Origins of Communication

When an animal screams in pain, others notice, yet this is not communication as there was no intention involved. But when an animal calls out in alarm at an approaching predator it is more likely to be an intended communication.

Meaning may come from patterns recognized from previous experience or by translating the actions or sounds produced by others into what they would mean if one did those things oneself. But communication requires the intentional accurate transmission of information and/or passion from the author to the audience.

Communication likely emerged through raising an alarm, then quickly evolved to pointing at items to get the attention of others and direct it in particular direction or at a particular place.

Following these lines, continued progress would likely center on making sounds or movements to indicate issues about oneself, such as rubbing one’s stomach and pointing at one’s mouth to indicate hunger.

Success in achieving communication would illustrate its value and drive a fairly quick expansion of conventions of symbolic language that would be taught to the young and sustained (with gradual morphing) from generation to generation.

Once a sufficient collection of symbols had been developed, it would be natural that the more inspired communicators would come up with the notion of stringing two or more symbols together in linear form to communicate a succession of events or concepts.

In this manner, the foundational form of sentence structure and grammar would coalesce while simultaneously the beginnings of narrative structure would emerge as a byproduct.

For example, an early communicator might relate how to get to a place where there are berries or how to avoid a place where there are bears. He would use sign language to outline his journey and to depict the things and events he encountered along the way.

When our communicator became able to string together a series of events and experiences he has created a tale. Simply put, the definition of a tale is an unbroken linear progression of symbols that communicates meaning through sequence.

We call this kind of tale a “head-line” because it focuses on a chain of logical connections without emotive content. But you can also have a “heart-line” – an unbroken progression of feelings. For example, our communicator might have related a series of emotions he had experienced in a flow of feelings not connected to of any logistic progression.

Tales can be just a head-line or a heart-line, or can be more complex by combining both. In such a case, the tale might begin with a particular situation in which the communicator (henceforth author) relates his feelings at the time. Then, the author might proceed to the next step, which made him feel differently, and so on until he arrives at a final destination as well as a concluding emotional state.

In a more complex form, emotions and logic drive each other, fully intertwining both the head-line and hear-line. So, starting from a particular place in a particular mood, driven by that mood, the author acted to arrive at a second point, which then made him feel differently.

The tale might be driven by logic with feelings passively responded to each step, or it might be driven completely by feelings in which each logic progression is a result of one’s mood.

And, in the most complex form of all, logic and feelings take turns in driving the other, so that feelings may cause the journey to start, then a logical event causes a feeling to change and also the next step to occur. Then, feelings change again and alter the course of the journey to a completely illogical step.

In this way, our early author can “break” logic with a bridge of feeling, or violate a natural progression of feelings with a logical event that alters the mood. Very powerful techniques wrapped up in a very simple form of communication!

We know that the human heart cannot just jump from one emotion to another without going through essential emotional states in between. However, if you start with any given emotion, you might be able to jump to any one of a number of emotions next, and from any of those jump to others. But you can’t jump to all of them. If you could, then we all just be bobbing about from one feeling to another. There would be no growth and no emotional development.

As an analogy, look at the stages of grief. You have to go through them in a particular order. You can’t skip over any. If you do, there’s an emotional mis-step. It has an untrue feeling to the heart.

A narrative that has a character that skips an emotional step or jumps to a step he couldn’t really get to from his previous mood, it will feel uncomfortable to the audience. It will feel as if the character started developing in a manner the audience members cannot follow with their own hearts. It will pop your audience right out of the story and cause it to see the character as someone with whom it simply can’t identify.

So in tales the idea is to create linearity. But doesn’t that linearity create a formula as well? Well it would if you could only go from a given emotion to just one particular emotion next. But, from any given emotion there are several you might jump to – not all, but several. And from whichever one you select as storyteller, there are several more you might go to next.

Similarly with logic, from any given situation there might be any one of a number of things that would make sense if they happened next. But you couldn’t have anything happen next because some things would simply be impossible to occur if the initial situation had happened first.

Now you can start from any place and eventually get to anywhere else, but you have to go through the in-betweens. So as long as you have a head-line and/or a heart-line and it is an unbroken chain that doesn’t skip any steps, that constitutes a complete tale.

Excerpted from the book, A Few Words About Communication

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