April 2014: Some random musings that might get me into trouble.
Communication in essence is trying to make another person’s brain a bit more like your brain. So would direct brain to brain communication achieve this much better than we can achieve this now? Communication has thrived through technological inventions. Writing enabled human beings to communicate with other people long dead and people far away.
Printing and mass literacy extended the reach of written language to anybody. Telegraph and telephone enabled human beings to communicate instantaneously even when both are in distant places. Smartphones have enabled human beings to ‘text’ and ‘chat’ with very little time lag.
Now consider this: Two people can be in different locations, and they are asked to connect with each other by the power of their thoughts and feelings. Imagine electrical activity, perhaps in the form of waves displayed visually, as the only way that messages can flow between the two people. With a little more technological development it might be possible to induce the waves to follow that same rhythm in both brains.
Since communication is in essence changing each other’s brains to be more alike, would such a direct connection make communication better than ever?
There is something strange about this. But what?
Everything we normally use for communication, words, voice, expression, gesture, and so on, is produced by our brain, but is bypassed in direct brain to brain communication. Communication typically suffers if one of these channels is not available – so what would happen if none were? All these channels are the result of millions of years of evolution, precisely to enable brain to brain communication.
Surely there is more to communication than sharing our thoughts and feelings and making each other’s brains more alike. But what? What about conscious reflection? What about conscious decisions about what to say and what to conceal, what to make a joke about, thrown scorn on, or hammer home relentlessly. What about knowing when to stop a communication?
My preliminary conclusion is that communication brain to brain can at best be only contagion and contagion is only the most basic form of communication. In this sense brain to brain communication is no better than body to body communication: we can pick up ‘vibes’, smells, moods, laughter, fear and anger from each other. But this is only the basic alignment stage of social interaction. What is the alignment for, that is the question.
Once aligned, we can start to change each other’s brain in the way we like to do it – by talking, usually. Communication as we know and like it involves persons and not just brains. Involving persons means taking into account the history of previous communications, the attribution of dispositions, traits and attitudes. On top of this it also requires the tracking of mental states from moment to moment. Strangely enough, although all these processes can function unconsciously and automatically, at the sub-personal level, it seems that to properly communicate we need the personal level. In other words, consciousness.
The different channels of communication are not enough to do the job that we have come to expect from talking to or texting each other. There is something over and above that owns and deploys these channels, and this is not just the person, but the conscious person.
We need to do more than linking up brains to improve communication.