Sunday, February 3, 2008

Maps - 7

A good story about travel is based on experience, real or imagined. We've already indicated how a map can be helpful in charting a trip. Is it absolutely necessary? Of course not. The more familiar the terrain, the less the map is needed; the information is already in the head of the story teller. But when the trip is to a new location, surely a map is helpful. Likewise a map is helpful to a reader of (or listener to) the story if the places in the story are not already part of the reader's experience. It helps the reader frame how the various places in the story relate to each other.

For the novice traveler, there is an overt and symbiotic relationship between the map and the story. As the traveler gets more experienced, the relationship persists but it becomes more tacit. The map serves as a metaphor for the trip in that the traveler thinks about the map, plots a course there, and then transfers that thinking to reality, rather than thinking directly about the reality. For the novice this is a laborious process. For the expert it may seem so intuitive as to not happen that way. But it does. And the reason should be clear. The map is simple and it is that simplicity that allows the ready plotting of the course. It is easier to do it that way and then transfer the conclusions.

We will now take the symbiotic relationship between maps and travel stories itself as a metaphor, in this case the metaphor is for the economic models we will encounter and the stories about the economic phenomena being modeled. Just as you need to learn to read a map and use it for making directions for a trip you need to get familiar with the economic models and learn to analyze them to draw conclusions that can be applied to understanding economic phenomena. The analytic modules done in Excel are aimed at giving you practice in developing these modeling skills. Likewise, you need to hone your skills as a story teller. You do this by reading the stories of economists who are skilled at story telling and by writing some yourself. Because economics is so much a part of world around us, you also learn story telling by reading news and commentary with economic content. The modules delivered as blog posts are aimed at improving your story telling skills.

Lakoff and Johnson, in 'Metaphors We Live By' make the case that metaphor is intrinsic to language and the way we think. Indeed we humans may be hard wired to use metaphor.
Lakoff and Johnson at

Other than your instructor, do you know the names of any professional economists? Have you read anything they have written?

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