How to Emculturate

This post is really about the basic pre-conditions needed for two people to communicate. This is really a naive, basic description, and I know that. However, it can be a useful way to think about and discuss in lay terms the technical aspects of acts of communication.

When I think about semantics and symbology, I focus on how meaning flows from one person to another. There are several components that have to come together in order for meaning to transfer between people.

First of all, two people must share the same context, even if it is not an exact fit. Without having some commonality of experience, however tenuous, there can be no communication. Now this context may be based on shared experience (e.g., attending the same event, reading the same book) or parallel experience (e.g., becoming a parent, learning to drive a car).

With that precondition established, then the next element that must exist is that some physical mechanism (i.e., a syntactic medium) must be available that can both be manipulated and sensed by both individuals.

There would be no sense in writing on posters to communicate with a blind person across a great distance, or whispering a song to a deaf person from behind them, unless a second medium is also employed (such as having a third person read the poster aloud, or sign the song).

With a medium chosen that satisfies both conditions for both persons, then one person has to put the meaning into the medium using an established convention. In other words, the intended meaning of the message must be “encoded” onto the medium in such a way that both the sender of the message and the intended receiver of the message agree on the meaning conveyed.

These are the three minimal conditions required for communication between any two or more parties. In summary:

  1. Shared Context
  2. Physical Media that can be manipulated and sensed by both
  3. Agreed Upon Encoding

The only other elements required are that there be something to communicate and that the two individuals have the volition to try.

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