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15 May 1997

Why and Wherefore of Communication


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There are myriads of people communicating on the planet -- possibly myriads of entities communicating elsewhere. A lot of the communication is like grooming behaviour in certain groups of animals -- very comforting and essential to socialization, irrespective of the content. It is so good to feel well-groomed!

Many people craft their communications to convey particular meanings. Just what are we endeavouring to do in this process? A lot of effort goes into persuading others of the validity or merit of what is conveyed. Why seek so desperately to ensure that others agree? Why endeavour to evoke their appreciation or interest? If these ends are achieved, then what? What then follows? What can be built on the agreement? Or is it a question of maintaining good fellow-feeling -- an analogue to grooming behaviour?

With the immense numbers of communication pathways, why feel any need to comprehend what one has not yet encountered? Is this a sense of insecurity -- or a residue of curiosity to be cultivated by existential tourism? One can easily set aside any pull to explore simple grooming exchanges. But supposing groups of people are creating or configuring new patterns of meaning? Why might I feel impelled or drawn to understand what they are working on? What is this "newness" that draws me -- and what is the kind that I would be happy to avoid exposure to?

So can I think of some noosphere -- a global configuration of some kind -- on which communicators are positioned, with lines between them corresponding to communications of a particular content or quality? All the communication busy-ness then travels these pathways. Is this then the moving lifeblood of planetary consciousness? It could be incredibly beautiful to observe. But maybe tiresome after a while?

This image is however too linear. As such it does not carry all the creativity. But suppose that noosphere globe also holds the emergent patterns of newly created relationships and insights? It now flickers with patterns of collective creativity -- constantly shifting patterns. Some would have coherence and permanence, becoming richer and more elaborate over time. This would be the case with the new discoveries in physics and microbiology. Others would emerge and disappear like fashions in the arts. All fascinating to observe -- for a while?

But of course, it may be the "observation" process that is inherently boring. However, I can also participate and make patterns too. I can exchange them with others. Maybe I can concentrate on persuading them of the inherent superiority of my patterns -- in some cases imposing them over the desired patterns of others? Why would I want to do any of this? Maybe I could focus on helping others to make their patterns -- a sort of pattern midwife. Why would I want to do that? There are plenty of ways in which patterns can emerge.

Then there is the quest for the ultimate mega-pattern, the keystone of everything, the philosopher's stone, the Rosetta stone, the Theory of Everything. Do I want to join the various gold-rush efforts to pursue such insight? What does it feel like to experience those engaged in such a Nobel pursuit? Is it like a sperm endeavouring to be the one that fertilizes the egg -- triumphing over 69 million others as failures in the fallopian Olympics? What meaning would such insight have for me? As much as the Theory of Relativity?

But there is something beyond simple understandings of the observer-participant role. There is a way in which these can lock understanding into the encounter, whether as participant or observer. Within this constrained perspective, it makes relatively little difference how ultimate is the pattern encountered. By contrast, there is something about the encounter with a dewdrop, a particular face, or a configuration of events, which can be totally transformative. These too can be as meaningful as the philosopher's stone or the Theory of Everything -- and possibly more so. But encounters with all of them could equally be totally untransformative.

Is transformation then the thing to pursue -- chasing individuation and personal transmogrification? Taking to the initiation superhighway with all its gatekeepers and tollgates! Or even its collective equivalent, group transformation, or its wider cultural analogues -- on some developmental pathway? What is this pressure to transform -- is the next form inherently better than this current one?

But if transformation is an inherently good thing, why would I seek to communicate my understanding to others -- even against their immediate wishes? Am I taking responsibility for their best interests? Or am I seeking to bulldoze their rainforests in the interest of my supermarket and golf course?

Maybe the justification for communication emerges more clearly from an understanding of nourishment -- which is associated with transformation through digestion (in its most fundamental sense). If I nourish, or am nourished, through communication then this would then be enough. But is this simply another trap -- the existential couch potato trap, nourished by insightful peanuts and TV -- shortly to be able to message significant others about received significance! Is existential obesity the next challenge?

Does the Buddhist notion of detachment frame appropriateness in a more fruitful way? Surely not when that understanding has to be continually reinforced by so much iconography and ritual?

Back then to the present moment. Detachment from all of the above, plus detachment from detachment? What then is the art of spontaneity? Why and how would one seek to make it more than an individual endeavour? Is community an individual endeavour -- whereby one creates communal meaning out of whatever one encounters?

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