Tag Archives: debate

If only our minds could just click with each other

It seems that The Stone‘s contributors’ responses to readers’ comments are often better than their original posts themselves:

Philosophers typically try to illuminate with a combination of argument and (re-)conceptualization.  But the most careful and perspicuous argumentation, as indispensable as care and perspicuity are, will not convince someone who is disinclined to accept a philosopher’s way of framing a problem or phenomenon.  And, as the philosopher Stanley Cavell has stressed repeatedly, nothing guarantees that the arrogation of philosophical authority, no matter how well intended, will not turn out to be an act of mere arrogance.  In this way, in fact, philosophical expression and young women’s sexualized attempts at self-expression have something in common:  neither can be fully controlled by an author’s intentions, and nothing guarantees that they will come off in the way their authors hope they will.  –Nancy Bauer, “Authority and Arrogance: A Response”

Which, if you think about it, is what ails all human communication, but i think the problem is even more exaggerated when it comes to doing philosophy.  Philosophy is best done dialogically (because every argument requires counter-arguments to move forward, and the best counter-arguments come from those who have had different experiences than you have), and if your opponent cannot accept your way of approaching a problem or understand your intentions in communicating your ideas, the argument falls flat.  This is why philosophers, more than anyone else, need to find people who can understand the way they think and communicate in order to do their job.

Which makes me wonder, can real philosophy only be done between people who can “click” in this way?  I’ve spent many philosophy recitations frustrated and impatient because everyone had their own way of thinking, and each think-system was so disparate to the point where we were all on different wavelengths, trying to intersect somewhere, but usually failing miserably.  One person would require real life examples to contemplate any philosophical issue, and another would find such examples cumbersome and dangerously restrictive.  One would be engrossed in analysis, while another would constantly divert to meta-analysis.  One would subscribe to dualism, and another, to monism, and yet another, to pluralism.  No one would think to budge.  And why should they?  Their individual frameworks were the ones that helped them think about these issues.  But do you know what happens when such disparate individual frameworks gather in one room?  A question is raised, a claim is made, and a silence follows while everybody tries to evaluate the claim-maker’s think-system, ultimately rejecting it in favor of their own.  Repeat until time’s up.  You’re lucky if you get a single counter-argument.

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Nonverbal communication

So here’s the deal.  For our first field assignment in Nonverbal Communication class, everyone lined up against a wall and introduced themselves.  The professor taped us one by one from the chest up.  In the next class session, we watched the entire video with the audio off.  She (the professor) instructed us to write down the first thing we noticed in the denotative data column.  Just one thing, and use descriptive language.  

Now that the situation is set up, i’ll just paste a message i sent in frustration to a fellow classmate:

i think a lot of us (including you and me), took “write down the first thing you notice” as “write down the first thing that you pick up on when you watch the screen, whether the person has started talking or not, whether it’s a visual detail or a behavioral trait, whether it says anything about the person or not.” at least that’s how i interpreted it. so almost all of my observations had to do with appearance, not behavior. how can you extrapolate connotative data from an observation like, “mouth” (which only means that that particular person’s mouth was prominent in some way) or hair (which i noticed 5 times). everyone’s cheeks are raised when they smile, but some people’s left more of an impression, whether they moved differently or were placed a little lower or higher on their face. how can i use that kind of info to make a personality judgement? HOW?! (jake), i am going to explode right now!!! i talked to professor (steinberg) until 2:30 (god, she wouldn’t let me go; i eventually had to just get up cos my feet went to sleep from sitting uncomfortably on the floor), but she just didn’t get what i meant and i was growing more and more irritated that i had such a hard time controlling the tone of my voice. and (claire) was there too, but she didn’t help my case either. the professor kept trying to convince me to jump to irrational conclusions like long and dark hair means mysterious instead of considering that MAYBE I CAN’T THINK THAT WAY. that maybe i just can’t make judgements based on people’s appearances, especially over things they have no control over. sure, i can say what a particular kind of feature means to other people, but i can’t say what it means to me. GOD. i mean, one of the features i noted was how one guy’s glasses lenses were tinged with grey, which probably means that they were transition lenses. what the hell am i supposed to say about him as a person, using only that piece of data?

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Any thoughts?  How much of nonverbal communication is intentional, and if it is unintentional, is it still communication?

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