Cosmic intimacy: metaphor, metonym, and the relevance of physics to Chinese divination
William Matthews (UCL)
Paper short abstract:
This paper argues for the central role of metaphor and metonymy in reasoning in a Chinese divination system. This allows fortune-tellers to classify client circumstances according to cosmic principles, and in turn to accommodate the cosmological principles of modern physics.
Paper long abstract:
This paper takes a cognitively-informed ethnographic approach to cosmological reasoning, based on work with a fortune-teller and his students in east China, to illustrate the central role played by metaphor and metonym in drawing predictions, expanding cosmological categories, and incorporating non-traditional alternative theories. Based on the ancient cosmological and divinatory text the Yi Jing (Book of Changes), the method of Six Lines Prediction hinges on an interplay between symbols, which are made to stand metaphorically for clients' circumstances, and 'real' universal cosmic principles. Fortune-tellers metaphorically substitute Yi Jing symbols for clients' circumstances, and then incorporate them metonymically into the system of pre-existing cosmic principles. Cognitively, this facilitates comprehension of a new situation via an operation of classification, creating what I refer to as 'cosmic intimacy.' Furthermore, I argue that the same process of reasoning allows practitioners to accommodate apparently unrelated understandings of cosmology, and I show this with the example of parallels they draw with modern physics. Processed in the context of Yi Jing cosmology, these ideas produce a positive cognitive effect in the form of a conclusion that the ancient wisdom of the Yi Jing, and thus the efficacy of Six Lines Prediction, is supported (and thus legitimised) by modern science.
Cognitive anthropology and cultural transmission; legacies and futures