing that the real source of all the attributes of the shadow is his own unconscious. He cannot conveniently shoulder the blame on to the ‘demands of the social situation’.

However, the interesting point is that even where he acknowledges some valid accomplishment by this Borges, he is humble: He attributes his creations as a writer to ‘the language’ and ‘the tradition’ and says: “what is good belongs to no one”. Why is he saying so? Herein is actually a reference to a much more deeper and broader level of unconscious that Jung also conceptualized:

The collective unconscious

If what is good belongs to no one to whom does it belong then? Where does it come from then?

Borges is showing the sophisticated awareness that those ‘breezes’ of thoughts and ‘waves’ of feelings that we attempt to transform into words are rooted much deeper inside us than we may think. The range of our self-awareness is very short: at surface we think so and so, we are impressed by so and so. In reality, we have no idea what is the rootcause, the real source of that idea that urge; what was it in some external provocation that held us so strongly in its grip that we were stunned or awed or else were moved so gravely by it.

According to Jung, this deep source of everything, that cannot be consciously traced by us is actually the treasure-house of the whole range of human potentialities that we bring into this world, and that is common across all of us. If you think, every single bit of thought, inspiration, motivation, fear, desire, need, that we have had is not ‘originally ours’, not experienced by us and only us in the world. Thousands of people have experienced the same thing before. The unique combination of our experiences may indeed be ours but not the ingredients. This is what Borges means when he says what is good really belongs to none and this is the same idea that we encounter repeatedly in the Quran…

The universal Self

Jung identified several distinct ingredients (he called them archetypes) of this collective unconscious, the one most relevant here is the concept of the Self (or the objective psyche). Self actually is the harmounious human totality, in which all our diverse, and often opposite tendencies come together. As our Ego (the plainly conscious self, in Jung’s theory) comes to realize over the course of years, that the same people, objects and institutions often evoke very different and ambivalent responses in us: love hate, dependence independence, acceptance rejection, trust suspicion. To a more or less extent, the maturing Ego comes to understand and accept these apparent discrepancies, to resolve them or to reach and bring out in the open the complicated causes leading to such complicated responses. As this happens, we can say that the Ego is now more in line with the universal self. In Jung’s terms the Ego is becoming more and more individuated into or identifying with the Objective Psyche.

But this process is not easy. There are lot of anxieties on the way, a lot of fears to be encountered. The most significant fear is the threat of losing one’s individuality, realizing that one is nothing more than a human, nothing above and beyond a human, just that. I personally feel that it is this same fear that stops many of us from fully identifying with our God and from realizing our essential smallness and nothingness in His Omni-Presence.

With the fear of being nothing is tied the fear of ‘ending’ or ‘perishing’. What is a drop in a river? The river will keep flowing, but a drop…. might ‘not exist’ the next moment.  It is these fears that make the fictional Borges run away from the ‘shadow’ – the shadow which is actually a doorway, a threshold onto the much deeper layer of the collective unconscious in which resides the universal self… It is the same fear that makes Borges say: “my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.” (from the translation in the Mind’s I).

To sum up:

 وَجاءَت سَكرَةُ المَوتِ بِالحَقِّ ۖ ذٰلِكَ ما كُنتَ مِنهُ تَحيدُ

Translation: And [then,] the twilight of death brings with it the [full] truth – that [very thing, O man,] from which thou wouldst always look away! – (Sura Qaf, ayah 19)


A nearly identical translated version of Borges’ piece along with the orginal in Spanish can be read here.

A different, more elaborated and somewhat scholarly version of this essay I wrote before this post which I am considering for publication. If it was published, I would share the link. JazakaAllah for your constant readership.

SCIENCE|RELIGION: Observations of a Scientist upon Science and Reality

In philosophy, science, universe on May 6, 2009 at 5:58 pm

John Templeton FoundationBernard d’Espagnat is a French theoretical physicist and a philosopher of science. He received the Templeton Prize in March this year upon work that shows how science cannot fully explain reality. The Templeton is the largest prize in the world in terms of monetary value and is annually awarded by the Templeton Foundation to acknowledge work that finds a common ground between science and religion and to individuals who reaffirm the spiritual dimension of life.

