Skip to main content
The Spider's Thread: Metaphor in Mind, Brain, and Poetry

The Spider's Thread: Metaphor in Mind, Brain, and Poetry

Current price: $35.00
Publication Date: February 26th, 2019
The MIT Press
The MIT Press Bookstore
1 on hand, as of Feb 23 6:03pm
On Our Shelves Now


An examination of metaphor in poetry as a microcosm of the human imagination—a way to understand the mechanisms of creativity.

In The Spider's Thread, Keith Holyoak looks at metaphor as a microcosm of the creative imagination. Holyoak, a psychologist and poet, draws on the perspectives of thinkers from the humanities—poets, philosophers, and critics—and from the sciences—psychologists, neuroscientists, linguists, and computer scientists. He begins each chapter with a poem—by poets including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Theodore Roethke, Du Fu, William Butler Yeats, and Pablo Neruda—and then widens the discussion to broader notions of metaphor and mind.

Holyoak uses Whitman's poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider” to illustrate the process of interpreting a poem, and explains the relevance of two psychological mechanisms, analogy and conceptual combination, to metaphor. He outlines ideas first sketched by Coleridge—who called poetry “the best words in their best order”—and links them to modern research on the interplay between cognition and emotion, controlled and associative thinking, memory and creativity. Building on Emily Dickinson's declaration “the brain is wider than the sky,” Holyoak suggests that the control and default networks in the brain may combine to support creativity. He also considers, among other things, the interplay of sound and meaning in poetry; symbolism in the work of Yeats, Jung, and others; indirect communication in poems; the mixture of active and passive processes in creativity; and whether artificial intelligence could ever achieve poetic authenticity. Guided by Holyoak, we can begin to trace the outlines of creativity through the mechanisms of metaphor.

About the Author

Keith J. Holyoak, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, is a psychologist and poet. He is the coauthor or editor of a number of books on cognitive psychology and has published three volumes of poetry.

Praise for The Spider's Thread: Metaphor in Mind, Brain, and Poetry

"Students in poetry and creative writing courses will find that Holyoak's questions, illuminations, and provisional explanations offer fruitful metaphors for the construction of reflective practices. Students in cognitive psychology courses will find, particularly in the notes and bibliography, ideas aplenty for directions in which to continue research in creative processes or language processing. Throughout one finds spots to stop and linger over a word, an insight, a diagram."—Choice

"Can scientists apply and contribute their expertise to the arts, and vice versa? The Spider’s Thread: Metaphor in Mind, Brain, and Poetry by Dr. Keith Holyoak addresses this disconnect between science and art, beginning with discussions of neuroscience, philosophy, and linguistics, and moving on to a discussion of creative writing in poetry. Dr. Holyoak identifies and proposes potential methods of interconnection and cross-disciplinary proficiency. [ . . . ] It is a wonderful resource for academics, students,  artists, and scientists alike."—Philosophical Psychology

"​If you are ready for a twisty climb, hand-in-hand with a curious, enthusiastic, and steadfast companion, you'll be rewarded with some wonderful views. This book is a love song to poetry and you'll surely be singing along."—The Psychologist