What Lies Beneath Word Power

This morning I was out for my daily walk. I usually try to leave my apartment before six thirty. It’s a great time to walk. The sun is still low enough so you get that “sunrise” feeling. The air is calm and still. Whatever weather has been going on during the night is in transition to whatever the weather will be like for the day. It’s like a shift change in the weather factory. The people that make the nighttime weather have clocked out, and the daytime weather people are just getting started. Kind of like they are looking over the report from the night crew to see what they are supposed to be doing. Sometimes they night crew has to work overtime, and daybreak doesn’t have much effect on the weather.

But this morning, it did. Last night was terribly windy, and was making a huge racket. Swirling sounds making all kinds of weird noises that don’t normally occur. This morning was quite different. Still. Calm. The clouds that had rained a little bit last night were still up there, big and dark and threatening, but they had a kind of strange peace to them. When I walked through the rice fields I couldn’t help but notice the largeness of the sky. The mountains off in the distance. The flat fields that the farmers have been getting ready for the spring rice planting. Beautiful.

Then I passed by the stream where the carp live. There is an elementary school nearby, and the children love to feed the fish. And because carp can pretty much eat anything, they grow pretty big. The carp are conditioned to swim to the bank of the stream whenever they see a person stop. Even though it is just a simple condition/response mechanisms, as fish aren’t know for their high intellect, but it’s cool nonetheless. You could almost imagine their fish conversations interrupted by the presence of a human, as they break out of their normal fish cliques and congregate on the bank, hoping for some food. Of course I didn’t have any. Even though I know, deep in my psyche, that they are just fish, and cannot think, cannot plan, cannot communicate, I felt the need to at apologize for not having any food for them. (Of course I looked around to make sure nobody saw me talking to the fish.)

I’ve seen other people doing that as well. Talking to animals, as if the animal could understand, and respond. Many people who keep pets that have become part of the family will tell you that they do indeed understand them. And I’m sure they do. When I was kid, my brother had a red lab. He could understand several words, and what they meant. There was (is?) that gorilla, Koko, who could (can?) supposedly use sign language to express complex “human” emotions.

Where is the difference between simple training, and pure communication? Under what circumstances would a human be able to communicate with an animal that he/she has never met before? Is human/animal communication purely a stimulus/response mechanism, and the animal really doesn’t know what is going on?

I was reading an article about human communication. Only seven percent of our face-to-face communication is based on the words we use. The rest is based on voice tone, body language, facial expressions and about a million other things that they probably don’t even know how to measure yet.

I don’t disagree that words are incredibly important. Without words we wouldn’t have much of a civilization. The use of words and language is likely what powered human evolution to become as cerebral as we are. So we can write blogs and read novels and create beautiful music instead of sitting around eating bananas all day. But words aren’t the only thing. Not by a long shot. There is much more going on in our communication that just words. You’ll be amazed what you will learn when you really pay attention to things. It kind of gives “reading between the lines” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?