Thursday, March 7, 2013

Philosophy of Communication

I touched on this topic briefly in an earlier post talking about the stories we tell ourselves. This post is a short expansion on some of the principles illustrated in that article.


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Psychology has found people tend to fall into one of three primary ways of processing information: visual, kinesthetic and auditory. Thinking may be in pictures, feeling and physical sensations, or language and sounds. As individuals, we may use more than one of these ways, but typically we each have one that predominates. We perceive reality and conceive thoughts primarily through one of these three modes. It is the means by which we construct in our heads a model of the world. It impacts how we learn, how we create and how we communicate.

Most of what we call Wester Civilization is passed down through just one of these mechanisms: the auditory channel. This is done through oral histories and these abstract symbols called letters and numbers. They are often supplemented by diagrams and drawings, but the primary content is via words. Spoken and written language is the main way information is passed from individual to individual.

Taking these two things together, communication involves converting a rich internal model, in any one of three ways of thinking, into words and transmitting those words to someone else via some mechanism. That mechanism may be voice or hand written or printed or a blog. Then someone has to take those words and convert them to their own internal model, possibly using a different mode of thought than the first person.

In this process, the originator may very well have to take a concept that they feel or visualize and convert it to words. These words have multiple and varied meanings which overlap with different words and their subtle shades of meaning. The speaker (or writer) goes through a process to select what they believe to be the appropriate words to convey their internal model. This is an act of interpretation. The hearer (or reader) then takes those words, with possibly a different set of meanings and tries to construct their own mental model in possibly a different way of thinking. This is also an interpretive act.

There are many things that impact the way individuals may interpret words on both sides of the conversation. A few of the things that may impact it are: different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, different native languages, current emotional state, educational background, political and religious beliefs, time in history and intentional duplicity.

When I think about what goes on in this process, I'm amazed anything resembling communication happens at all.