Monday, August 01, 2005

A quick glance at current "Edge" articles

Summer Reading from Edge, had a lot of interesting suggestions. I found several that I added to my list of things I want to read, including one by John D. Barrow and another one (I have several of his on my list) by Daniel C. Dennett, among others.

In addition at Edge,an interesting talk with Dan Sperber with this section among many others:
" ...Just as the human mind is not a blank slate on which culture would somehow imprint its content, the communication process is not a xerox machine copying contents from one mind to another. This is where I part company not just from your standard semiologists or social scientists who take communication to be a coding-decoding system, a transmission system, biased only by social interests, by power, by intentional or unconscious distortions, but that otherwise could deliver a kind of smooth flow of undistorted information. I also part company from Richard Dawkins who sees cultural transmission as based on a process of replication, and who assume that imitation and communication provide a robust replication system.

A good part of my work has been to study, in large part with British linguist Deirdre Wilson, the mechanisms of human communication and show that they're much more complex and interesting than is generally assumed, and much less preservative and replicative and more constructive than one might think: understanding involves a lot of construction, and not just reconstruction, and very little by way of simple replication.

When you are told something, the simple view of what happens would be: 'ah! These are words, they have meaning,' and so you decode the meaning of the word and you thereby understand what the speaker meant. A more realistic and, as I said, also a more interesting idea is that the words don't encode the speaker meaning, they just give you evidence of the speaker's meaning. When we speak we want our audience to understand something that's in our mind. And we have no way to fully encode it, and trying at least to encode as much as possible would be absurdly cumbersome. Linguistic utterances, however rich and complex they may be, cannot fully encode our thoughts. But they can give strong richly structured piece of evidence of what our thoughts are."
and a little later:
" ... We're not that interested when we try to comprehend what others say, in getting in our minds a copy of what they had in mind, we're interested in getting that which is of use and of relevance to us, and we see what others are trying to tell us as a source of insight and information from which we can indeed construct a thought of our own. ..."
Lots of food for thought.

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