As we know from validated research, the researchers from Project Simile indicate that humans use on average six metaphors per minute of spoken language. Vivek Bhaskaran, CEO of QuestionPro, adds “Spoken language is key to understanding the propensities humans have for doing anything or avoiding anything. Adding spoken language and metaphor analysis to standard Market Research mechanisms is key to understanding people and the outcomes they want.” Indeed, metaphors are key to understanding unconscious thoughts, feelings, and emotions, expressed in creative and yet often overlooked ways through language.
In this regard, metaphors are “units of meaning” that must be understood as such in the world of data. Such concepts might seem verboten to the technocratic camp, which finds emotion and other inchoate categories too subjective and unrigorous to include in data-sets. In reality, however large decisions- even ones with high impact—are often made with emotions and ideological frameworks at play. Research has shown, time and time again, that emotions are critical to every single decision we make in our life.
Take decisions that might appear to be best driven by data- things as disparate as “what house should I buy?” or “should I get a vaccine for Covid?” The most rational amongst us would suggest that there should be no emotions involved in a straight economic transaction and that, as such, the house one buys should be the “best deal.” In this case the notion of the best deal would be defined as one that generates the highest financial ROI. Ask any real estate agent, however, and you’ll know that buyers and sellers both have affinities and biases that extend far beyond economic outcomes. One might understand this regarding the buy-side since, after all, the buyer will be living in the house but what accounts for emotion-based decision making on the seller side? After all, they will be gone so how could it possibly matter to them who occupies the house once they are gone?
With regard to vaccines, we have observed that people are willing to put their own lives or those of their loved ones at risk because of ideological and cognitive biases that run afoul of the scientific consensus. Mind you, many of these people won’t “argue the math” when it comes to other areas but will when it comes to vaccines. Again, metaphors of “trust,” “freedom,” and others subsume all others even in such vital decisions.
While this might take the more technocratic researchers by surprise, it doesn’t surprise those who elicit and understand the metaphors people express and by which they conduct their lives.
The role of the Data-maven and researcher both is to elicit meaning and meaning is often transmitted in the quanta we call metaphors. As such, metaphors must be taken seriously.