Bernard d’Espagnat’s major contribution in science is his work on several aspects of quantum mechanics. It was this work which lead him to explore the nature of reality and to question the disregarding attitude many scientists have towards the philosophical questions thrown up by quantum physics.

d’Espagnat’s ideas on the doomed division between science and ‘ultimate reality’

From The Guardian:

“What quantum mechanics tells us, I believe, is surprising to say the least. It tells us that the basic components of objects – the particles, electrons, quarks etc. – cannot be thought of as “self-existent”. The reality that they, and hence all objects, are components of is merely “empirical reality”.

This reality is something that, while not a purely mind-made construct as radical idealism would have it, can be but the picture our mind forces us to form of … Of what ? The only answer I am able to provide is that underlying this empirical reality is a mysterious, non-conceptualisable “ultimate reality”, not embedded in space and (presumably) not in time either.”

From Princeton University Press (In a review of his book On Physics and Philosophy):

d Espagnat's bookHis overall conclusion is that while the physical implications of quantum theory suggest that scientific knowledge will never truly describe mind-independent reality, the notion of such an ultimate reality–one we can never access directly or rationally and which he calls “veiled reality”–remains conceptually necessary nonetheless.

From his Templeton page:

“the things we observe may be tentatively interpreted as signs providing us with some perhaps not entirely misleading glimpses of a higher reality and, therefore, that higher forms of spirituality are fully compatible with what seems to emerge from contemporary physics.”

In a statement prepared for the news conference, d’Espagnat pointed out that since science cannot tell us anything certain about the nature of being, clearly it cannot tell us with certainty what it is not.

From the BBC report on the news:

His concept of an ultimate reality – as he terms it, “the ground of things” – is only glimpsed, not explicitly described, by science.

Science, he said, “is aimed not at describing ‘reality as it really is’ but at predicting what will be observed in such-and-such circumstances”.

From the statement delivered by d’Espagnat on the prize ceremony:

At this point I’d like to draw your attention on the fact that, if true, this conception of mine has two significant consequences.

One of them is that if indeed it is our mind that, due to its own structure, carves all objects out of the “ground of things,” obviously we cannot any more picture mind to ourselves as being itself an emanation of (some class of) objects. If the notion “emanation” is here to be kept, we may only claim that mind emanates “from the ground of things.” As we shall immediately see, the difference is far from being a negligible one.

For indeed – and this is nothing else than the second consequence I just mentioned – this “ground of things,” this Real, quite obviously is not a thing. Clearly it is not imbedded in space, and presumably not in time either. Let us call it “Being” if you like. Or “the One,” following

POINT|COUNTERPOINT: On Prophetic Revelation and “Subjectivity”

In Islam, philosophy, psychology on March 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

God does not communicate directly with human beings, but He sends His messages to selected persons called prophets who then preach God’s word to the masses. This is the cornerstone of our faith, the point on which the whole institution of religion rests.

This post has been inspired by a little discussion of intellect vs prophetic revelation on Umer Toor’s blog. Umer’s original post was a little conversation between Umer and Master Agha, wherein Umer asks how the Platonic philosophers had approached the concept of God, to which Master Agha replies that: “revelation is essential to understand such questions” since intellect is imperfect.

The first comment on this post was made by Awais Aftab.

Awais Aftab: “Revelation believers always go on about how intellect is ‘imperfect’, but what can be more imperfect than revelation, which is a highly subjective experience of a person [‘Prophet’] passed on by word of mouth and subsequently written and then believed in by a person centuries later who has had no experience even minutely close to that a revelation. And while 2 + 2 = 4 for every man of intellect, every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions. And yet it is logic which is imperfect.”

