Research Sketch: Libben (2017)

The quantum metaphor and the organization of words in the mind


Gary Libben

 Brock University


mental lexicon, lexical representation, psycholinguistics


Libben, G. (2017). The quantum metaphor and the organization of words in the mind. Cultural Cognitive Science, 1, 49-55. 



  • “The lexical system does not need to possess words in order to use words” (p. 55).
  • There are surprising historical links between quantum physics and psycholinguistics.
  • Complex words may not have fixed representations in the mind.


The mental lexicon has served as an almost ideal meeting ground for the cognitive sciences. In order for research on lexical processing to fulfill its potential to provide the elusive links among brain, cognition and culture, it is necessary to re-examine the view that the mental lexicon is a knowledge store of discrete lexical items. I suggest that metaphors from quantum physics, in particular the notions of wave/particle duality and superposition, are extremely valuable to an understanding of the contents of the mental lexicon and to the framing of research methodologies. Taken together, these perspectives lead us away from the assumption that the mind/brain contains representations for words. What they lead us toward is the view that the observation of words in the world may not require the postulation of words in the mind/brain.

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