Project WAMEDAC - The Journey of a Message: Hermits, Model Sets, and Co-Cognition

"I can't write without a reader. It's precisely like a kiss - you can't do it alone." -John Cheever. 

The colors of isolated peaks don't have a chance to mix and blend (Explore Worldviews)

            Any form of communication is, with multiple instances, capable of constructing a discourse. But for that to happen, an expression must be "read" by someone else, another conscious experience(r) must construct some meaning from its specifics, transforming it from an expression into a communication. Basically, since we're all experientially isolated consciousnesses, without a built-in method of faithfully transferring our conscious experiences to another, all expressions must be made physically, through signs. And even if mind-reading(-and-writing) somehow became commonplace, a collaborative consciousness would still necessitate some level of interpretation or construal. So if all expression are constructed, not only with, but completely of these signs, they must be chosen, formed, and positioned amongst other, similar signs within a grammar, or syntax. The syntax is a relatively standardized organizational structure for signs, gradually learnt over previous exposure to expressions formed with that syntax. The syntax works as a sort of orientating matrix, in which the signs of the expression are embedded. The specific positions within the matrix these signs are placed in, and their orientation to each other because of said positioning, function as further signs about how to read, or discern meaning, from the main, content-forming signs of the expression. In some expressions, especially those outside of the mediums of spoken or written language, the propositional meaning, read from the content-forming signs, may be clear enough that an organizing syntax isn't necessary or even used to form it into a communication. You've experienced this if you've ever heard a piece of instrumental music or seen an image that deeply affected you without the slightest critical analysis or engagement on your part. Sometimes expressions are vivid, powerful, or salient enough that, while the creator may have had a general syntax in-mind informing their creative process, the audience does not need to be the slightest bit aware of it to get a considerable amount of meaning from the expression, and hence, craft a salient communication from the expression.

            Because of these very basic structural necessities of all communications, expressions of all types package words, brush strokes, photographic compositions, and much more (signs) with definitions, manipulations, and/or evaluations (semantics), according to assumed rules for said packaging set by generic, socio-cultural, and institutional traditions (syntax), giving the expression a physical manifestation (the "work," or expression itself) of a certain type (medium), form (mode), and structure (genre), with the intention to accomplish some goals with the release of said packaged-signs (pragmatics), even if said goals are simply the advancement, lengthening, or ending of the current communicative exchange. All this occurs within the particular instance of both the socio-cultural situation and all of its involved factors as well as each reader's current state of mind and past experiential history with the signs, semantics, syntax, work, medium, mode, genre, and pragmatics involved in the expression (context).

            From this basic perspective, it becomes clear then that any invocation of signs is an expression, and hence, if signs are able to be invoked in response to the signs of another, either in another expression or solely in the mental "reading" performed by the interlocutor, communication and discourse exist. However, since signs and their signifieds are able to be logically invoked by anyone capable of making observations of patterns and drawing conclusions, expressions can be "read" into things where they were very clearly never intended to reside. For some examples of that, you can just look at the plethora of hermeneutics practiced by artistic, critical, philosophical, spiritual, conspiratorial, or academic writers in a wide array of fields. However, because of that very subjective, experientially isolated perspective touched on above that we all have, these fringe, over-analyzed, or too-deep readings of expressions are just as legitimate to their readers as any other that we may give more credence.

            The framework for communication outlined here starts to demonstrate the separate actions on both sides of a communication, and how both the expresser and the observer remain in two isolated realms, semantically speaking (or, in relation to meaning-making), and that the only shared common ground that informs their act of communication is that of the expression itself, embedded in a physical medium. To drive the point home, I tend to like using this extended metaphor: Our cognitive processes are mountaintop hermits, and our worldviews are built with model sets they play with. Each hermit is isolated to their mountain, the rest of the world encased in a thick fog, beyond which, everyone else is on their own mountaintops somewhere. We know the world's out there because we feel the effects of it from time-to-time, but we have a wide variety of message-relay services that we rely on to gain any "real" understanding of the outside world, the world beyond our view. However, these are all courier-type services, relying on a third party to transmit a message from its writer to its recipient. Because of our subjective, mountaintop position, no matter how far our science, our empirical, objective studies progress, we can never fully achieve objectivity. We can only work to imitate what we would assume, or perceive to be, congruent with what an objective perspective on something would be, if given enough information.

            But what we can do from our position, is take what information comes in over those various messages systems and use it to inform our we play with our intricate model sets. We have infinite pieces, these little fragments of imitations of the outside world, and we put them together in almost any way imaginable. Maybe some pieces were meant to fit together, or maybe not, but we try to find the way in which they fit together best, to us. Usually that's dependent on the specifics of the information received and what your built model already looks like. And we recreate the outside world there atop our mountains, in our minds, our subjective prisons. And that is the model by which we "know" the world. It's really the only one we can truly know or "see." Because of that, it's our reality, our worldview. What's specifically significant about it though, is that each of us built our own, with our own hands, toiling away on our lonesome. We discovered which ways to fit the model pieces together, and we invested a lot of effort, a lot of work, to get the model looking like it does, to make it as sturdy as it is. And we've rested even more on that model: our entire lives.

