Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Communication Thoughts

This will all be silly stuff as I'm not wearing my Echidne helmet today.  First, Leonardo da Vinci's Michelangelo's grocery list for his servant who may not have been able to read.

How we communicate depends on the context.  And every context is fraught with dangerous possibilities of misunderstanding.  The context itself can be interpreted that way.  Michelangelo is privileged (he can write), his servant, less so.  Or perhaps not, because we don't truly know what their lives were like, and because most people then were  illiterate, so communication, as such, wasn't based on the ability to write.

Then there's communication with other species of animals.  Humans tend to regard that as happening when the other animal species are taught to understand human language.  Think of the cue cards for chimpanzees or how we teach our dogs and cats commands.

The reverse way of looking that is for us to learn the language of other animal species.  I speak very little dog, for example, but what I do understand came from the patient teaching of my dogs.  Still, I speak a lot more dog than most people who put, say, what's supposed to be an angry dog into a movie, and then we hear a dog happily barking a welcome to someone but are expected to understand that the dog is angry.  A double translation!

Internet communication.  That is a very different kettle of fish from face-to-face communication, partly because we cannot see facial expressions and we cannot hear the tone of voice and also because it is very easy indeed to forget that the other participants are living, breathing human beings.  Even if they appear to be utterly wrong and misguided in their arguments.  (That part was a joke).

Then there's that 140-character limit on the Twitter.  Too bad that few complicated issues can be properly and precisely distilled into 140 characters.  Twitter does better with emotions and jokes than with substantive discussions.

All this led me back to this piece:

It is both a joke (on many levels, note that the pianist doesn't play at all) and a comment on Wittgenstein's theory.  But it's also true about many debates, not because the terms didn't have a meaning one could communicate, but because the meaning of those terms is quite different for people with other frameworks of life.  And unless we are willing to take time to clarify what we mean and to understand the frameworks different people mean the chances of increased clarity from communication are minimal.  Indeed, sometimes silence is more conducive to real understanding.

Not that I will necessarily shut up now, sorry.