Connections and Conversations
Each person has a unique experience of the world. We perceive the same objects in different ways. Physical differences between our senses can change how we understand situations, but more importantly our experience is shaped by our past. We all follow very different paths which flavor our view of the world, and no two people can have the same experience.
With this in mind, the thought of sharing an experience appears much more complicated. An idea is the culmination of a lifetime of events and thoughts, senses, knowledge, emotion, culture, gender, status, et cetera. This unique experience is only able to exist in one mind, and much like quantum physics the idea is only observable in that instant. The brain is incredible, with its ability to collect a lifetime worth of information so that no two people can ever come to have the same idea in the exact same way. This is our greatest advantage, as our abilities allow us to innovate and analyze from our unique perspectives, but it creates a very unique challenge. How do we transfer an idea from one person to another?
The immediately obvious example is writing, since this is a blog. Words and language are crafted so that simple ideas can be exchanged, but much is lost. Writing is an entirely visual experience which is unable to create new ideas. Words only have meaning through their association with ideas, so a new word will have no meaning to us except as a combination of other known words. Xatbolcutible means absolutely nothing, but if it is described using other words it could take on a definition derived from the combination of other ideas. On top of this, each language contains a unique set number of words which limit the amount of ideas we can express to each other. For a classical example of how this can be used to nefarious ends, George Orwell’s 1984 limits the expression of distasteful ideas by engineering a language. Newspeak removes the ability to convey an experience through words by limiting the collective vocabulary and controlling the definitions.
Although it is science fiction, this still holds equally well for existing languages. Words are not static, and definitions are colored by public perception and events as well as our own personal experiences. Communism is an interesting example, as time, geography, economic status, exposure to propaganda and other things heavily influence one’s thoughts on the subject. I can say the word to hundreds of people and no two people will see the same thing.
Speech is an improvement upon writing in terms of relating an idea between two people. It conveys much more than biased definitions of ideas. Speech contains emotion, body language, familiarity, gender and other factors. Visual and auditory senses allow us to improve the transfer of experience, creating a deeper connection than we are able to make with words alone. A wealth of information with hints of another’s past experiences and biases may be gleamed from speech, but the transfer is still limited to language and it’s failures. Speech does not bring about new ideas, it can’t bring an understanding of a subject alone and is not able to communicate an idea completely.
More importantly, speech often has no substance to begin with. I do not wish that every conversation would be for the sole purpose of trading information, but I do hate that so much of conversation follows a very well rehearsed script. In playing our characters, we rehearse our lines and have a set of questions and responses based on our surroundings and what is acceptable. This is small talk. We don our masks and play at socializing in a non genuine way, conveying NOTHING to each other since we all have read and understand the script. “Hey, how are things? How’s the job going? Did you hear about the news? How was the drive up?” say the actors. We all know the responses, and millions of other people could take your place in the conversations and the substance of it would not change. This is not to say that greetings are not important, but that they should be done genuinely and as a real connection to another person. Don’t ask how another person is if you don’t actually care, although you should care. Shared passion for something makes for great conversation. By engaging people in a meaningful way, we are adding substance to our conversations that may be conveyed through speech. We are adding our unique experience to the pool of collective knowledge, but once again there is a limitation. We still have not created anything new. We can only express what we already have defined. Both parties need these definitions to be able to connect on the experience.
To create a new experience, one has to do things. As obvious as this statement is, it is both the most important and most difficult thing about the way our brains operate. We can DO so much more than we can describe, and it is only through doing things that we gain the experience that we can attribute a word to. By doing things together, we engage all of our senses and create a shared experience that we are able to communicate. We bond with other people by engaging reality with them, forging the ties that connect us as a society.
I find the idea of a collective human consciousness interesting, in that we all have completely unique experiences but are able to contribute a part of them to the collective, which is able to be passed to others through teaching and media. In system dynamics, we model systems in terms of stocks (think bathtubs) and flows in and out (faucet and drains). As individuals are both the containers and creators of experiences, the stock of human knowledge is influences by our capacity for experience, our interactivity with others to be able to share, our lifespan, our numbers, and inestimable other variables. It is interesting to think that through deeper conversations and connections with friends that we can all share a greater portion of the collective experience and enhance our transfer rate to future generations so that our knowledge may be enhanced through the unique experiences of others.