To see this integrative process in action, let us apply Fauconnier and Turner’s model to a creative metaphor – again, one supplied by Rothenberg:
‘the road was a rocket of sunlight’
Here, we could say that input one is ‘road’ and input two is ‘rocket’. When I [Middleton] map correlations between these two conceptual packets, I see some similarity in the shape of a road in perspective and the shape of a rocket and its trail; I also connect them through the ideas of travel and speed. The mapping allows me to create a generic mental space in which these elements are all present. ‘Blending’ goes a step further and now I superimpose the rocket onto the road, enmeshing the two inputs via the access points of commonality I have identified. In the final stage of ‘completion’, I recruit the rays of light from the rocket’s fire to act as the sun on the road. The blend is now integrated as I have arrived at a completed image that makes sense of the two inputs. The metaphor ‘works’ because it encapsulates a meaningful integration that we can sense and even analytically deduce to be logically coherent.
This complex series of processes explains the mechanism by which a range of mental acts – from the construction of figures of speech to artistic metaphors – is achieved (Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 51). Fauconnier and Turner (ibid.: v) write,
Almost invisibly to consciousness, conceptual blending choreographs vast networks of conceptual meaning, yielding cognitive products that, at the conscious level, appear simple.
It is because the mechanics of conceptual integration take place outside our conscious awareness that the results of cognitive blending can appear to us with the apparent suddenness of insight or intuition. Referring to Koestler’s ‘act of creation’, Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 44) tell us that,
What comes into consciousness is the flash of comprehension. And it seems magical precisely because the elaborate imaginative work is all unconscious.
Fauconnier and Turner also note that understandings arrived at in this way may carry a greater sense of depth than those cognised through a step-by-step analysis, because, at the moment of creation, ‘the entire integration network is still active in the brain, even if unconsciously’ (ibid.: 57). Important as this insight into unconscious levels of cognition may be, we should also note, as Rothenberg (1980: 17) has been at pains to demonstrate, that for artists, ‘a conscious and intentional type of process’ also plays a significant part.