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Communications & Control by J.R. Swartz
Understanding the Basis of Human Communications

Beyond cognition itself, the first determinants of one’s ability to communicate lie in their neurological capabilities such as: sight, hearing and touch, which act as the receptors of communications; and speech, and the ability to perform physical movement, which are the human communications delivery systems. Limitations in any one of these areas will necessarily impact the ability of an individual to communicate. However, this does not mean that an individual who is missing one or more of these neurological capabilities will not be able to communicate, simply that their style of communicating will be different and may be out of sync with their culture. Conversely, many individuals who are neurologically handicapped also go on to develop outstanding communications skills. Helen Keller is a good example. Having lost her ability to see and hear in 1882, when she was two years old, she went on to become a well known and respected lecturer, author and teacher in the early to mid 1900’s.

In his discussion of the importance of mimesis in the development of language in humans, Donald Merlin gives an excellent example of individuals overcoming neurological constraints in communications:

Further evidence for the independence of pure mimesis comes from the documented lives of illiterate deaf-mutes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before the diffusion of formal sign languages. Without any effective training regimens to help them communicate, such individuals had to survive without any of the lexical, syntactic, or morphological features of language. They couldn’t hear, and thus couldn’t have had a sound-based lexicon of words; they obviously lacked an oral lexicon; they couldn’t read or write and thus lacked a visually based lexicon. In the absence of a deaf community with a formal sign language, there was no signing lexicon either. Thus none of the lexical components of language were available, and this would have eliminated the possibility of constructing anything we might recognize as true linguistic representations. Yet they often lived remarkable lives. …by recorded accounts were quite sophisticated in their use of pure mimesis, both in constructional skill and in communicative and metaphoric gestures. (Merlin 1993)

It is obvious, however, that at the current stage of CMC, lacking sight would dramatically impact the ability of an individual, cross-culturally or otherwise, to effectively use this medium, and as far as we know, mimicking is not possible in textual format.

Neurological potential can be broken down into three basic forms: auditory, visual and kinesthetic (Bandler & Gringer 1976 pp 4). All communications is generated and received by humans via these pathways, and in a normal individual without severe psychological or neurological limitations in these areas, the data flow is constant and simultaneous. There are two additional sensory channels, smell and taste, which are not normally used in communications by most of us. However, smell is consciously used by the Arabs as a window on the emotional state of an individual with whom they are communicating (Hall 1969 pp. 49). Their social distance is within limits that allow them to "bathe" in the breath of the other. According to Hall:

Arabs apparently recognize a relationship between disposition and smell. The intermediaries who arrange an Arab marriage usually take great precautions to insure a good match. They may even on occasion ask to smell the girl and will reject her if she "does not smell nice." Not so much on esthetic grounds but possibly because of a residual smell of anger or discontent.

Because of the unique history of each person, input is also unique to each of us. This causes our reference structures to evolve differently. The reference structure is the individual’s personal map of the world that, more or less, resides inside of him and which allows him to interpret and act toward his world in his own personalized way (Bandler & Grinder 1975 pp 12). In essence, this reference structure is the result of a series of neurological and experiential filters through which incoming and outgoing data passes. In the process of communications between two individuals, the message must pass through the filters of each for interpretation by their unique reference structures. The greater the neurological, psychological, cultural, educational or experiential differences between the individuals, the greater the difference in their reference structures will be and the harder it will be to communicate. According to Bandler and Grinder (1976):

The most thoroughly studied and best understood of the representational systems of human modeling maps is that of human language. The most explicit and complete model of natural language is transformational grammar. Transformational grammar is, therefore, a meta-model - a representation of the structure of human language - itself a representation of the world of experience.

Human language systems are, themselves, derived representations of a more complete model - the sum total of the experience the particular human being has had in his life…

Just as individual reference structures and their resulting maps of the world are different, so therefore, are the individual’s reactions to the same real world events. Further, individuals place different values on their visual, kinesic and auditory representational systems, which may cause them to favor one particular system over the others. This, in turn, further colors their way of interpreting and communicating information.

Predicates are words used to describe the portions of a person’s experience which correspond to the process and relationships in that experience. Predicates appear as verbs, adjectives and adverbs in the sentences which the client uses to describe his experience. (Bandler & Grinder 1976 pp 9)

This results in differing representational systems as shown below: (Bandler & Grinder 1976 pp 10)

He felt badly about the way she held the crawling child. [Kinesthetic-felt, held]

The dazzling woman watched the silver car streak past the glittering display. [Visual-watched]

He called out loudly as he heard the squeal of the tires of the car in the quiet streets. [Auditory-called, heard]

The man touched the damp floor of the musty building [kinesthetic-touched]

It is easy to see why some people have more difficulty in understanding each other than others. Those with similar representational systems would be more in sync with each other than those who have different representational systems. The farther apart these systems are in the individuals, the more difficult it is for them to communicate. Further, it may be that this phenomenon does not just exist in voice communications, but in written communications as well.

For instance, textual information written in the same representational language as the reader’s orientation may be easier for him to understand than text written in a different representational language.

As an example, the sentence "Sue walked briskly through the rain, feeling the cold splash of water on her legs and the soft patter of the rain drops on her head," might be more understandable to a kinesic individual than an auditory individual.

In the references that I reviewed, there was no mention of the impact that text itself had on non-visually oriented individuals. Would it be more difficult for the kinesic individual to understand Sue’s walk above because he had to use visual skills to read it? This point may be worthy of additional research, as we may find communications utilizing multiple representational methods may enhance the understanding of the information being sent. This may be particularly true in the transmission of technical data, which is more critical in nature.

Next Section: Subliminal Communications

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