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1. Developing a Concept of Communication


									1. Developing a Concept of Communication

We might label the modern era “The Age of Communication.” The internet, cell
phones, blackberries, digital television, satellite radio; the technologies of tele-
communication have vastly expanded opportunities for human communication.
For instance, small villages in India now have wireless telephone service with
millions of new cell phone subscribers every month. It’s now easy to post one’s
home-made video on the internet. American children spend more time watching
television, roaming the internet or talking on the phone than they do any other
activities. Today, it is possible to communicate instantly with someone else
almost anywhere on earth, and being technologically connected with others at all
times has become a new way of life. Human communication has come a long
way from that other era, now lost in the mist of time, when we first learned to talk
with each other.

If the term “communication” now characterizes our age, it may seem odd to ask
what it means. There is no shortage of definitions of the word in dictionaries,
encyclopedias and in major works on the topic, but these allow for a wide variety
of interpretations. We all know, more or less, how to use the word, but we still do
not have a well accepted concept of the phenomenon it symbolizes. John
Durham Peters, in “Speaking Into The Air,” has this to say about communication.

“Like many notions hailed as unmixed goods, it suffers from the misfortune of conceptual
confusion. Confusion, if it suggests the mixing of well-defined intellectual contours, may be even
too precise a term, since “communication” in much contemporary discourse exists as a sort of ill
formed, undifferentiated conceptual germ plasm.” (Peters, p. 6)

The confusion arises, perhaps, because so many different people apply the term
to different phenomena in vastly different contexts, from communication among
cells in the body to communication with extraterrestrial beings. Almost every
academic discipline from anthropology to zoology studies some aspect of
communication, but there is no single theory that can connect these disparate
studies to provide a foundation for a communication discipline. Instead, we have
a plethora of separate academic fields of study with an array of different theories
to support them. In addition, there is a host of communication practitioners:
engineers, pastors, journalists, advertisers, public relations experts, web
designers, therapists, political consultants, writers, film makers, etc., who claim to
apply the art, science or technology of communication to their work. Perhaps, as
some claim, the term no longer represents a coherent, single concept, but rather
stands for a collection of concepts that are related only by a family resemblance.
(Trenholm, p. 8)
Amidst all of this confusion, it may seem brash to assume that one could clarify
the meaning of the term “communication.” If we limit the use of the term to
human and non-human animals, however, it may be possible to discover or
develop a conceptual framework that would give some definition to Peters’
“undifferentiated conceptual germ plasm.” Humans share with other animals an
innate capacity to communicate with other members of their species. Although
there are many differences between human and animal communication, there
are sufficient commonalities to conclude that our communicative capabilities
have deep roots in our animal heritage. Since human communication must have
evolved from the non-verbal communicative skills of our primate ancestors, it
seems worthwhile to search for a concept of communication that could apply to
the communicative behavior of both humans and other animal species. Although
such a framework would be very general, it could provide some clarity and focus
for studying communication as it occurs throughout the animal kingdom. At least,
that is the premise and purpose of this inquiry.

There are many models of the phenomenon we label “communication,” but I will
limit this initial investigation to two of the most popular models of human
communication. My aim is to see if either of these models can provide a basis
for developing a concept of communication that could apply to animals as well as

Two Models of Communication

Although the meanings of words change through time, they cannot totally escape
their history. "Communicate" has been part of the English language since about
the 15th century. It entered the language from the old French "communicacion",
but its roots go back to Latin "communis", common, and the verb "communicare,"
to talk together, impart or share. Thus, from its earliest use, to communicate was
to impart something to or share something with others, or to make common to
many. The something imparted, shared or made common could be the
pestilence, heresies or God's goodness.

Today, “impart” is typically replaced by “transmit,” and the transmission of
something to someone is now the primary sense of the term “communication” in
many dictionaries and encyclopedias. The second major sense of the term in
contemporary usage is making common, or sharing something with someone.
These two different senses appear to be alternative models for thinking about the
phenomenon of human communication.

