Analogic versus Digital Communication

There is another side of the problem. How does it happen that the paralinguistics and kinesics of men from strange cultures, and even the paralinguistics of other terrestrial mammals, are at least partly intelligible to us, whereas the verbal languages of men from strange cultures seem to be totally opaque? In this respect it would seem that the vocalizations of the dolphin resemble human language rather than the kinesics or paralinguistics of terrestrial mammals.

We know, of course, why gestures and tones of voice are partly intelligible while foreign languages are unintelligible. It is because language is digital and kinesics and paralinguistics are analogic.150 The essence of the matter is that in digital communication a number of purely conventional signs -1, 2, 3, X, Y, and so on—are pushed around according to rules called algorithms. The signs themselves have no simple connection (e.g., correspondence of magnitude) with what they stand for. The numeral "5" is not bigger than the numeral "3." It is true that if we remove the crossbar from "7" we obtain the numeral "1"; but the crossbar does not, in any sense, stand for "6." A name usually has only a purely conventional or arbitrary connection

150 The difference between digital and analogic modes of communication may perhaps be made clear by thinking of an English-speaking mathematician confronted with a paper by a Japanese colleague. He gazes uncomprehendingly at the Japanese ideographs, but he is able partly to understand the Cartesian graphs in the Japanese publication. The ideographs, though they may originally have been analogic pictures, are now purely digital; the Cartesian graphs are analogic.

with the class named. The numeral "5" is only the name of a magnitude. It is nonsense to ask if my telephone number is larger than yours, because the telephone exchange is a purely digital computer. It is not fed with magnitudes, but only with names of positions on a matrix.

In analogic communication, however, real magnitudes are used, and they correspond to real magnitudes in the subject of discourse. The linked range finder of a camera is a familiar example of an analogue computer. This device is fed with an angle that has real magnitude and is, in fact, the angle that the base of the range finder subtends at some point on the object to be photographed. This angle controls a cam that in turn moves the lens of the camera forward or back. The secret of the device lies in the shape of the cam, which is an analogic representation (i.e., a picture, a Cartesian graph) of the functional relationship between distance of object and distance of image.

Verbal language is almost (but not quite) purely digital. The word "big" is not bigger than the word "little"; and in general there is nothing in the pattern (i.e., the system of interrelated magnitudes) in the word "table" which would correspond to the system of interrelated magnitudes in the object denoted. On the other hand, in kinesic and paralinguistic communication, the magnitude of the gesture, the loudness of the voice, the length of the pause, the tension of the muscle, and so forth—these magnitudes commonly correspond (directly or inversely) to magnitudes in the relationship that is the subject of discourse. The pattern of action in the communication of the wolf pack leader is immediately intelligible when we have data about the weaning practices of the animal, for the weaning practices are themselves analogic kinesic signals.

It is logical, then, to consider the hypothesis that the vocalization of dolphins may be a digital expression of ^ functions. It is this possibility that I especially have in mind in saying that this communication may be of an almost totally unfamiliar kind. Man, it is true, has a few words for ^ functions, words like "love," "respect," "dependency," and so on. But these words function poorly in the actual discussion of relationship between participants in the relationship. If you say to a girl, "I love you," she is likely to pay more attention to the accompanying kinesics and paralinguistics than to the words themselves.

We humans become very uncomfortable when somebody starts to interpret our postures and gestures by translating them into words about relationship. We much prefer that our messages on this subject remain analogic, unconscious, and involuntary. We tend to distrust the man who can simulate messages about relationship. We therefore have no idea what it is like to be a species with even a very simple and rudimentary digital system whose primary subject matter would be ^ functions. This system is something we terrestrial mammals cannot imagine and for which we have no empathy.

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