A signal-based model of psychology: part two

If we consider humans to be complex signaling systems or networks, then it is readily apparent that each human network signals within itself and also is connected by signals to other networks.

In A signal-based model of psychology: part one, we said:

the only significant interpersonal signaling data we can really know with significant certainty are data noticed, remembered, and agreed upon by two (or more in some cases) people engaged in significant interpersonal communication (signaling).

More recently, in Indeterminacy of translation and FIML, we discussed W. V. Quine’s thesis, which describes;

the fundamental impossibility of determining what anything means well enough to “translate” it into another context, a next sentence, into another person’s mind, or even “translating” your own speech from the past into the context of your mind today.

When we analyze a person based on vague ideas like “personality,” “psychology,” or “cognition,” we are principally assigning ambiguous referents to amorphous categories. We have more words but not much more understanding.

Cognition is a huge grab-bag of a word that means almost anything, as do the terms psychology and personality.

If we replace these terms with the concept of signaling networks, we gain specificity. For example, rather than analyzing the “cognitive-behavior” of a person we can more easily and profitably analyze their signaling.

The advantage of examining signaling rather than “cognitive-behavior” is signals are quite specific. They can usually be defined pretty well, they can be contextualized, and their communicative intent can be determined with reasonable specificity.

To be most effective, signaling analysis works best if we abandon the idea that we can accurately analyze the signals of someone else, especially if we do not analyze our own signals at the same time.

Moreover, a signaling analysis will work best if we do it with:

  • someone that we care about and that cares about us
  • someone with whom we can be completely honest and who will be completely honest with us
  • someone who is willing to spend the time to do the analyzing

Sad to say, it can be difficult to find two people who fit together in those ways, but that is how it is. Much of this problem is due to social expectations, which presently greatly reduce opportunities for clear, honest communication. And much of this is due to how we normally conceive of a person, as a bundle of vague things that cannot be pinned down.

The ideal signaling analysis will be done between close friends with the above qualifications. A signaling analysis will not work well, if at at all, if it is done between a professional and a patient. A professional psychologist would do the best for their patient by teaching them how to do signaling analysis with a friend. If they don’t have a friend, maybe one can be found; if not, a different approach should be used.

But you don’t have to have “problems” to do a signaling analysis. Everyone will benefit from it.

Signaling analysis works because partners learn to work with good data that has been generated between them during real-life situations. Having this data allows partners to do micro, meso, and macro levels of analysis on it. And these different levels help them see the specifics of a particular signal exchange, the immediate context of the exchange, and the larger social or historical context from which the exchange has derived some or much of its meaning.

For example, if clear data on a tone of voice has been agreed upon, both partners can then explain the micro antecedents and context of that data, the meso context of those antecedents, and if necessary the macro context that gave rise to either or both of those. The same outline applies to all micro data, be it tone, gesture, word choice, body language, reference, etc.

With practice, a new way of understanding communication will arise in partners’ minds. Rather than having a vague “cognition” about some poorly-defined “emotion” or “personality trait,” partners will find that they can benefit much more by simply analyzing what actually happened based upon data they both agree on.

It is very important for partners to do many analyses of specific micro-data, a single word or phrase, a single tone of voice, a single gesture, etc.. The reason for this is we can’t accurately remember much more than that. When we try to do more, we are pushed immediately out of specific micro data into vague meso or macro generalities that constitute nothing more than general categories with general references to other general categories. Rather than analyzing something that has actually occurred, we instead argue about general emotions, vague traits, unsubstantiated assumptions about “personalities,” and so on.

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