A model is a representation of something else, an original object, event or state
of affairs that may be real or imaginary. Models do not represent their originals in
all of their manifestations, but only in certain respects. We use conceptual
models as "speculative instruments" to infer relevant features of an original
phenomenon and develop plausible hypotheses about its structure and function.
(Black, p.16)

In "Deconstructing Communication", Briankle G. Chang takes a poststructuralist
look at our theorizing about communication and the models of communication
that result. He finds that the transmission model and the sharing model provide
incompatible views of human communication.
"…communication from the seventeenth century onward has developed an unstable semantic
field, suggesting at once both one-way transmission and mutual sharing. This semantic bivalence
or instability of the word communication puts communication theorists in an interesting situation,
turning them into unwilling bifocal scholars as they set out to investigate two incompatible
phenomena of inquiry. In consequence, what happens historically in theorizing about
communication is that, at any given point, one or the other of the contradictory meanings has
been allowed to dominate or repress the other." (Chang, p.183)

The fact that we have alternative and possibly incompatible concepts of human
communication today is not something new. For example, in "Communication As
Culture", James W. Carey asserts two alternative concepts of communication,
the transmission and the ritual (sharing) views, have been "alive" in American
culture since the nineteenth century. The transmission view of communication is
the commonest in our culture. It is defined by terms such as 'imparting', 'sending',
'transmitting,' or 'giving information to others'. The ritual view, on the other hand,
is defined by terms such as 'sharing,' 'participation,' 'association,' 'fellowship,'
and 'the possession of a common faith.'

"If the archetypal case of communication under a transmission view is the extension of messages
across geography for the purpose of control, the archetypal case under a ritual view is the sacred
ceremony that draws persons together in fellowship and commonality." (Carey, pp18)

In "keywords," Raymond Williams points out that the two different concepts of
communication represent different types of processes.
"In the controversy about communications systems and communication theory it is often useful to
recall the unresolved range of the original noun of action, represented at its extremes by transmit,
a one-way process, and share (cf. communion and especially communicant), a common or
mutual process." (Williams, p. 62)

Since speech is the primary means of human communication, the transmission
and sharing models give us two different versions of speech communication.

To speak is to transmit something from one person to others. The transmission
model focuses on the movement of something from one person to others. The
something transmitted varies with definitions. It could be signals, sounds, signs,
words, utterances, messages, information, knowledge, ideas, thoughts, etc.

Speech is also a means of enabling people to share something with others. The
sharing model focuses on the intersubjective outcome of a communicative
process. The something shared varies with definitions. It could be sacraments,
fellowship, experiences, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, symbols, messages,
knowledge, influence, values, etc.

These two models appear to lead to different hypotheses about the structure and
function of communication. However, before concluding that these two models
are in opposition to each other, it may be helpful to look back at some of the
major influences on making the transmission and sharing models alternative
conceptualizations of human communication.

Communication as Transmission

Until the mid-nineteenth century long distance communication in America was
conducted by mail, and the single most important factor in delivery of mail was
transportation. As mail transport progressed from foot to horseback, to
stagecoach, steamboat and railroad, the English language reflected a common
notion that the movement of people, goods or mail could be described by either
"transportation" or "communication". These were seen as different words for the
transfer of something from one place to another.

Then, in 1844, Samuel Morse inaugurated the first American telegraph service
with his famous message, "What hath God wrought?" The electric telegraph
ushered in a new era of long distance communication, which we now call
"telecommunication". It dramatically increased the speed of communication over
long distances, and this had social, commercial and linguistic consequences.
Communication at a distance was no longer dependent on available modes of
transportation. The telegraph changed the newspaper business, facilitated the
development of railroads and changed the popular conception of communication.
As James W. Carey points out, the technological development of the telegraph
had an immediate impact on ordinary language.

