Harris Presentation 2016

Cognition, Computation, and Chiasmus; Chiasmus, Computation, and Cognition

This talk will outline the chiastic suite of rhetorical figures, a family of figures built on reverse repetitions, as in the following:

  • All for one and one for all.
  • A place for everything and everything in its place.
  • The right to bear arms is slightly less ridiculous than the right to arm bears.
  • Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.
  • Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

The chiastic suite is compelling. In the first order, it reveals in the clearest possible terms the neurocognitive dimensions of rhetorical figures. It appeals aesthetically and registers mnemonically by activating our natural affinities for symmetry, opposition, and repetition. In the second order, it shows the most immediate promise of figuration for computational applications. It has an easily detectable pattern linked to a small range of communicative purposes—an iconicity of balance and completeness and relative order that gives rise to simple rhetorical functions (think, for instance, of the chiastic representation of the law of commutation, m+n=n+m, which evinces the rhetorical function, irrelevance of order). And, in the third order, it exhibits combinatoric tendencies with other figures that narrow and enhance those communicative functions.

Download Powerpoint