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Thursday, March 18, 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting:

Dear friends,

I hope you are still in front of your pc for you to read this email
before you break off for the long weekend holiday. The limits of
communication, the topic for Sunday's meeting, force me to send you the
email now and to really limit the scope of my notes today.

Have fun

Lawrence

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Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting:


The limits of communication

What is communication? The answer to this question will help us
understand what are the limits of communication.

The traditional and common usage of communication usually means the
exchange of information between parties. But even if we go back as the
late seventies Richard Dawkins had already introduced, in some cases
with colleagues, the idea the communication is really manipulation.

That is manipulation of another biological being in terms of making them
use their muscle power to do what the communicator wants them to do. Of
course, the party that is being communicated with can develop strategies
to avoid this "manipulation." But, manipulation for us usually implies a
moral or ethical factor that makes this definition of communication very
ethically loaded.

Of course, in the biological domain there is no ethics or morality,
unless, that is morality and ethics have been selected successfully as a
survival strategy. And I think that there is no deterministic law that
states that biological systems must adopt morality as a survival
strategy; although it does make a lot of sense to do so. But just
because we have adopted such a strategy, and also a language to go along
with this strategy, it does not follow that we always have to consider
human activity in terms of morality and neither are we bound to
interpret certain language acts to always imply a moral strategy. Words
can sometimes also be neutral or have a sense of amoral meaning.

Thus, I am now trying to manipulate you, as you read this, to make you
finish what I have written and maybe then form your own opinion on the
issue at hand. Moreover, I am also trying to make you interested enough
in the topic to help you decide to come to the meeting on Sunday (for
obvious reason you are very familiar with, I'm not doing a good job!).
But my task is very easy, most of you want and wait for me to write
these notes and most of you would not find it a problem coming on Sunday
unless you had other things requiring your attention. However, when I
don't write my notes many of you communicate with me your wish that I do
write these notes.

Thus manipulation does not necessarily imply a moral consideration, of
course I agree with you that it might not be the best term to use, but
for us it does not matter; so if you prefer to use persuade it's ok by
me. As long, that is, as we agree that communication is not the exchange
of information (per se) but the exchange of information to
make/persuade/manipulate someone else to do what we want them to do with
our information.

Thus the first limit of communication is that it might legitimately be
competing with other communications and opportunities that it might
easily assume a certain type of probability that it will be acted upon.
You might want to come to the meeting, but a close friend has asked to
go with them to the cinema. The probability that you come to the meeting
and not go to the cinema depends on factors in the history of your life,
your experience with your friend and the meeting. Once you put all these
variables in you probability-mincing-machine you will have a better idea
of what you will want to do on Sunday.

But of course, going with your friend and coming to the meeting would at
the end be a decision based on an activity that you would enjoy doing
anyway. But not all activities we can act upon we would enjoy doing. In
fact I would say that most of the activities we do, we don't enjoy
doing. Which incidentally is why I and a few close friends started the
meetings on Sunday precisely to limit the things we did on Sunday
evening and did not enjoy doing.

Thus when someone communicates with us something that we do not enjoy
doing we try and find a strategy not to do that thing. For example, we
receive a message telling us to buy a certain product in the supermarket
which we do not enjoy using. In this situation many of us have developed
a strategy to simply ignore such communications.

A limit of communication is that a communication is as strong (or
persuasive) as the effectiveness of any strategy that can be employed to
neutralise that communication. A poison is as deadly as the weakness of
its antidote.

It is true, in a way, that communication is the transfer of information,
but of course not for the sake of transferring information itself, but
to do something with that information. But information is itself a
source of limitation of communication. One of the major limits of
communication is that as far as we are concerned information has to be
in some sort of physical form otherwise we won't be able to access it.

But this is not enough, for practical purpose we have to have the means
to transfer this information, or at least use the means available to us
to communicate –transfer- that information. It is no use having the
intention of meeting a friend if we don't tell that friend that we want
to meet them and maybe fix an appointment.

The physical nature of information itself creates limitations, and by
implication, on communication. Once again, we really have to look at
communication in the context of human exchange. This other limitation is
that communication has to be made in the context of time. When is the
communication sent? When do we receive the communication? How long does
it take the communication to reach us?

This has many practical implications. First of all if we communicate our
intention to meet our friend on Sunday immediately after our friend
agreed to meet their parents for dinner this communication would have a
different status than if we communicated with our friend before their
parents did.

But since information is information, and not data, and the context we
receive it, the nature and meaning of that information can change
depending on when we receive that information. For example, a product
advert that was published in the 1950s would mean different things to
people living in the 1950s and people living in 2010. Thus what was once
an attempt to manipulate someone to buy a product has today become a
curiosity that maybe excites the aesthetic feelings in us. Absolute
change of context changes the communication absolutely.

There is, however, a reverse side to this the time factor limitation. If
the time we receive the information determines the meaning of the
information (communication), it follows that if we want some information
to reach someone in a specific time, we have to do this as a function of
the nature of the information, the means we have to communicate and the
context of the recipient of the information.

This explains why I'm sending the meeting email today Thursday morning
because tomorrow Friday is a holiday and many of you won't have access
to your email.

Take care and see you Sunday.

Lawrence

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting:

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