"The simplest and most important point about the telegraph is that it marked the decisive
separation of 'transportation' and 'communication. Until the telegraph these words were
synonymous." (Carey, p. 213)

When the telegraph drove a wedge between the concepts of transportation and
communication, it failed to fully separate them. The two concepts remained two
versions of the transfer process. The only difference between them was what
they transferred. This conceptualization of the difference between transportation
and communication is preserved in many contemporary definitions, such as the
one in the “Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2000.
“Communication: transfer of information, such as thoughts and messages, as contrasted with
transportation, the transfer of goods and persons.” (Columbia Encyclopedia.)

The electric telegraph quickly captured the popular imagination, and telegraphy
became the favored phenomena for explaining communication as a process.
"The telegraph, then, not only altered the relation between communication and transportation; it
also changed the fundamental ways in which communication was thought about. It provided a
model for thinking about communication - a model I have called a transmission model…" (Carey,
p. 204)

The concept of communication no longer included the transfer of goods and
people. The transmission model now was based on signaling, sending and
receiving signals from one telegraph terminal to another. The telegraph signals,
physical pulses of energy, were conflated with thoughts. Thus, the conceptual
metaphor, communication is telegraphy, conceived of communication as the
transfer of thoughts from one person to another, a misconception that has
persisted for more than one hundred and fifty years.

From the mid-nineteenth century, the transmission model of communication
gained credibility with every new technological development in signaling; the
telephone, radio, and finally television. By mid twentieth century, there were a
number of other factors that reinforced signaling as the model for thinking about
communication. For example, behavioral psychology was at the peak of its power
in America. The behaviorists banned talk of mental entities. The mental
representations of language were simply out of bounds for the study of human
communication. Investigators were limited to observing overt communicative
behavior which reinforced the notion that communication was a physical process.

At the same time, the concept of information began to gain public prominence.
New technologies emerging from World War II, such as: cybernetics, and
electronic computing, as well as telecommunications, were connected by a
common thread. In each of these fields energy was used, not as a source of
power, but rather as a means of producing, processing and moving information.

From the works of people such as Norbert Weiner, it became clear that
information and communication were related concepts. (Weiner, p. 21) Then, in
1949, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver seemed to confirm this relationship
when they published "The Mathematical Theory of Communication." The book
was based on Shannon’s statistical concept of information. This quantitative
notion, and the mathematics that Shannon developed to express it, became the
basis for what is now called “information theory”. Although information theory had
a significant impact on advancements in communication engineering, it had little
application in the social-psychology of human communication. Many authors
attempted to metaphorically extend this statistical concept of information to
studies in the social sciences and humanities, but the notion of information as
“reduction of uncertainty”, or some similar extension of its technical sense, added
little to our understanding of human communication.

However, Shannon and Weaver’s conceptualization of the communication
process had a major influence on theories of human communication. Shannon’s
schematic diagram of a general communication system became the "gold
standard" for representing the elements of the communication process, and it
provided a starting point for theories of human communication for more than half
a century.

The Mathematical Theory of Communication identifies three levels of problems in
addressing the broad subject of communication: (1) technical, (2) semantic, and
(3) effectiveness. The core of the technical problem is the accuracy with which
one is able to transmit signals from a sender to a receiver. The semantic problem
is concerned with establishing equivalence between the sender’s meaning of a
message and the interpretation of the message by the receiver. The
effectiveness problem concerns the extent to which the meaning of the message
influences the receiver’s behavior in the manner desired by the sender.

