Hog Heaven

Today I pigged out at the bookstore. I have given a lot of thought to the idea of communication and language in my attempt to understand the gulf between my autistic, profoundly retarded, nonverbal brother and me. In yesterday’s post I reviewed the basic components of communications systems – without regard to the content of messages sent and received, and laid the groundwork for future discussion of message content. Before I move on to language, one final look at the engineering aspects of communication.

Communication systems – review

The prerequisites of communication systems include a message sent through a channel to a receiver and ultimately to its destination where it is reconstituted. Successful communication happens when the message received by the destination contains the same information as the message sent. As one can imagine, this is an important problem for engineers who design electronic communications systems. They are mainly concerned with number of messages to push through a channel, degradation of the messages and their faithful reconstruction at the receiving end. The content of the messages are not issues for this type of engineering problem.

Usually, the only time one must consider the components of a communications system in the realm of human communication is when interacting with infants and toddlers. The infant is in a brand new world, with no filters in place to put the world in any sort of order. One must guess what messages the infant is transmitting and what “messages” to which he or she is responding; is it the distant noise that an adult has filtered out? Is the infant smiling because he or she likes the expression of the person vying for his or her attention, or is it gas, or the physical touch of a blanket? Does the infant respond to frequencies inaudible to the adult; smells that the adult cannot smell? Therefore, information source, intended message, and channel may not be obvious. This is a fascinating area. Potential posts – for another time.


What I was excited about today was my acquisition of books about language and linguistics. Here’s what I got: Language in Thought and Action by S.I. and Alan R. Hayakawa; A Very Short Introduction to Sociolinguistics by John Edwards; The Secret Life of Pronouns, by James W. Pennebaker (I hope it doesn’t reveal anything untoward about my writing!); Course in General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure; The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. I also couldn’t resist a couple of books about neuroscience and philosophy: Neuroscience & Philosophy by Maxwell Bennett, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker and John Searle – (Dennett and Searle? Should be interesting.); The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen (long-time autism researcher and author of Mindblindness).

In the next few days, I’d like to visit an old-fashioned bookstore a little way north of here. Sorry to say there are not many left. Hopefully I can find other books on linguistics that were recommended to me, but also books about the history of psychiatry, another topic in which I have an interest. I welcome any suggestions for books you might have found interesting.

In computer terms, “I’m thrashing in the cache, here” I don’t know where to start. But I will definitely try to have a plan by tomorrow.

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