Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Convincing and Confusing

figure 1. The communication process

While we communicate, at least two objectives are always there: one is to get across the matter to the listener. The other is to showcase one's ability to create that matter to be communicated.

The first is clearly always, without exception, the announced objective. In fact the title of a speech, essey, poem, painting, musical composition, book...the title of all these announces this. However, it's quite surprising to realise how important the second objective hypocritically is. Regulating the mix of these two objectives makes communication such a tricky affair. How do these two objectives interplay? The objective of this blog is to analyse this interplay. Well, the first objective, that is!

Let me start by right away busting away the notion that the second objective is the essential objective for the communicator; the first is essential for listener. I mean to say, this notion would propose that a communicator is always essentially an egotist flaunting his skill, creativity or whatever. The proponent of this idea would then non-chalantly add, 'Well, there's nothing wrong in wishing to show off your things.' thus trying to create comfort in a pricking conscience of a creator. I feel, it's an oversimplification followed by an ugly looking patch.

A communicator (I think of everybody doing anything meaningful, as communicators of some sort: artists, scientists, politicians, actors, musicians, writers (but of course), players, dancers, name it) communicates because he wants to. The essential part of communication happens in the discovery of the substance of communication within the mind of the communicator. A self discovery of sorts. Letting it out to the world is just just a translation (here, you would perhaps like to go through Pritesh's blog Lost in Translation and my comments on that). Therefore, communication is an act of instrospection and self-discovery in its essence. Its relation with egotism can't be denied; but that can't be treated as the primary characteristic of communication.

Another very charming characteristic of communication is the reverse translation of concrete artifact of communication -- i.e. a prose or poetry, a painting, a play, a movie or a song -- into an abstract thought at the receiver's end. (ref. my earlier blog Communication).

This whole thing about it being possible to transfer a completely abstract thought, an emotion, an idea, an argument or opinion through concrete media creates the charm of communication. A good communicator has senses which are awakened enough to express joy at this phenomenon of encoding an abstract arising at one site in concrete, and its effective back translation into its original form, but at another site. Something like shown in figure 1.

Credits that the communicator (a person who mediates the above miracle of communication) earns would be an added benefit from the essential act of communication. But, its place is only complimentary to the first objective. It never can stand for the first of the two benefits, let alone compromising it for its own sake.

Then how does this heinous act of bartering communication happen for the sake of the communicator's vanity? To understand that, let us try to list down a few things which tend to assist an essentially good communication, and those which fetter it. Now, for the sake of concreteness, I will take the example of one of communication: writing prose. What you are reading right now is that, and can be directly put through the acid test.

* Simplicity/complexity ( = 1/simplicity)
* Shortness/longness ( = 1/shortness)
* Linearity/lateralness ( = 1/linearity)
...and many more.

Each A/B pair are opposite to each other. B improves the quality of the content, A improves the effectiveness of information transfer.

Computation of Primary Efficiency of Communication

I feel, the primary efficiency of the communication is simply:

E1 = C(M1)*E(T1)*E(T2).

where C(M1) is the content of the source.
E(T1) is the efficiency of the T1 translation
E(T2) is the efficiency of the T2 translation

Looking closely you would observe that C(M1) is a monotonically increasing function of complexity, length and lateralness. That is, other aspects being constant, the source content would increase if you increase any or all of these three.

Similarly E(T1) and E(T2) are monotonically increasing functions of simplicity, shortness, linearity.

This simple mathematical model gives us a few precious hints. There is one factor on the RHS, C(M1), which increases with increasing complexity(length and lateralness). And there're two factors on the RHS which decrease with it. Depending on the gradient of the rise of C(M1), and of the fall of E(T1) and E(T2), we could analytically find a value of simplicity, shortness and linearity that would result in maximum E1.

Computation of Secondary Efficiency of Communication

We define the secondary efficiency E2 of the communication as the amount of credits that the communicator achieves through his act of communication. Before that a word or two about what exactly comprises of that credit. The basic invariant is the display of intellectual or sensual assets : command over language, ability to handle complexity, to organise large volumes of information, the possession of that information, patience to develop, maintain, enhance and present that information etc.

All these are monotonically increasing functions of length, complexity and lateralness. From the viewpoint of E2, there's a clear and direct benefit in increasing all three of these.

Reconciliation between E1 and E2

Very simply put, the overall efficiency of communication is:

E = alpha(E1) + beta(E2).

The proportionality constants alpha and beta are results of the communicator's maturity and other circumstantial factors. For a more matured communicator, alpha may expectedly have a high value whereas beta may be close to zero. They are immeasureable I believe. A cunning communicator may even fake them to others. A psychotically cunning chap may be able to fake them even to himself.

To be a bit more precise, E, alpha and beta are not the innate traits of a communicator, but the environment of communication. For instance, in a typically corporate scenario, an inherently honest chap may be forced to become a communicator with a low alpha and high beta values.

But assuming that a person is at least honest enough to himself, and is roughly able to figure out the values of alpha and beta for himself, E looks like a good measure of efficiency.

The above mathematical modelling is no great work of scientific brilliance. It's an attempt to mathematically characterise the needs that we are typically trying to satisfy during a session of communication. During this process, the contents of the communication are at display. So are the communicator's communication powers. A communicator (after all a mortal) would always expect that his customers pick up some of these secondary displays along with the primary ones.

A communicator's maturity constant can be defined as (alpha/beta). So, a clean thing to do in order to improve one's maturity is to be concerned more and more towards improving E1 and not E2. Seems simple, but becomes Herculean when tried.

A more pragmatic suggestion to all communicators is that we all will try to smuggle out a bit of our vanity along with authentic service to the mankind in any form. Subtle vanity is accepted well. Vanity taken to the levels of vanity(!) makes it gaudy and ugly: be it physical beauty, artistic beauty or intellectual beauty, when displayed in a vulgar and unwelcome manner becomes a subject of ridicule and harassment.

What to say more! I am confused about the alpha and beta of this article. You decide!


Hasit said...

Sujit...interesting analysis. I like the equations you have builtup.

It may be interesting for you to consider Derrida's work on deconstruction. He essentially means that any text is a lie. I heard him in person in Mumbai many years ago. Now he is dead.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Thanks Hasit,
That's a great link. I will go through it in details, and give my comments.