Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Transparency I: a naive question

Last week in primary we talked about the plan of salvation. We talked about how we wanted to come to earth to receive a body, because in heaven we didn’t have one. One of the children raised his hand and asked, “If we didn’t have bodies in heaven, how could we speak to each other?”

I thought this was one of those cute, na├»ve questions that only children seem to ask. I quickly tried to answer the question within my own mind. Of course we could talk, I reasoned, we believe that the plan was explained to us and we chose to follow it. He is thinking that just because we didn’t have a voice box, a throat, and mouths we couldn’t speak. But of course we could speak, just as we do now…couldn’t we?

I began to think of the way we typically communicate here in mortality. At the most basic level our lungs push air through our vocal chords, which vibrate and create sound. We then manipulate that sound with movements of our lips, tongues, and cheeks and create words. This type of communication, of course, doesn’t only require that the speaker has a body but also that the listener has one. The listener absorbs the sound and with the help of the ears’ shape, the sound is funneled into the ear canal, where the eardrum vibrates at certain speeds and strengths. Another part of the ear translates these vibrations into nerve impulses and sends these signals to the brain. The brain then interprets the sounds as words, words which it has heard before and therefore can decode into a meaning.
Communication = Speaker's sound + Listener's ears/brain decoding the sound

But there is more to communication than just the transfer of sounds, right? What we are trying to do with communication is represent something intangible, an idea, with a code of sounds whose meaning a language has agreed upon. Before the speaker even tries to communicate she must have a thought or idea. She must then transfer this thought into a code known as language, which includes picking appropriate words to represent her desired meaning. Once the words have left her mouth and are in the possession of the listener it is his turn to decode the words with his perception of what they mean. Multiple variables influence his decoding of the message including her actions before and now, his past experiences, his understanding of the words and their meanings, his moood, etc.
It is hard to imagine our most reliable form of communicating with others being taken away. But how reliable is it really? Study after study has shown how quickly a person’s intended meaning can be misinterpreted by a listener.Everything we hear, we hear tinted with the overtones of our experiences, our beliefs, our emotions. Speaking is not transparent. It isn’t a fool proof method of transferring my experience, thoughts, and ideas onto someone else. How often are good intentions misinterpreted? How often do I find myself arguing with someone, only to realize in the end that we both have the same view, we were just saying it differently? How often is there something I feel that simply cannot be expressed with words?

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