Shannon's mathematical theory applies only to the technical level of
communication. Weaver and Shannon are very clear that the statistical concept
of information has nothing to do with meaning, the semantic problem of
communication, or with the effectiveness of the message in achieving pragmatic
ends. Shannon says:

“The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or
approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that
is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual
entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.”
(Shannon and Weaver, p.3)

Shannon clearly had the transmission model of communication in mind when he
developed his theory. Telegraphy was his metaphoric model of communication,
as J. R. Pierce reminds us.
“Similarly, we shall find the roots of Shannon’s broad and elegant theory of communication in the
simplified and seemingly easy and intelligible phenomena of telegraphy.” (Pierce, p. 20)

In ordinary usage, however, the term “communication” requires, not only that
signals are sent and received, but also that the meaning of the message
transmitted as signals by the source is, more or less, understood by the
destination. The above quote reveals that Shannon was thinking of
communication as the transmission and reception of signals. He apparently
believed that the fundamental problem of communication is a technical problem,
not a problem of semantics or effectiveness. Shannon developed a statistical
concept of information that was central to the problem of signaling, but it was
only one of the many problems of communication.

By titling their book, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, Shannon and
Weaver overstated the scope of the theory. It sets up false expectations. It
suggested that Shannon’s mathematical theory deals with the technical and the
semantic levels, both of which are necessary parts of any viable concept of
human communication. The effectiveness of a message, on the other hand, is a
pragmatic issue that arises subsequent to the communicants’ achievement of
The fact is, Shannon's mathematical theory of communication is not a theory of
communication at all. Rather, it is a theory of signaling, and signaling is merely
the technical aspect of human communication. Shannon drew a diagram of
telegraphic signaling and labeled it a communication system, but his diagram
leaves out the essential physiological, psychological and social processes that
relate physical signals to messages, and messages to the experiences of the
source and destination. Although the diagram has been appropriated by
numerous authors to represent the process of human communication, it
adequately represents only the signaling part of that process.

Had Shannon and Weaver titled their book, The Mathematical Theory of
Signaling, it is possible that the transmission model of communication might have
suffered the same fate as Behaviorism, which was put out of business by the
cognitive revolution in Psychology. Unfortunately, this model of communication is
still alive and well in the 21st century, largely due to Claude Shannon’s conflation
of “signaling” and “communication.”

Communication as Sharing Experiences

There are numerous, modern advocates of the sharing model of communication.
For example, Wilbur Schramm, known as the father of communication studies,
was the first American scholar to hold the title of professor of communication. In
a short article, “How Communication Works,” Schramm expressed his notion of
the sharing model. "Communication comes from the Latin communis, common.
When we communicate we are trying to establish a 'commonness' with someone.
That is, we are trying to share information, an idea or an attitude." (Schramm in
DeVito, p.13)

In 1928 the English literary critic I. A. Richards, who co-authored, ”The Meaning
of Meaning,” with C.K. Ogden, emphasized the congruence of experiences in
the minds of the sender and receiver of a message as the principal criterion for

“Communication […] takes place when one mind so acts upon its environment that another mind
is influenced, and in that other mind an experience occurs which is like the experience in the first
mind, and is caused, in part by that experience." (Richards in Noth, p.172)

The modern roots of the sharing model of human communication can be traced
back to the philosophy of John Locke who published An Essay Concerning
Human Understanding in 1690. In this classic work, Locke developed a theory of
knowledge that has provided a basic framework for empirical thought for over
300 years. In the Essay, he also developed a theory of speech communication.
This theory is a pivotal work in the study of human communication.
By the 17th century, "communication" was a noun of action that could refer to
material, mental or spiritual acts. John Locke, for example, could write about the
"communication of motion," "communications from the Divine Spirit," as well as
"communication of ideas", Although he used "communication" in a variety of
contexts, Locke's central concern was how human individuals are able to
communicate with each other.

Locke conceived of a person who engaged in communicative activity as a solitary
individual whose thoughts were his private property, and his alone. It is this
individual who creates the modern problem of communication.

