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A Unique Approach

Cognitive linguistics
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cognitive science: the study of how people think
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linguistics: the study of how people communicate

The work of Real Reason starts with a core insight of cognitive linguistics — that when people think about complex and abstract things like economies, ecosystems, and governments, they use sophisticated conceptual tools to manage the process of reasoning.

As part of everyday thinking, people rely on mental shortcuts. They use building blocks of thought such as metaphors and metonymies, stereotypes and other prototypes, and semantic roles and frames. People rely on the collective knowledge of the stories they know and tell one another. And at the most basic levels of thought, they use what cognitive linguists call image schemas. Together, these components of thought structure people's values, core beliefs, and common-sense assumptions about the world.

Language data
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the spoken and written words that provide evidence of reasoning patterns and underlying structures of thought

The cognitive linguists at Real Reason apply scientific methods to language data in order to expose the mental models used in everyday reasoning. Why are these conceptual tools worth identifying and understanding? Because they are a critical factor in whether policy proposals resonate or simply fall flat.

Some conceptual tools serve as mental obstacles to recognizing basic truths and realities. They impede thinking that is flexible, open-minded, and oriented toward the long term. And they permit complacency about issues like global warming, poverty, and civil rights. Others facilitate adaptive thinking and help people see the connections that matter, such as how taxation is related to building a prosperous and healthy society.

Real Reason's work is not just about what Americans believe and value, but why they reason the way they do, and how a shift in reasoning patterns can open up a space for creative solutions. This work helps develop the political imagination needed to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Better conceptual tools produce better public policy

The problem with
"Shrinking" Government

Government is typically viewed as something separate from community life — something that can simply be made to "grow" or "shrink" like a tumor. This mental model for thinking about government obscures some basic realities.

The challenge is to promote a more sophisticated way of thinking about government. Government is the community coming together to set priorities that serve the common good. When government is starved of resources, these decisions don't disappear — they simply shift to less transparent, less accountable, and less democratic institutions... like corporations.

What's wrong with
Giving People a "Chance"

Opportunity in society is often understood through game metaphors. "Provide a level playing field," as the saying goes, and some will win while others lose. Those who fail after getting a "fair chance" should stop receiving public support and take "personal responsibility" for the outcome.

A conceptual shift is needed to address the reality that some things are not a game, and that in life people go through many cycles of development, adversity, and renewal. Opportunities matter. But building a just society also requires supporting people's basic needs, respecting their intrinsic value, and recognizing their continuing potential.