On Processing Language

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by nycphotography, Nov 2, 2005.

  1. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    Unfortunately, I don’t know 3 words of French, so this discourse is going to be in English. I apologize.

    The discussion on the surface is about "procès d'intention", or the "assumption of unstated motives."

    But underneath, it's really about a subject that I have spent years studying, and for which I have built my own model that illustrates and diagrams it in great detail. (Honest. It's 37 a page document.)

    The subject is psychology and identity. I'll limit this discussion to the parts of it that apply directly to learned communication patterns.

    While the entire model is quite complex, I'm going to strip it down (as much as possible) to just the parts that are relevant to this concept (namely assigning intent to words and then proceeding to act based on it). Realize that this will probaby leave gaping holes, but try to consider that the complete model does address them.

    We all have some core identity which we have adopted, either consciously, or unconsciously, the various elements of which we have varying degrees of comfort or satisfaction.

    We also have all learned to process the world around us through our incredible biological brain, which just happen to be 100% pure pattern processing devices.

    We consciously concoct our theories (about any everything), and by trial an error we verify or contradict them through our experiences.

    When communicating as a presenter, we create a message from a set of abstract concepts that are passed automatically through a very complex set of (learned) output patterns where it is then turned into some presentation of the abstract concepts. Whether that presentation is a sentence, a scream, an expression, or whatever. We depend on and expect our output patterns to reliably package our concepts into a message, but they are by definition unable to convey the message perfectly to all recipients all the time. Note that this presentation is built using our own, ahem, "funny notions" about the good and bad connotations of every aspect of the presentation.

    When we receive those messages, they are passed through a very complex (learned) input filter (patterns) where they are abstracted into the conceptual messages that we actually perceive. Note that due to this abstraction process, we never truly perceive anything as it really is in total. We can only perceive some part of it (um, I think Kant expanded on this). Note that this perception is built using our own, ahem, "funny notions" about the good and bad connotation of every aspect of the message.

    Further note that no two people will ever have exactly identical sets of "funny notions". More importantly, there are many major groups of similar "funny notions" which are shared by people with similar interests and experiences (set theory w/ millions of sets and intersections of sets). Our own "funny notions" are really learned patterns for interpreting the world around us, and are part of our individual identities, which are as unique as our fingerprints.

    So our brain instantly categorizes (filters using set based distinctions) things to give us an approximation of reality.

    Oops, I forgot to mention that based on our own "funny notions", some messages cause discomfort. So, our brain tries to help us out by sorting those messages into sets that will cause comfort and avoid sorting them into the sets that cause discomfort (based on the mechanics of Biological learning systems).

    Hmm. It's a miracle we're able to communicate at all!

    Anyhow, now we have interpreted some abstracted version of some communication that someone issued for some purpose. At this point, we have two choices... seek more information, or act based on what we have.

    Academics tend to do the former endlessly. Activists (and other TRUE BELIEVERS) tend to do the latter instantly. And most of us just try to get to the latter with as few iterations of the former as possible (with the real knack being in how to know when we know enough to proceed).

    But the simple fact is that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY that we can consciously process each and every detail we receive, no matter how long we keep looking. Consider: How many "details" must your brain process simply to stay standing? commands to muscles, signals from nerves, inner ear, visual signals... all done automatically in the background.

    Well guess what... "Autopilot" is how we process everything we do!!! Ok, its actually ALMOST everything, but the almost is so near to all as to be worth omitting just for effect.

    So when we assign motive to someone based on what they say, we are doing so automatically and subconsciously, based on thousands of learned patterns. Examples that come quickly to mind: What do people usually mean when they speak in the 3rd person? What do people usually mean when they use the word "yada"? What do I already know about this person? What do I know about other people who, like person, are in set XYZ? And so on.

    And so the brain, automatically, and without asking for permission, fills in the blanks.

    It's human. It's unavoidable. And in fact, its the best thing about our brain. Can you imagine driving your car if our brain worked any other way?

    So the question isn't really whether its good or bad to assume the intent behind the words. We all HAVE to do that, just to communicate in the first place. The only real question is "how ACCURATE are your/someone’s assumptions, and what are you/they actively doing to make them MORE accurate."

    Prejudice itself is not a bad thing. In fact, its the best thing there is (because without it we simply could not exist).

    Blind prejudice, however, is truly evil. In fact, its the worst thing there is (because it fully stops further learning).

