IS THERE a place in the brain where metaphors are understood? A study of patients with localised brain damage suggests there is.
Vilayanur Ramachandran and his colleagues at the University of California at San Diego were intrigued by four patients who were mentally lucid, fluent in English and highly intelligent, but could not understand proverbs.
When one of the patients was asked to explain the adage "all that glitters is not gold", for instance, he completely missed the metaphorical angle, replying that people should be careful when buying jewellery.
All the patients had damage to part of the brain called the left angular gyrus. This lies at the intersection of the brain's temporal, parietal and occipital lobes, which process tactile, auditory and visual information respectively. The findings were presented at a meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society this week in New York.
From issue 2495 of New Scientist magazine, 16 April 2005, page 18