Communication and Understanding

Can one person ever truly understand another?

Certainly communication among people who speak the same language is generally good enough for every day purposes. And, even with language barriers, some non-verbal communication can transcend such trivialities.

But just because two people can communicate relatively effectively, doesn’t necessarily mean that they truly understand each other on a deeper level.

Someone told me recently that speech and writing are the most inefficient means of data transfer.

They’re not wrong – I can’t transfer an idea the way I might give you a physical object. I have to describe it, and you have to recreate it.

I describe it using my language, knowledge, and experience, drawing on my understanding of the world to express myself. Then you take those little pieces and try to use your own knowledge and experience to recreate what I have described.

If we come from similar backgrounds this might be relatively easy – we probably speak the same language, and might share similar knowledge and experience to draw from. If we come from very different background this will be more difficult.

Functional communication can be achieved under either scenario, but the possibilities for deeper communication are unclear. I like to think it is possible in the more difficult situation, but I wonder if it is truly possible even in the easier situation.

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