Communication is a much larger phenomenon than we usually take into account. Here we start an investigation into the larger context of phenomena that communication encompasses.
Let’s look at what we ordinarily mean by “communication”. Here is a dictionary definition: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/communication.
This definition of communication is the common ordinary understanding of the word. Like all definitions, it tells us ‘on what basis’ and ‘in what terms’ a word can be intelligible to us.
Communication is the term we use for the generic process of transferring or imparting data from one system or person to another. It’s a generic term for the activities of talking and listening or writing and reading. In computer science ‘communication’ refers to transferring data from one system to another. In psychology it is commonly said one must “communicate one’s feelings”. In addition, there are varying media, format, and style for this ‘data transfer’. Sometimes we find that these other factors are even more important than the data itself: “It’s not what you say; It’s how you say it!”
But what is actually more important than what you say or how you say it is: what you are talking about.
If we look dictionary definition we can see that it doesn’t give us direct access to the actual phenomenon that the word names. It doesn’t really give us access to what communication itself is. It doesn’t directly show us communication the way you might say to a two year old: “Look at the bunny hopping!” (bunny hopping)
Communication names the phenomenon that is shown in saying: “Look at the bunny hopping!”
The two year old gets: BUNNY! HOPPING! Her world is richer. In her ‘world’ there is a new kind of creature and a new way of moving. She also makes the words her own; she appropriates them.
The dictionary definition not only fails to directly show us what the word means. It also reinforces a set of interpretations about the how it is for us, being-in-the-world. These background interpretations make up our ordinary understanding of how the world works. These interpretations are concerned with minds and mental content.
According to our ordinary understanding, human beings have minds with mental content. We use communication to transfer or impart our mental content to one another. Mental content often represents the state of the world.
Our ordinary model of how human beings, minds, communication, and even how reality itself works, has evolved slowly during western history. Although originally based on direct observation, much of what we have today is abstracted and reinterpreted. It has become institutionalized in our customs, language, and behavior. As part of our current understanding-of-being, our common sense theory of mind provides an unseen foundation for our science, our religions as well as our everyday activity.
To be authentic about communication we want to encounter it directly – unfiltered by the accumulation of past interpretations and abstractions. To communicate effectively it is important to be clear about what communication is as itself, what it is as a phenomenon.
Communication is “Talk” which expresses itself.
Notes and Questions:
The dictionary definition of communication is itself an act of positive “idle talk“.
Does this new interpretation of communication mess up our ability to use the word communication in an common ordinary sense?
If you demonstrate communication to another by showing them actions described by the definition, you will probably unintentionally reveal what the word actually names. In the process of doing the actions you will, probably, reveal to them and yourself, the phenomenon that communication names.
Present at hand interpretations of an understanding could be called “assumptions”, or “presuppositions”, or our always already everyday interpretations.
Making something your own – “Appropriation” – “Getting” something.
Landmark Education uses the word “distinguishing” in connection with what I am writing about here.
If, as some idealists suggest, we live in a “word created world”, communication could be said to be the “world speaking”. This expression doesn’t show me the phenomenon. “Word” has something static about it, more akin to Greek ‘lexis’ than ‘logos’. It uses “creating” as manifesting, as bringing into being, from the ‘no being’ of pure presence at hand, surely not commonly appropriable. The word “speaking” in this sense also brings in the possibility of non-living things “communicating” to us, which isn’t what we are talking about. My iPhone “speaks to me” but it’s not “communicating with me”.