We need a higher level human language
I will first review the history of communication artifacts. I will show what is the problem with the current verbal communication tools that we devised. Then I will move to hints to a possible solution.
In a second article I will present ways developed in computer science to conquer complexity through language, abstractization levels, paradigms, general and domain specific languages. Then I will try to construct a solution for the 100 year future human language.
The history of biology, humans and then our civilization documents that we started to communicate using various non-verbal stimuli. Did they ever dream about where we will be today, to our current state of culture and language? I imagine (so I didn’t study this) that they started with naming objects, than naming actions and then adding more details to this backbone. You would consume it in realtime.
At some moment next step came: the written word. Now the knowledge can be preserved and passed to further generations. The knowledge can accumulate on different directions, at different moments of time. The problem was that communication in written was dependent on scribes. Knowledge transfer came with the huge costs of permanently copying the manuscripts.
Then through print technology everybody could read, few could write thoughts, ideas. It was a slightly uni-directional, broadcasted, mass communication. This lowered the cost of consuming information, while still only the chosen ones where capable of writing and disseminate their artifacts. The language used was polished, the ideas trimmed, the message more often formal and with a specific purpose.
Normal people still had bi-directional communication with the local ones.
Radio, TV didn’t change the game but just prepared the road for internet. With them the communication reached more people but still in an uni-directional way. Moreover there was a drawback compared to printed language: the knowledge consumed a fixed amount of time and an experienced person could not consume the knowledge faster than a novice. Even more, initially this kind of information couldn’t be stored. It was similar in drawbacks to the spoken language: real time consuming.
After 200 years a new technological breakthrough came: Internet. With this most people could have bi-directional communication, in written, in their own peace. The knowledge can accumulate from multiple sources given birth to crowd sourcing: wikipedia, blogging beeing the most known.
Just words and expressions
Then we stopped. Words are enough to transmit anything. Given time we learn how to encode feelings, thoughts, great ideas, knowledge.
While the communication improved: from unidirectional to bidirectional or broadcasted, from volatile in spoken form to permanent in written form, from time consuming (spoken, video, audio) to time independent (written, internet) the basic language form remained the same.
Price on write
With every utterance that we create we pay the price for the costly grammar, syntax, ancient semantics, phrase structure. We must always focus on all these aspects. We lack a higher abstraction level language where we should focus on content, essence, ideas. We learned to respect the grammar rules and we do it automatically. Still the price is paid once when we write and many times when we read.
Price on read
We learn to extract meaning from any message that is thrown at us. We train on this. There are verbal reasoning tests designed to test this capability, there are special methods of fast reading, we read sumarries, movies, listen to blinkist summaries and in the end we migth decide not to read at all the books/articles/productions that are too decorated or full of noise. We take notes to keep and remember the essence of what is heard or read.
Price on trivial mistakes
Still we make mistakes. And they are penalized by the grammar nazis that live between us. The idea is lost and the focus is moved on the grammar topic. Educated people learned how to play this uninteresting and boring game of following grammar rules. Is not important (since usually the semantics are not affected) but it might consume energy in a boring and uninteresting direction if not done well. As a sidenote we don’t have syntax nazi, we don’t have idea nazi since we don’t have clear rules that must be followed when we create sentences and ideas. Actually we have the logical rules but …
Price on diversity per’se
We also pay a high price for not having a common language globally. The grammar and syntax price is multiplied by having thousands of languages. While some languages could be better in specific forms of communication most of them are able to create meaning and feelings in the communication partner. There is no reason to believe that at some moment a single language cannot do this, after it borrows a lot from all the other languages the inefable and undescriptable words.
In the past this wasn’t a problem: people interacted with the closed ones using the same language and the cost of communication with the outside world was bigger and paid only by commerciants. Now the old physical islands separating communities are replaced by artificial (language based) islands. The total cost of global communication is bigger nowadays.
Hints for a solution
If I didn’t convinced you that the problem exists and is real I have one more example.
We have other non-verbal languages. While I’m not proficient in any of them I had enough experience to understand that is more than the superficial form. I experienced write-expression in aikido, tango, chemistry, programming. I experienced read-expression in jazz, vocal, dance, gymnasts, foreign languages.
Write expressions are expressions where we communicate to others, we emit information regarding what we feel or know. Read expressions are the ones where we consume information: feelings, knowledge.
What these communications have in common is that they are not expressed verbally. Still after a minimal training a person starts to feel that it communicates something, that the right “ears” will hear, that the right “eyes” will “see”.
There is much to see when an aikidoka moves: the fluidity, the position of the members, the blockage and impossibility of movement in specific positions and contortions, the dissipation of forces in rotational moves. All these can be perceived and “read” without attention to grammar, rules of syntax. Strangely enough the aikido is learned by having rules and a clear syntax at the beginning. This gives structure and a backbone on top of which you can add more “words” and create meaning. Later you start to disobey the rules, the fluidity of movement comes from full integration of what you learned.
The same story comes from learning tango. You learn fixed movements at the begging. After a while you start to “feel” and read properly the movement of others. Then you start to appreciate the variation from the “normal/formal” movement.
I experienced the “flow” sentiment when I studied organic chemistry. There you have combinations of various substances. At first level you focus on controlling the names, the elements, the valid combination of them. Gradually you can become fluent in reading them and in composing and writing new valid ways of combining them. The language is the same, but the phrases are at a higher level.
The same story goes with math, chess and programming
Programming & the flow
There is one indication of moving the focus and concentration to the next abstraction level. And while people might think that this happens only to them, or only in their preferred “language” this happens to most of the people proficient in communication in one specific language.
We name this state of mind: flow. We characterize ourselves as “beeing in the flow”. In the flow you have an acute sensation of complete focus. We don’t lose time on unimportant things as syntax, as grammar. We just think and feel in ways that are hard to explain, least to correct and validate.
Flow can be perceived together with others as well. I can imagine in team based activities that they might feel that: in jazz, in sports. You might be able to characterize this as well between sex partners, partner of discussions in a foreign language (when you start to forget about the normal - akka low level - rules you might need to apply when you have an interesting topic). My tango professor talked about “togetherness” that should be felt. In aikido you can perceive this.
Jellied teams might took the flow sentiment to other levels when it transforms it in a long term sentiment stripped down by unnecessary and trivial communication.
Most probably we accept variation in these non-verbal languages because we didn’t formalized them enough to be able to “write” them down. Is hard to encode them so is hard to detect and eventually impose strict rules on them. Somehow the lack of a written system allowed them to focus on essence: meaning, semantics and only last on grammar and syntax.
Questions & answers in the next article
How would you communicate “Alice in Wonderland” in a higher level language? Would it be top-down: describing the structure at higher level and going into details as you become more interested and have more time? What would be the purpose for such a reading? It communicates faster? Going from essential to decorations? Who will read such a book? We are complaining of not being able to “conquer” the huge amount of information that exists still we require time and patience to “understand” every bit of any literature/knowledge written. We always spend time (and is multiplied by millions of readers) to parse(understand the grammar, the morphological pars, the syntactic parts, the semantics) the books and then we try to extract the meaning buried in a lot of prose written at a totally different abstraction level.