    And in the end, the amount of illumination to bring to something all boils down to a value judgment: Is it worth it (in terms of the scarce resources I am managing) to dig/explain/argue/explore further (which is also based on one of our "funny notions". Some people are more interested/willing than others.)

    Sorry if the long message was overwhelming, but I think this all very much addresses how we "process the intentions". ;)

    And by the way, in America, we say someone's "knee jerked too fast" when they jump to conclusions, or assume faulty intent.
  2. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I think I remember a (humorous) text which was related to this subject. I'm trying to get it. If I find it, I'll try and translate it and post it here (just 10 short sentences). I think the subject of the text I'm referring to is more or less :
    For the time being, I'll have to read your post again and again to be able to comment. :)
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    So that's what happens.

    I speak as a seasoned observer of human behaviour in group situations.

    Watching "experts" think they understand what someone else is going to say, and closing their minds to what they are "actually" saying, then responding based entirely on what they "knew" was going to be said, and not what was "actually" said.

    The result is two groups of people arguing vociferously that black crows are black, and disagreeing on every point.

    The cleverer the experts need to be, the more closed their minds will be to the possibility that they might be mistaken.

    So, doctors, lawyers and academics are the worst.

    Retiring into deep thought.
  4. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I've found it at last. Here it goes
    Source : l'Encyclopédie du savoir relatif et absolu, by Edmond Wells (which is really a character from Bernard Werber's - French writer - novels)

    Attempted translation :
    If you add what I think, what I mean, what I think I'm saying, what I'm actually saying, what you want to hear, what you think you're hearing, what you're actually hearing, what you want to understand, what you think you understand, what you actually understand, there are ten possibilities for us to have difficulties to communicate. But let's try all the same...
  5. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    Hey, thats exactly on point. Thank you for posting it.

    It seems the entire subject is one big yawn to most. Why do you think interest is so low?
  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I guess that it takes a particularly eccentric and analytical observer to wonder about this question - and probably even more eccentricity to want to read about it.
  7. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    I'm glad I got the chance to. :cool:
  8. nanel Senior Member

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish - Spain
    I think a factor for people not posting may be that, although we find your post very interesting, we aren't close to as knowledgeable as you are on the subject and there isn't much we could say about it, other than "wow, how interesting!" Lack of replies doesn't equal lack of interest :) I'm saying this because I wasn't going to post for this very reason, until I read the comment I quoted above ;)

    I loved the difference you made between prejudice and blind prejudice; very interesting!
  9. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Hey, NYCPhotography,

    I think it summs it up pretty well, what you wrote, except that you forgot at least two or three very interesting and important factors. While most of the thinking that takes place, at least 99% of it, it is processed through totally different parts of the brain which work at totally different speeds, the paleo cortex being the fastest of them all. Therefore instinctive and emotional responses are always faster than the rational ones and often takes the upper hand.
    I have heard that there were genetic lines cavemen where this was not so and they actually took their time to give it some closer thought if that sabre-tooth-kitty-cat was really dangerous or if it just wanted to play. For some, till this day, unexplained reason these genetic lines of humanity are extinct. But I suppose scientists will solve this enigma some time.

    What is more important, though, is to understand that we are extremely good at using our top module, the part of the brain called the neo cortex, to figure out rational reasons for the decisions or actions that the two more ancient brain-modules are responsible for.

    But one point where I totally disaggree with you - "a wonder that we can communicate". No wonder at all, there is not freaking way we can not communicate. We do it with our bodies/faces faster than we can figure out the words we say. This is why facial expressions, gestures, moving your body around - something that our limbic system takes care of - happen a fraction of a second before the actual words come out of our mouths.
    And we even notice that unconsciously. Often people go to rethorics seminars and learn to use certain body postures and gestures - and people notice that it looks fake. Usually they can't tell why, they just know. When you analyse it it is usually because the gestures come way too early or right after the words that go with them and everybody knows and notices unconsciously that this is wrong.
  10. colognial Senior Member

    Hi. It seems every instance of communication is only a failed attempt at communication. Intent does evade encapsulation in words by the very nature of words (i.e. language) which is layered, as well as through the fact that intent may just be ambiguous. I quite agree that whenever the intent is not singular and clear in the mind of the speaker communication tends to suffer from insincerity. Every lie is a double- (or multiple-) purpose piece of communication. What saves our relationship with the world around us is the fact that not all language is used at all times for communication. There is language that expresses, and there is also that which enriches language itself. These of course cascade down into each other before being picked up again by the one general purpose that is uppermost in the mind of the individual user of language, with the process continuing non-stop.
  11. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    You seem to stare yourself blind on the words alone - and seems to totally ignore the whole package. I mean, even here - I mean right here on the keyboard when I am tyipng - I can convey communication which is not in the words themselves. When you hear somebodys voice - like on the phone a much larger part of the communication is based on your intuitively knowing the emotions of the person you are talking with. And face to face body posture, facial expressions take over a much larger part. And I am sure you knew I meant "typing", when I deliberately misspelled it.
    What some of you guys seem to neglect, is that although spoken language is VERY important, some of you seem to neglect the importance of body language (posture, mimics, voice).

