The cat-like nature of interpersonal conversation

Two people converse with each other.

Their thoughts, words, reasons for speaking and listening are like a small herd of cats, maybe 8-15 cats each.

Your cats sort of follow you and my cats sort of follow me. As we converse it’s like we are walking together; down a road or in a field, wherever you like.

Our cats sort of follow us.

Each impetus to speak and each impetus to listen in whatever manner is a cat. Your thought-cats and my thought-cats wander around and intermingle with each other.

Basically, all psychologically meaningful interpersonal conversations are like that: a couple of small cat herds milling around and sort of going in the same general direction sort of together.

The semi-disciplined, semi-aimless nature of interpersonal speech is one of its primary characteristics. Ambiguity, imprecision, misspeaking and mishearing are also primary characteristics of interpersonal speech.

Where your cats are coming from and how they came to be with you is almost always a mystery to me; and same for you about my cats. Even if we try to be specific about a particular cat (a small speech act), it can be hard to explain and hard to understand the explanation; hard for both of us to be sure we both are understanding the same things about just that one cat.

That is a major reason people typically don’t try to understand particular cats. Spend time on one cat, the rest may wander off or we all forget where we were going. Moreover, even if we try hard, we may never get to shared understanding about just that one cat. We might even become exasperated, even angry with each other because the task is so difficult.

That’s a major problem and it distorts everything we think, feel, and believe.

It happens because we can’t control our cats very well, nor do we know all that much about them; even our own cats are typically very mysterious even to us. What is your actual impetus to speak at any moments? And how did you understand what you just heard? How long can you remember either one of those? What is all that stuff in your mind and how can you possibly convey it to someone else?

The difficulty of answering those questions all but forces us to abstract our conversations and our selves. That is what all cultures do. All languages do that. Instead of appreciating how ambiguous and indeterminable our minds and conversations really are, we make up abstract roles for each other and our selves. And thus is born the illusion of human psychology. The illusion that we can know each other and our selves through abstractions while ignoring the realities of our herds of cats, which over time can become very large.

Say what you like, but when we stop conversing with each other, chances are that some of your cats will follow me and some of my cats will follow you. Also very likely is some of both of our cats will have wandered off and some new ones will have joined us.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s