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On Communication- Errors Of Concepts...

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Posted by Kyle on September 8, 2002 08:33:14 UTC

Here’s a thought that I want to offer you. It should be at least part of the answer to your question re: communication of concepts constrained by the language process.

When I think ‘table’ I am conceptualizing a long solid dining table. This table image just happens to be my iconic mental construct that I can interchange with the word "table". When you think "table" then you might be conceptualizing a glass coffee table. This is the integrated representation of all grouping of like-things that you call "table".
So now what happens if I am speaking to you on the phone, and I mention to you that:

"I have a pile of books on the table".

What abstract conceptualization do you make?
Here's the process:

My mental concept => word => Your mental concept

You wrongly picture a glass coffee table. It will be an imprecise communication because the concept beamed from my head to yours via language got distorted. At which step? At the second decoding step (word => your mental concept). Imagine if this 'decoding error' happened to two engineers performing maintenance on the space shuttle? Could be a disaster. Not to mention how frequently disagreements/ conflicts must occur from people using the same vocabulary for anisomorphic concepts.

How do we fix this? Increase explicitness by increasing the magnitude of the vocabulary, the precision of each words meaning and the flexibility of the syntax, and introduce longer codes with more information.

"I have a pile of books on the dining table."
" I have a pile of 7 physics textbooks on the redwood-cherry dining table. etc.

Language is a CODE-- first I have a mental concept and I code it (with a word). Then I send the coded message to you via the word. Then you decode it into a mental image. Now in the case of the tables, we have a small coding inconsistency. My code has a different association than yours.

How well did I communicate my mental concept to you and what constrained it? If you read my post on the language process it was constrained by inconsistencies in the conceptualization-to-designation step between different individuals... ie. ‘coding’.

If you take this to the extreme, you get non-sequitur type communication...
In other words, if the same word has completely different corresponding mental concepts in two people, the communication will fail:

Jane: " The photographer shot the model at the fashion show."
Bob: " What a sick violent world, did she survive?"

The Coding error can arise from not understanding ALL OF THE CODE’S DESIGNATIONS (vocabulary/ syntax). Example: Two people communicating... one speaks English, one speaks German. The two people have labelled a common mental concept with different algebraic substitutions (ie.words). Neither person knows other person’s particular code and therefore they can’t communicate.
So the code for any given concept must be shared between communicators.

The German and Englishman will have to resort to a primitive shared-code which will resemble a game of charades.. with gesticulations, mimicry, etc. What level of communicative complexity could they achieve?
What if you tied their hands behind their backs so they couldn’t even gesticulate and mimic?

Without language, they could communicate ‘first-level concepts’ only... basically this is how your dog/ cat / infant would communicate with you...I’m hungry, I’m happy, I’m cranky, give me attention, etc.
You couldn’t communicate abstract higher-order concepts!

The greater the shared vocabulary (and syntax 'flexibility'), the more precise the communication. This is true for any code (English, Braille, sign language etc.)

The next question is: are the actual concepts that we construct in our minds actually shaped/ influenced by the particular 'code' that we use?

I think very much so. (but that's another post).

Talk to you later,

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