View Full Version : Understand, Empathy, and Communication

04-24-2007, 05:54 PM
What is the basis of communication? How does understanding work? If I wave to someone across the street, how do they know that I am greeting them? Or, do they know that at all?

Transcendentalist like Emerson or Whitman argued that people all participate in a spiritual togetherness called humanity. A person communicates to another by saying something that resonates with this common humanity. Emerson says, "The young man respects the man of genius because, in truth, he is more himself than he is". Can we say that we understand one another because we are each other?

Later on, in the twentieth century, people like Wittgenstein and Thomas Kuhn argued that understanding is based on a common set of associations or a shared set of rules. Kuhn writes that events cannot be understood through themselves alone, but require active participation of the witness: "No natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation and criticism...which must be externally supplied, perhaps by a current metaphysic, by another science, or by personal and historical accident". With this idea, I might say that the person across the street I waved to understands I'm greeting him because we are both a part of the same society which respects the wave as a sign of greeting.

It also could be that we understand each other, not because of consistent set of societal rules, or because a shared humanity, but because there is reality outside of human being which we each react to. This reality is not combined with the chance accident of phenomenon; instead, it is ideal and without form--much like Kant's idea of a noumenal realm.

All of these ideas seems plausible, but none of them completely satisfy me. I was wondering if anyone else had some ideas on this. (And better yet, original ones--unlike mine).

And my question is more about the philosophy of understanding than the linguistics involved in communication

04-29-2007, 06:36 AM
I think we understand each other because we shared a same culture which formed through history lasts for hundreds and thousands of years,and that is why different people have different ways of communication.
I am a science student and I just say what's in my mind,and maybe the words above are meaningless.I just want to speak out.

04-29-2007, 07:18 AM
I believe empathy helps us understand others from a position within ourselves. We empathize with people that have the same needs as we do, who have shared similar life experiences. It is a process, the better we understand our own feelings the better we are at understanding others. Culture, religion and sometimes gender can play an important role.

04-29-2007, 11:47 AM
Could I reccomend the play Translations by Brian Friel to explore ideas like this? It's a really amazing play.

05-02-2007, 09:16 AM
Consider reading some of the Greek philosophers. They deal with the art of knowing - epistomology - which may well preceed the art of understanding.

I suppose Jung's collective unconsciousness (the shared experience of humanity) could provide the answer, as well as man being created in the image of God, which is more along the lines of a theological argument.

I think both are true.

05-02-2007, 03:34 PM
What is the basis of communication? How does understanding work? If I wave to someone across the street, how do they know that I am greeting them? Or, do they know that at all?

Consider the fact that "understanding" such a simple gesture as waving depends on cultural capital one has. For example in most of western countries puting your thumb together with index means You are ok, but in France showing this to a women you will offend her.

So maybe you should read some sociological books about cultural capital?