As the great linguist Charles Fillmore discovered in 1975, all words are cognitively defined relative to conceptual "frames" -- structures we all use to think all the time. Frames don't float in the air; they are neural circuits in our brains. Frames in politics are not neutral; they reflect an underlying value system. That means that language in politics is not neutral. Political words do not just pick out something in the world. They reflect value-based frames. If you successfully frame public discourse, you win the debate.
A common neuroscience estimate is that about 98 percent of thought is unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system. Daniel Kahneman has since brought frame-based unconscious thought into the public arena in what he has called "System 1 thinking." Since frames carry value-based inferences with them, successfully framing public discourse means getting the public to adopt your values, and hence winning over the public by unconscious brain change, not by open discussion of the values inherent in the frames and the values that undergird the frames....
The reason that those of us in the cognitive and brain sciences write so passionately about framing issues is that unconscious thought and framing are not generally understood -- especially in progressive circles. Most progressives who went to college studied what is called Enlightenment reason, a theory of reason coming from Descartes around 1650 -- and which was historically important in 1650. The Cartesian theory of how reason works has since been largely disproved in the cognitive and brain sciences.
The Cartesian theory assumes that all thought is conscious, that it is literal (that is, it fits the world directly and uses no frame-based or metaphorical thought), that reason uses a form of mathematical logic (not frame-based logic or metaphorical logic), and that words are neutral and fit the world directly. Many liberal economists have been trained in this mode of thought and assume that the language used in economic theory is neutral and just fits the world as it is. They are usually not trained in frame semantics, cognitive linguistics, and related fields. The same is often true of liberal journalists as well. Both often miss the fact that conservatives have successfully reframed economic terms to fit their values, and that the economic terms in public discourse no longer mean what they do in economics classes.
Part of what the Cartesian theory of reason misses is the real brain mechanism that allows the conservative communication theory to be effective. By framing language to fit conservative values and by getting their framing of the language to dominate public debate, conservatives change the public's brains by the following mechanism. When a frame circuit is activated in the brain, its synapses are strengthened. This means that the probability of future activation is raised and probability of the frame becoming permanent in the brain is raised. Whenever a word defined by that frame is used, the frame is activated and strengthened. When conservatives successfully reframe a word in public discourse, that word activates conservative frames and with those frames, the conservative value system on which the frames are based. When progressives naively use conservatively reframed words, they help the conservative cause by strengthening the conservative value system in the brains of the public.
Liberals, in adhering to the old Cartesian theory of reason, will not be aware of their own unconscious values, will take then for granted, and will think that all they have to do is state the facts and the public will be convinced rationally. The facts are crucial, but they need to framed in moral terms to make moral sense and a moral impact....
The word at issue is "redistribution." The subject matter is the flow of wealth in the society and what it should be. This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself....The Huffington Post
The New York Times Uncovers Conservative Attacks and Then Prints One; Both Are on the Front Page
George Lakoff | Goldman Distinguished Professor Of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley
It used to be called "brainwashing" in the Fifties. Now it is called public relations and marketing & advertising.