Arresting Metaphors

Students will evaluate AI tools' capacity to create poetic metaphors through reading, LLM experimentation, reflection, and discussion, as well as the role of metaphors in education.

Assignment Details

AI Theme

Subject

Tools

Skills

Learning Objectives

Use external tools and sources of inspiration to employ language in unexpected and original ways

Pre-work

  1. In preparation for class, read the following three articles and write a short reflection (no more than two paragraphs total) exploring the questions posed. Post the reflection on your class’s discussion board. 
    • MIT Press. (2019) “Metaphor in Mind, Brain, and Poetry.” Medium.
      • The article mentions there was a time when poetry and psychology were related fields, though they would later grow apart. What, if anything, was lost in this separation? Should these two fields, or others in the arts and sciences, reconnect today? Why or why not?
    • Frost, Robert. (1931) “Education by Poetry.” Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly.
      • Frost states that “education by poetry is education by metaphor.” Do you agree with Frost’s characterization of metaphor? Using metaphors in education can entail practical reasons (to help students understand concepts), or more profound ones (“imagination, initiative, enthusiasm, inspiration and originality”). What place do you think metaphors have in higher education? 

2. Sign up for at least one chatbot tool powered by a large language model (ChatGPT, Bard, Claude, etc.).

In-Class

  1. Reading Discussion:
    • Students form groups of 3-4 to discuss the first reading and their responses for ten minutes. Then, in a discussion guided by the professor, a representative from each group shares the most fruitful points with the rest of the class. Continue for the remaining two readings, with the professor writing key concepts on the board. 
  2. AI Experimentation:
    • In the same groups, students should individually think of some experience that is not straightforward to convey. For example, losing something that cannot be replaced, or seeing a random act of kindness from afar. It could be profound or playful! Brainstorm a few metaphors for this experience. 
    • Next, students should experiment with an LLM tool and see if they can output an arresting metaphor that alters their understanding, perspective, or makes them “catch their breath.” For example, students might prompt ChatGPT with one of the following: “Write a poetic metaphor that conveys the disorientation of traveling in a country that is not your home,” “In the style of John Keats, produce a short ode centered on a metaphor that evokes the sadness of never being able to experience childhood again,” or “In five words, write a metaphor that conveys the spiritual calm of spending time alone in nature.”
    • Finally, students should discuss the results with their small group. Then, in a discussion guided by the professor, a representative from each group shares some key learnings with the whole class. Here are some potential discussion questions for further reflection: What makes for an effective metaphor? Did the LLM succeed at capturing an elusive feeling through metaphoric language? How did it fall short? What might these successes or shortcomings reveal about an LLM’s ability to “think” abstractly or symbolically? If the consensus is that the metaphor the LLM produced was too cliché or obvious, how might we prompt it to produce more impressive leaps of imagination, imagery, or feeling?

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