            That's one way to illuminate why it's often so difficult to change people's minds. If anything is ever to affect a change in someone's worldview, at all, then first it has to come in, as a fragment, over one of those message delivery systems, up onto the mountaintop of each person you want to change. And they have to have enough of a specific, existent perspective on the outside world to take up that piece, that fragment that you gave them, and put it together with what they already have (incorporate it into worldview) in a way that not only makes sense to them, but that reshapes their model of the world enough to resemble, to be somewhat congruent with, yours, and what you'd hope their's would be.

            The important thing to take note of is not just the level of consideration required of the expresser in forming an expression that could sensibly fit within the worldview of another (whose mountaintop and model set are inaccessible to them), or the considerable efforts an observer can (and probably should) go through to make particularly troublesome model pieces fit. While those are both incredible features of our discourses that deserve to have more attention brought to them, what particularly intrigues me here is, given this gulf of separation between the meaning-making processes of the expresser and observer, what, then, is the nature of a successful, productive, salient communication? In light of this view, the idea of an actual transference of anything tangible from a conscious experiencer into an expression, and then into another conscious experiencer through observation or "reading," seems somewhat laughable. So then to "communicate" a concept, an idea. or a viewpoint to another, is not actually to send anything from you to them, but instead to conjure, to cause to arise, a similar concept, idea, or viewpoint in them, that they independently generate from the inputs they take from reading your expressions. You are, in fact, trying to stimulate their cognitive processes to make the same conceptual shapes and associations as yours. While perfectly identical conceptualizations in different people, something so individual and particular, is likely to be impossible, the fact that we understand each other, to some completely salient and useful extent, constantly in regular life indicates that not only is complete, identical copy/pasting of concepts through communication not necessary to understand, comprehend, or collaborate with another, it's not even the direct goal of the process of "communication."

            In this light, communication seems more to be an ideal state of complete congruency between the results of one person's cognitive process and that of another person. The process of communication, then, is the on-going act of striving to achieve said ideal state of congruency, to try and get someone else to "come to the same conclusion" as you. This conclusion could be a social judgment, a political stance, an understanding of a theory, a specific perspective needed to "get" a joke, etc. The amount of congruency between individuals' conceptions is then a metric for the proximity to "ideal, complete communication," or the relative amount of similarities between specific conceptualizations. This ideal, some would say unachievable, state of pure congruency between ideas in different cognitive experiencers can similarly be termed "co-cognition." Co-cognition would be the state of two hermits, on two different mountaintops, literally having identical copies of the same model piece hooked into their worldview models in the same way. Because of the unimaginable amount of specific, particular influences that shape individuals' understandings of every concept they come across, this ideal state of co-cognition will likely never be achieved without some technology that could bridge the communicative gap between conscious experiencers, allowing them to engage in discourse without having to first translate their cognitive constructs through the a sign-based medium.

            But until any conceivable mind-linking tech that could allow people to "talk" solely with their meanings, their understandings, meaning-making will always be a intimate, solitary process between sign and signified in the head of each individual. Because of that, communication, or co-cognition, will remain the goal just beyond the horizon, ever retreating from our grasp, yet contrarily, it is nota progress-less process. As two individuals approach co-cognition on a certain concept, they can indeed be getting closer to a completely congruent understanding, but it's somewhat infinitely recursive. Like the philosophical problem of Achilles and the Tortoise, we will never "catch" co-cognition, but our continual pursuit of it with continually put us ever-closer to it, and we have to invent new forms of measuring our ideas and their communications to articulate the smaller and smaller ways in which our specific understandings diverge. (e.g. "No, I like him. I just don't like like him.")

            I think the uplifting, inspiring thing to take from this perspective on the process of message-delivery and communication is that, like any act of self-improvement, spiritual betterment, or simply embracing the fleeting nature of life by living in the moment, communication and co-cognition are processes that do not have an end. Instead, we have an ideal goal in mind, that we strive for, but we do so knowing that it will never be attained, and that the continual, on-going process of working and struggling for that ideal goal is, itself, the actual goal that generates the self-improvement, spiritual betterment, thrill of living in the moment, or salient- and congruent-enough discourse to call "communication." By working towards understanding "where" people are coming from and comprehending their specific takes on concepts through the processes of "writing," "reading," and articulating, we are, in fact, approaching empathy. True co-cognition could certainly be a state of pure empathy, yet relegated to specific constructs. Depending on how important or foundational those concepts are in a person's worldview model, co-cognition of those concepts could immediately lead to a deeper, more important, and foundational form of empathy. Of course, this ideal must be continually, perpetually worked towards in our daily interactions, always achieved relatively, and in the moment. And collectively, gradually, we lift bigger and bigger portions of society towards greater empathy through the pursuit of communication and co-cognition.

            I guess that's all just a wordy way of saying that communication is a process of continually chasing more congruency with others in our understandings. So remember, if you want to communicate with people, you all have to participate, multilaterally, to stimulate cognitive growth in each participant, preferably with a similar bend. And while perfection in this process may be unobtainable, like most important processes, it's not the destination, but the journey.