What is the process of conceptual blending and how does it work?

Conceptual blending is a cognitive process that allows us to combine different mental concepts or ideas into a new, integrated concept. It is a fundamental mechanism of human thought and plays a crucial role in our ability to understand and create new ideas. In this process, our brains take input from multiple mental spaces and blend them together to form a new, complex concept. This concept can then be used to generate creative solutions, make sense of abstract ideas, and bridge seemingly unrelated concepts. In this article, we will explore the process of conceptual blending and how it works to enhance our cognitive abilities.

Conceptual Blending (aka Conceptual Integration) is a general theory of cognition. According to this theory, elements and vital relations from diverse scenarios are “blended” in a subconscious process known as Conceptual Blending, which is assumed to be ubiquitous to everyday thought and language. Insights obtained from these blends constitute the products of creative thinking, though conceptual blending theory is not itself a theory of creativity, inasmuch as it does not illuminate the issue of where the inputs to a blend actually come from. Blending theory does provide a rich terminology for describing the creative products of others, but has little to say on the inspiration that serves as the starting point for each blend.

The theory of Conceptual Blending was developed by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner. The development of this theory began in 1993 and a representative early formulation is found in their online article Conceptual Integration and Formal Expression. Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier cite Arthur Koestler´s 1964 book The Act of Creation as an early forerunner of conceptual blending: Koestler had identified a common pattern in creative achievements in the arts, sciences and humor that he had termed “bisociation of matrices” – a notion he described with many striking examples, but did not formalize in algorithmic terms. Conceptual Blending theory is also not formalized at the level of algorithmic detail , but its various optimality principles provide some guidance for those building computational models.

A newer version of blending theory, with somewhat different terminology, was presented in their book The Way We Think (ISBN 0-465-08786-8). Their theory is partially based on basic ideas advanced by George Lakoff in his 1987 book Women, Fire and Dangerous Things and in Lakoff’s coauthored 1980 book with Mark Johnson Metaphors We Live By. It is also related to Cognitive architecture theories like Soar and ACT-R, and to frame-based theories of Marvin Minsky, Jaime Carbonell among others.

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