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  • A Mechanism of Creativity
  • Mark Turner (bio) and Gilles Fauconnier (bio)

Conceptual integration—“blending”—is a basic cognitive operation for creating new meanings out of old. Conceptual integration is dynamic, supple, and active in the moment of thinking. It yields products that frequently become entrenched in conceptual structure and grammar. It often performs new work on its previously entrenched products. For the most part, conceptual integration is a routine, workaday process that escapes detection except on technical analysis. It is not reserved for special purposes, and it is not costly. We present examples of conceptual integration, analyze some linguistic constructions that evoke conceptual integration, and present literary passages that derive from conceptual integration.


Life on Mars

On July 4, 1997, a Martian admiring the night sky above the ancient floodplain of the Ares Vallis, now a desert, would have seen the Pathfinder space probe parachuting toward the ground in a protective cocoon of inflated air bags. A multimillion-dollar space beach ball, it bounced fifty feet high before dribbling to rest, where the bags deflated. The lander retracted the air bags, unfolded to release a small exploratory roving vehicle, and beamed pictures of rocks back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

An American Earthling, sitting at home, might have seen those rocks on television, interspersed with images of space aliens accompanying news reports about the fiftieth anniversary of “the Roswell incident.” According [End Page 397] to believers, space aliens had crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, fifty years earlier, and the U.S. Air Force had covered it up. The Air Force, which once dismissed these rumors as absurd, now, on the fiftieth anniversary, admitted that the believers were not actually crazy. They had merely seen desert wreckage of secret high-altitude balloon tests involving capsules and dummies.

As the Mars rover began to analyze the rocks, an anonymous spoof appeared on the World Wide Web:

Valles Marineris (MPI)—A spokesthing for Mars Air Force denounced as false rumors that an alien space craft crashed in the desert outside of Ares Vallis on Friday. Appearing at a press conference today, General Rgrmrmy The Lesser stated that “the object was, in fact, a harmless high-altitude weather balloon, not an alien spacecraft.”

The story broke late Friday night when a major stationed at nearby Ares Vallis Air Force Base contacted the Valles Marineris Daily Record with a story about a strange, balloon-shaped object which allegedly came down in the nearby desert, “bouncing” several times before coming to a stop, “deflating in a sudden explosion of alien gases.” Minutes later, General Rgrmrmy The Lesser contacted the Daily Record telepathically to contradict the earlier report.

General Rgrmrmy The Lesser stated that hysterical stories of a detachable vehicle roaming across the Martian desert were blatant fiction, provoked by incidents involving swamp gas. But the general public has been slow to accept the Air Force’s explanation of recent events, preferring to speculate on the “other-worldly” nature of the crash debris. Conspiracy theorists have condemned Rgrmrmy’s statements as evidence of “an obvious government cover-up,” pointing out that Mars has no swamps.

We are guided to a blended story. The Roswell story itself has no Mars Pathfinder and no landing on Mars, while the Pathfinder story itself has no Martian Air Force, no Martian newspapers, and no skeptical public. These two stories share the scenario of a spacecraft landing in a desert, and they involve balloons. We must borrow parts of each of them to weave a blended story in which the Pathfinder lands on a Mars that has a government, rumors, newspapers, and an Air Force cover-up.

This selective borrowing, or rather, projection, is not merely compositional—instead, there is new meaning in the blend that is not a composition of meanings that can be found in the inputs. For example, although the Air Force comes from the Roswell story, or more generally from knowledge of the United States, it is not simply copied into the blend. The Air Force in the blend is Martian, even though in the inputs there is no Martian Air Force and in fact no explicit mention of Martians. The Martian Air Force in the...

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pp. 397-418
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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