“Man, though he have great variety of thoughts, and such from which others as well as himseIf
might receive profit and delight; yet they are all within his own breast, invisible and hidden from
others, nor can of themselves be made to appear. (Locke, III, II, 1)

Human beings are sociable creatures who want to let others know about the
thoughts they have in mind, that is, to share them with others. But thoughts are
mental events, "invisible and hidden from others," and we cannot make them
"appear." The thoughts that we might want to communicate to others occur in the
minds of individuals. They are accessible only to the person who has them. Our
minds are a function of our bodies, and since you and I cannot exchange bodies
we do not have direct access to each other's minds. Thoughts are private, and
we can't make them public. They are psychological entities, and we can't
transmit, transport or transfer them to others the way we could do if they were
physical entities. From Locke's perspective, the private nature of the individual
mind makes human communication difficult at best and doubtful at worst.

Theories of communication must show how the individual escapes from the
prison-house of a private mind. For Locke, the problem of the private mind is
solved by God's gift of language to man. The words of a common language are
the means of connecting one mind with another.

The problem of the private mind and its solution provide the basic framework for
Locke's theory of speech communication. Ideas are private, “invisible and hidden
from others”. Words are “articulate sounds”, the noises we make when we speak.
They are public events that are accessible to anyone in the vicinity of a speaker.
The crux of Locke's theory, then, is that we are able to communicate our private
ideas to others by means of public words. We are able to do that because words
are signs that signify the ideas we have in mind.

 A language user, according to Locke, arbitrarily correlates a certain idea with the
sound produced by a spoken word. For example, a speaker has an idea in mind.
She expresses it by making a vocal gesture, by uttering a word. The sound
waves produced by the utterance travel through the air from speaker to hearer.
The sound is heard by the hearer, and it evokes an idea in his mind. If the idea
evoked in the hearer’s mind corresponds with the idea in the speaker’s mind,
communication is achieved. When a spoken word signifies the same idea to
both a speaker and hearer they share a common experience

Locke is skeptical about the achievement of communication in any given situation
because words are signs that signify ideas to the person who is using them. The
same word may mean one thing to a speaker and another thing to a hearer, and
yet, because they speak and hear the same word, they may think that they have
achieved communication, when, in fact, they haven’t. Although the transmission
and reception of the same word is necessary, it is not sufficient for
communication. For successful communication, the separate ideas in the minds
of speaker and hearer must correspond.

"The chief end of language in communication being to be understood, words serve not well for
that end, neither in civil nor philosophical discourse, when any word does not excite in the hearer
the same idea which it stands for in the mind of the speaker." (Locke, III, IX, 4)

For Locke communication is the correspondence of ideas in the minds of two or
more communicants. He allowed for a rather loose correspondence of ideas in
everyday "civil" discourse, but in "philosophical" discourse a higher standard of
exact correspondence was needed. Since individuals can choose their own
meanings for the words they use, it would seem that the likelihood of
communication ever being achieved is slim to none. However, Locke allowed that
common use, "the rule of propriety," was of some aid in settling the significations
of words.

“The same Liberty also, that Adam had of affixing any new name to any Idea, the same has
anyone still… but only with this difference, that in Places, where Men in Society have already
established a Language amongst them, the signification of words are very warily and sparingly to
be alter’d.” (Locke, III, VI, 51)

The words of a common language are correlated, more or less, with the same
ideas in the minds of those who use them. The word "dog" is likely to evoke the
same idea of a domesticated animal that has four legs, a tail and barks, in the
minds of those who speak English. Therefore, we can use words to share our
ideas with other users of the same language, when and if the ideas in the minds
of speaker and hearer correspond. For Locke the rules of a common language
are a weak social force, but a force nonetheless. You can bend the rules; you
can break them, but if you want to communicate with others, you are obliged to
follow them.

Locke’s theory of communication is as radically subjective as his theory of
knowledge, but he shows that linguistic signs and the ideas they signify can
make shared experience possible. When communication is achieved, the words
transmitted by a speaker and those received by a hearer signify ideas of the
same type in the minds of the two communicants. People who speak a common
language can exchange a few words and share their experiences with each
other. Human speech, using sounds to evoke thoughts, is indirect and unreliable,
but is the best means of communication available to man.
John Durham Peters' credits John Locke with creating the modern use of the
term "communication." By connecting it primarily with "language and thought,"
Locke’s use of the term was innovative. (Peters, p. 80) For Locke, language is
the means of making our thoughts accessible to others, and communication, the
correspondence of ideas in the minds of communicants, is the end. In this sense,
Locke was the first modern proponent of the sharing model of communication.

