George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s important work Metaphors We Live By pointed out an aspect of conceptualisation and language – that we must resort literal physical meanings and relationships in order to talk about the abstract.
The employment of metaphors of the real is the only way we can talk about unreal.
Consider these sentences.
- He is in the kitchen.
- The concert starts in three hours.
- She is in the choir.
- They are in love.
All sentences employ spatial relation “in” to describe the concepts.
But only 1 is literal or real. Both “he” and “the kitchen” are real things. The person is located in a space. In 2 uses space to talk about time. And 3, and 4 use space to talk about membership and emotional state. While it can be argued that one can use non-space to describe things, it is neither easy, economical, nor natural. In other words, abstract or unreal concepts simply cannot be mentally, psychologically or conceptually manipulated without recourse to the real literal world.