My wife and I have been married, as of this writing, for 36 years. In that time we’ve agreed on the important things, such as how to raise our children, our values, and the importance of good coffee. On lesser things, such as whether one of us told the other that he or she would make pasta on Thursday, all hell could break loose. And the argument would have little to do with the promise of pasta and much to do with who really said what. We wish we had a surveillance camera to prove the other wrong because the other is obviously wrong.
On the surface, these arguments couldn’t be more ridiculous. What we’re arguing about is whose version of reality is reality.
Neuroscientists (those who study the nervous system) and cognitive psychologists (those who study how perception in both the biological and psychological sense is created) may differ in how they figure how our brain and cognition works, but they agree the world we experience is made up, experience being the important word.
The arguments between my wife and I occur because of the myth of communication, that we just need to learn how to communicate better, but I’m not sure what better means. The myth of better communication gets perpetuated by, to use an example close to home, relationship experts, such as marriage counselors. But it is biologically impossible to communicate in a manner where, despite the fantasy life of therapists, the recipients “hear” the speaker, let alone understand what is said. Recipients can’t hear the speaker because we don’t have a shared reality: no form of communication has the same meaning to the speaker and recipient. (I’m using the term “speaker,” in this case, as shorthand for the initiator of an intended communication, whether spoken, written, or paralinguistic, that is, body language.)
We’re limited by our inborn and environmentally-developed nervous system. We’re limited by memory; there’s no such thing as the past, only what we create while thinking “past.” We’re limited by the psychological aspects of cognition, which includes perception filters from learned behavior and culture.
We’re the social species. All the behavioral scientists tell us so. But social does not mean understanding, it means cooperating for our mutual benefit and satisfaction. Relationship experts should spend less effort on pushing people to understand each other and more effort to promote that people cooperate. Here’s why:
All realities are local, and by local, I mean within each individual. The conflicts we have about politics, religion, entertainment, and the rest won’t go away. There’s only one solution, but it’s not what we typically regard as a solution, it’s a form of surrender, but in a good way. Surrender means we accept we can’t understand each other, but we can still cooperate.
The skeptical reader might notice I have created a paradox: I have stated we can’t understand each other while still promoting “cooperation,” as if everyone understands—agrees—what cooperation means. I could go ahead and define that term using other terms I would have to assume every reader understands as I do.
Did I not say, we cannot communicate?
All I can do is write about ideas with the hope they evoke ideas in readers that readers find pleasing or useful, or optimally, both. Why else write?