Friday, October 15, 2004

The Ghost in the Blending Machine

Just for those who really enjoy blending (I know someone, somewhere, really enjoys blending), I am going to give another example of blending. One of the examples frequently used by Fauconnier and Turner (e.g., in "Conceptual Integration Networks" and The Way We Think is the famous riddle of the monk going up the hill, and then coming down the hill the next day. He starts at the same time each day. Does he pass himself along the way? But I'm not going to do that example. Instead, I'm going to use another really cool example, from The Way We Think (which is a good read for the examples, if nothing else). Here's their setup:

The clipper ship Norther Light sailed in 1853 from San Francisco to Boston in 76 days, 8 hours. That time was still the fastest on record in 1993, when a modern catamaran, Great American II, set out on the same course. A few days before the catamaran reached Boston, observers were able to say:
At this point, Great American II is 4.5 days ahead of Northern Light. (p. 63)

This blend is similar to the hill-climbing monk example, in that it requires the comparing the spatial position of two things at different points in time. In this case, the pace of the Northern Light, which undertook its journey 140 years prior to the Great American II under took its, is in question. How does it compare to the Great American II's pace? The way we make this comparison, according to Fauconnier and Turner, is by blending the two input space (the journeys of the two ships). The generic spache contains things like the common path, the total time, the time at particular spots along the course, etc. In the blend, we can identify the 1853 path with the 1993 path, and place both boats on the blended path.

Fauconnier and Turner were inspired to use this example when one of them read the following sentence in a report on the 's journey:

As we went to press, Rich Wilson and Bill Biewenga were barely maintaining a 4.5-day lead over the ghost of the clipper Northern Light. (p. 64)

Under their view, the word "ghost" is meant to signal the presence of a blend. According to them, "Its effect is to indicate how to build connections over three separate spaces... this use of "ghost" to indicate how to build an integration network is quite conventional." So, there you have it, more evidence of the existence of blends. Not only does a blending analysis account for the comparison of two temporally distant boat journeys, but the word "ghost" unquestionably indicates the presence of a blend, and how to reconstruct it. Whew! That's some hard-nosed science.

If these examples aren't enough for you, and you really must have more, but don't see yourself going out and buying Fauconnier and Turner's book, ask me about the "Debate with Kant."