The Ambiguities of “Communication”

I may have simplified the transmission and sharing models of communication in
the previous discussion. Perhaps, no one today actually conceives of human
communication in terms of these models as I have presented them. Nonetheless,
I do believe that they represent, more or less, the two major perspectives on
human communication that have dominated discussions of this phenomenon for
the past fifty years.

Adherents of the transmission model would have us believe that communication
is signaling, while supporters of the sharing model would have us believe that it is
a shared experience. There are, I believe, two principal differences between
these two perspectives. First, signals are material and experiences are mental
entities. Secondly, signaling is a process, and a shared experience is a product.
As Briankle G. Chang claimed, the term “communication” is semantically
unstable, and I believe it is these ambiguities that make it unstable. Resolving
them is a necessary step in developing an adequate concept of communication.

Mental-Material Ambiguity
Signals and experiences belong to two different categories. Signals are material,
or physical, entities, and experiences are mental, or psychological, entities.
Physical entities are public; they are accessible to anyone in a position to
observe them. Psychological entities are private; they are directly observed only
by the person who has them in mind.

In fact, many of the terms used in the field of communication, such as:
"message", "word", "sign", "sound", etc., are used to refer to both material and
mental objects or events. As a result, these terms conflate, or fuse together, the
categories of material and mental. When one term is used to apply to both
mental and material phenomena it creates mental-material ambiguity. For
example, "sound" is used to refer to a pattern of acoustic waves, a physical
entity, and to an auditory sensation, a psychological entity that one experiences
when a pattern of acoustic waves strikes one's ear drums. A sentence such as,
"Sound travels at 1100 feet per second.", uses the word "sound" to refer to a set
of material signals. "I heard the sweet sound of her voice.", uses "sound" to refer
to a set of mental sensations. So, in some contexts the word “sound” is
ambiguous. In ordinary discourse the distinction between signals and sensations
is seldom of any importance, but in theoretical discourse about communication
the distinction is critical. I believe mental-material ambiguity is one important
source of the semantic instability that keeps alive the conflict between the
physical transmission model and the psychological sharing model.

According to Michael Reddy, the English language tilts the common sense use of
“communication” to the material side of this controversy. In his now classic
article, The Conduit Metaphor, Reddy claims that our common sense concept of
human communication is seriously flawed because it treats the psychological
elements of communication as if they were physical elements. (Reddy in
Metaphor and Thought, p. 287) This flawed concept, which Reddy calls the
"conduit metaphor," represents language as a conduit through which thoughts
and feelings are transmitted from one person to another. Thoughts and feelings,
of course, are psychological entities; they cannot be sent through a pipe or tunnel
from one person to another.

The conduit metaphor is based on a false analogy between transportation and
communication. Words of a language do not transport ideas from one person to
another. The conduit metaphor, which is Reddy’s version of the transmission
model, is a systematic way of using the English language to talk or write about
human communication as if it were exclusively a physical process. Reddy
considered this an erroneous model of human communication, but he claimed
that it is built into the syntactic and semantic structure of the English language.
Therefore, users of English tend to use this model whenever they attempt to talk
or write about human communication.

