Monday, November 27, 2006

Puzzling over communication

Why is straightforward so seldom effective when it comes to communication? It seems that when we are talking to one another there are many more ways to be wrong than to be right, and the clearer we are, the less we are understood or appreciated. It's a puzzle if we think communication is primarily about logic.

People who want to communicate primarily through logic find themselves limited to a small pool of options: math and science work to a point, although writing is better than speaking if logic is the main point. Even scientists get involved in heated discussions and misunderstandings. Science does give us one route to an answer, however.

Human beings are subject to all sorts of perils: we are not particularly strong or fast and we cannot swim or fly. In order to survive, we had to think and to think quickly. Logic is relatively slow: instinct is faster. Instinct, it turns out, is the simultaneous application of multiple neurological and physiological systems in order to produce an answer. The human brain is not a computer (says Gerald Edelman, Nobel-winning neuro-biologist). It is more complicated and it works faster.

What this means in day to day conversation is that we never respond to anything with just the logical part of our brains: we use the full range of our resources to elicit, recognize and correlate a much information as possible. We judge speech with our bodies and our memories and our emotions; we do this because using multiple systems simultaneously has been an advantage in the past.

We are not clear beings. We are complex beings, and we expect complexity from one another.

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