A number of misconceptions are apparent in this response. Following is my attempt at counterargument.

Rhodora Online:

1. “every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions“. A misconception. There is a systematic difference in the message revealed by Prophets Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, at the one hand, and the personal wisdom and insights shared by someone like the Bhuddha who didn’t claim he was a prophet but may have been made into one by his devotees later on.

If one is mistakenly including such man-proclaimed ‘prophets’ with the God-sent ones, then indeed the world has a rich tapestry of religions! Otherwise, the message of all true Prophets was the same: There is no god but ALLAH so its only HIM worthy of worship.

“Different religions” were created by scholars long after the original revelations in the earlier Books from Allah had been lost. [To read an illuminating article regarding one relevant example, click here.] An illusion of ‘difference’ may also be created because of i) differences in procedural aspects of living for which God indeed changed guidelines in different prophets’ times (refer: Quran) and ii) differences in tertiary matters with  imprecise guidance in Quran or Hadith, where scholars  conclude differently.

3. “by word of mouth…” As if our prophets were born in the age after the Gutenberg pressEven so, not only the revelations recited by the last Prophet Mohammad (Salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) were instantly inscribed and memorized by his followers, but also his own sayings and doings were meticulously recorded since he was in the best position to interpret the revelations through his exposition and behavior.

2. “yet it is logic which is imperfect” If one cares to read the Quran with an open mind (by which I mean not rigidly insisting upon inflexible preconceived  notions) and peruses the brilliant scholarly expositions of the basic ideology of Quran, one will find enough logic to satisfy one.

Just like atheists find logic enough in their perspective of the world.

A word on logic:

I am a postgraduate in psychology. When we encounter ‘paranoid’ patients we always observe PERFECT logic in their explanations of why they are so convinced that they are being persecuted – tight, irrefutably perfect logic. You cannot win an argument with a paranoid.

Logic is a tool that derives conclusions from a set of premises. We are not arguing logic here, we are arguing PREMISES. So there’s logic in MY view of the world  and there’s a logic in YOUR (Darwin and all) view of the world. The ‘this premise’ or ‘that premise’ is ultimately a CHOICE [la ikraha fi-deen]: a SUBJECTIVE choice.

Why must this choice be subjective? The idea of an objective choice assumes that i) it is possible for us to somehow perceive this world in a totally direct, completely factual fashion [read below on this point], and that ii) all the facts that are needed to make this objective choice must be completely available for consideration.

You cannot solve your math equation unless the requisite givens are there.

On the other hand, do you realistically believe that all that there is to be discovered about this world will be discovered to ultimately PROVE without holes which view was the really PERFECTLY logical one and which premise the perfectly valid one? Even if it could, we will be dead much before;  surely we cannot wait…

4. “a highly subjective experience”: We perceive the sunflower in yellow color. And yet the bees of this world perceive the same sunflower in blue (by which I mean something akin to ultraviolet light). So can you please tell me WHICH is the OBJECTIVE way of perceiving the sunflower? A highly subjective experience for both parties (humans and bees :-), if you ask me!

Carole Tarvis is a PhD in social psychology; Carol Wade took the same degree in cognitive psychology. In a textbook penned by them they write:

Because sensation is a subjective experience, our ideas about reality must be affected by our sensory abilities and limitations. That is, things appear to us as they do not only because of their nature but also because of ours. If the entire human race were totally deaf, we might still talk about pressure waves, but we would have no concept of sound. (p. 200, Psychology, 4th ed., Harper Collins).

If the entire human race was totally deaf, and one person, as a result of a unique blessing from God, had explained to us the concept of sound… Credibility in such cases cannot be decided through the state-of-the-art science because that is always limited by the human limitations of the researchers and the status of the technology they have been able to develop till that point. It is decided by an examination of the proclaimer’s character, his motivation and motives, and the arguments he extends in support of his claims.

May God accept my humble effort.

Awais’ response provoked further illuminating arguments from others. Read them all here.