"This model of communication objectifies meaning in a misleading and dehumanizing fashion. It
influences us to talk and think about thoughts as if they had the same kind of external,
intersubjective reality as lamps and tables." (Reddy in Metaphor and Thought, p. 308)

For example, the term "poem" has two different senses that arise from its
psychological and physical referents. Users of the English language typically
overlook this mental/material ambiguity when this one word is used to symbolize
both types of referents. The physical sense, poem1, is used to refer to marks on a
piece of paper, or the words produced by the utterance of a speaker. The mental
sense, poem2, is used to refer to thoughts, feelings and sensations in the minds
of the poet or in the members of her audience. There are as many poem 2's as
there are poets, readers or listeners, but there is only one text, one poem 1.
Therefore, Reddy insists, it is important to make a principled distinction between
poem1 and poem2. The failure to make this distinction results in a serious
misconception of human communication.

Blurring the distinction between the physical form of words and their
psychological content has serious social implications. The conduit metaphor
leads us to believe that thoughts and feelings exist in words on a page or in
images on a disc. Then, it is easy to take the next step and believe that libraries
of books, photographs, tapes, films, etc. are the depositories of our culture.
However, there are no human experiences in the little black marks in books or in
the grooves of discs. Should a human being observe these marks, they may
evoke patterns of thought and feeling in her mind, that is, if she has learned the
language and has the background knowledge to enable her to infer the meanings
of the words and images she perceives. Human culture does not exist in the
artifacts of communication. It must be constructed anew in the minds of each

"The only way to preserve culture is to train people to rebuild it, to 'regrow' it, as the word "culture"
itself suggests, in the only place it can grow - within themselves." (Reddy in Metaphor and
Thought, p. 310)

If thoughts and feelings are experiences, psychological phenomena, and you
can't put them into the physical signals we produce when we speak, how do our
thoughts move from one person to another? The simple answer; they don't.
Thoughts and feelings cannot move out of the mind of the person who has them.
How, then, do we let others know what thoughts and feelings we have in our
minds? To get to an answer, we have to first discard the transmission model as
a plausible model of human communication.

The lesson to be learned from Reddy’s article is that every occurrence of human
communication has both mental and material levels of structure. There are
thoughts and feelings, or experiences that occur at the psychological level in
individual minds. At the physical level there are patterns of energy, or signals,
that we produce and perceive by speaking, or typing on the keyboard of a
computer. Signals and experiences are both necessary for human
communication, and to conflate these two types of entities is to make
communicative transactions inexplicable. We must recognize that communication
is a psycho-physical phenomenon.

Mental-material ambiguity has its roots in philosophical differences between
idealism and materialism. The transmission of signals and shared experiences fit
into well-worn slots of the dichotomy between material and mental reality. It may
well be that these two alternative notions of human communication are simply the
product of a continuing tug of war in western philosophy between the idealists’
and the materialists’ perspectives.

Process-Product Ambiguity

The second type of ambiguity arises from the rules of English grammar. The
grammatical rules of English license ambiguous uses of the verb "communicate."
For example, when we add the suffix "ation" to the verb to transform it into the
noun "communication," we discover a thick layer of grammatical ambiguity. The
suffix may refer to: (1) action or process of, (2) state, condition or quality, or (3)
result or product of. The transmission model claims that communication is (1), an
action or process. The sharing model claims that communication is (3) a result or
product. Process-product ambiguity is the second source of the semantic
instability of the term “communication.”

I believe the problem here is that there a logical difference between the two
models. The verb "communicate" is a different logical type in each one. In the
transmission model, "communicate" is a task verb. In the sharing model
"communicate" is an achievement verb. Gilbert Ryle described the distinction
between task and achievement verbs in The Concept of Mind.

"One big difference between the logical force of a task verb and that of a corresponding
achievement verb is that in applying an achievement verb we are asserting that some state of
affairs obtains over and above that which consists in the performance, if any, of the subservient
task activity." (Ryle, p.150)

Task verbs represent actions, but achievement verbs represent the outcomes of

"The differences, for example, between kicking and scoring, treating and healing, hunting and
finding, clutching and holding fast, listening and hearing, looking and seeing, traveling and
arriving, have been construed, if they have been noticed at all, as differences between co-
ordinate species of activity or process, when in fact the difference are of quite another kind."
(Ryle, p.149)