    And think about it - in order to even remotely evolving to a point where they developed language, humans must have been very, very successful in their way of communicating. This very important corner-stone of our social structure - our non-verbal language - must have been been enough to bring us together in a structure where verbal language became useful. Then verbal language took over - apparrently - only, most people are not aware how much of our communication is still non-verbal.
  12. colognial Senior Member

    I am not neglecting the importance of body language, Sepia. (Dare I say, "you seem to have misunderstood me"?!)

    What I tried to convey - not so well, it appears - above, is that for every instance of effective communication to happen, there is need for one, and only one, intention at a time to be at work. This is the first proviso for successful communication.

    The second is that the person finds the right word, sound, gesture or posture by which to communicate his/her intention. Granted, a lot of the time this is done inadvertently and automatically, often despite the intention of the 'speaker', as it were. And, again, I grant you that what is generally referred to as 'body language' works really well, much better than words sometimes can, as an instrument of communication, as such a device functions a little like slang, proverb, metaphor, etc., tending to cram quite a bit of meaning into itself.

    Finally, insofar as words are concerned, the language of expression and that which is used to enhance language itself (as in poetry) transmit a purpose or a thought, or simply formalize, and are most often there for all to share. So one may as well concede that there is ultimately communication there, too.

    But, a big but! Poor communication and misunderstanding are a reality of life. Was it the Little Prince or was it his air pilot friend who said (in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's everlasting treatise on being in the world, "Le Petit Prince"), "words are a source of misunderstanding"? Personally, I go along with this and have tried to make it into my personal maxim. It is after all so easy and common to say not enough or too much, and to misread, over-interpret, be prompted into making the wrong response, and, at worst, wreak havoc, through communication.
  13. Zsanna

    Zsanna ModErrata

    Hungarian - Hungary
    Or, to say it even simpler: what is really impossible to communicate is usually what the individual would like to express most, i.e. his/her real feelings. (Other are interested in the least, luckily, for our communication practice.)
  14. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    This is exactly what the body language expresses very clearly - and does it whether you like it or not. It all depends on how observant the other person is.
  15. Ari RT

    Ari RT Senior Member

    Português - Brasil
    It looks like NYC doesn't ignore the non-verbal communication, maybe it's just not his main point.
    Notwithstanding, I particularly like Sepia's
    Actually, experienced parents can tell the reason behind (intent?) the several different ways the babies cry. No words involved. That beautiful dog on the left has far less brains than us but processes correctly a very limited set of words I say, and produces distinctive barks (she learned) I recognize as "play with me" (jumping) or "I need to pee" (patting), among a few others. That's communication.

    But NYC's point is about a far more complex kind of communication. Let me just add to Sepia's post that even words alone are tremendously redundant and thus carry a lot of "meta"-information. English is not my mother language, hence you may find my prose clumsy, but all of us, average to above average learned people, are able to produce information (even if we are talking strictly about verbal info) in several "layers" of meaning, at least in our mother languages. The outermost layer conveys the denotative meaning, objective orders, plain data etc. We can choose the words we want to use to pack that and a second layer of information rests on our choices, or on how the recipient perceives (filters, according to NYC) our choices of words. Try to answer "I like you" or any other verb to your partner's "I love you" and you'll get what I mean.
    The way we arrange the chosen words, semantic changes, figures of style, repetitions, even grammatical precision (or the lack of it) all convey information. Register conveys information, accent, loudness. Nowadays, even CAPITAL LETTERS and emoticons.

    If we read a given fact on two newspapers, we will find different tones of gray, sometimes with rather opposite biases, that is, different intents, that is, each one is attempting to "pass along" a different message, that is, to make us believe in different things, that is, to induce a different behavior. The government having reached 84% of their goals for the fiscal year may be either good or bad, depending on how we say that.

    The art dwells, perhaps, in knowing our target's (the recipient's) filters.

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