Lost in communication

Even during conversations with individuals that I consider to be what Sarah Perry calls “epistemic peers”—those whose processes of thought I respect enough to reveal to them my own—there is still conversational opacity.

For example, imagine I have just described a concept that has been clunking around my mind. The person seems intrigued, so I continue: “Allow me to give you a particular example.” Now, my conversational partner could interpret that sentence as a mere preface to the concept I’d previously described. But I could be hinting at the idea of particular-versus-general concepts. That specific sentence could be my attempt to imply that the concept I’m talking about is domain-dependent, that it doesn’t operate outside of a very specific environment. But the other person might miss that hint, and worse, I may not know that he or she missed it. This is a minuscule example of, not “lost in translation”, but “lost in communication”.

In the deepest and the shallowest conversation, so much of what we know and what we mean remains blocked off to other participants. And to unearth it, to bring it to the fore, requires an extraordinary effort, and more, for us to be in a perpetual state of parallel consciousness. It demands that we always be interpreting what we say from the perspective of the person it’s being said to.