For example, when a football player catches the ball in the end zone and scores
a touchdown, he doesn't perform two different actions. Rather, he performs an
action, catching, that has a result, scoring. "To catch the ball", refers to the
behavior of the player. "To score a touchdown, "refers to the value of that
behavior in the scoring scheme of the game.X "Catching" is a task verb in Ryle's
scheme, while "scoring" is a verb of achievement. Pairs of task and achievement
verbs, such as run and win a race, treat and cure a disease, catch a pass and
score a touchdown; express a means-end relationship between an act and its

An achievement verb refers to a result, or state of affairs, over and above the
performance of a task. To say that someone won the race, or cured the infection
implies that he ran in the race, or treated the infection, but it says something
more - that he was successful, that he achieved the aim or end of the activity.

With the transmission model, communication is a process, or activity. It performs
the task of transmitting signals from one person to another. With the sharing
model, communication is an achievement, an outcome or product of the sending
and receiving process. The achievement is the mutual participation in or the
sharing of the meaning of a message sent and received. Signaling may or may
not result in communication; shared experiences may or may not be the result of
signaling, but the phenomenon we refer to as "communication" requires both
signaling and shared experiences.
We can resolve the ambiguities of communication by recognizing that the verb
“to communicate” represents a concept that encompasses both the means and
the end of a social act. One communicates by creating a social, mental product,
a shared experience, by means of signaling, a material process. In Ryle’s terms,
signaling is the subservient task activity that results in the achievement of a
shared experience. The transmission and sharing models of communication
represent the different parts of this means/end concept. It appears that a more
comprehensive model of communication should incorporate features of both the
transmission and sharing models.


Communication with others is a ubiquitous part of modern life, and innovations in
signaling technology seem to continuously expand our opportunities to
communicate with more people, at more times and in more places than any other
era of human history. Living in an age of communication, we should have a well
developed, well accepted concept of communication, but the fact is we have too
many ill-defined concepts. The result is widespread confusion about the nature of

The aim of this article was to examine two popular models of communication, the
transmission and sharing models, to see if either one could provide a conceptual
framework for a more general model of communication, one that could apply to
both animal and human communication. After examining both models it seems
clear that choosing either one is clearly a false choice. These two alternatives are
not in opposition to each other. Each one represents only part of a larger whole.
The transmission and reception of signals is the means and a shared experience
is the end of every communicative transaction. The communication theorist does
not have to choose between the two models. Rather, he or she must include
elements of both in a new model of communication.

The apparent opposition of the two models is sustained by several ambiguities in
contemporary concepts of communication. The mental/material ambiguity can be
resolved by recognizing that communication is a psycho-physical interaction of
two or more individuals. The process/product ambiguity can be resolved by
recognizing that communication is both an action and an achievement. We can
characterize the phenomenon of communication, therefore, as a social
interaction in which the participants use a physical means, the transmission and
reception of signals, to achieve a social-psychological end, the creation of a
shared experience. This means/end conception of communication can be
summarized in the following working definition.

Communication is the creation of a shared experience in the minds of two or
more individuals by the transmission and reception of signals.
Signals and shared experiences are essential elements of communication. This
is, perhaps, obvious in human communication. However, it may sound odd to
think of individual animals with minds sharing experiences. I think we can
overcome that oddity by considering “mind” and “experience” in very broad,
general terms.

I will use the term “experience” to refer to the internal mappings, or mental
representations, that occur in the nervous systems of all creatures with a brain as
they interact with their surroundings. Experiences can be stored in the
individual’s memory and used again and again to organize and direct its
behavior. Experiences may be conscious or nonconscious. Humans have both,
but it is likely that most animal species only have nonconscious experiences.

Brains map the surrounding world, the bodies within which they exist, and they
also map their own mapping. When the representational patterns become
sufficiently complex minds emerge to manage the process. As Antonio Damasio
puts it in Self Comes to Mind, “…countless creatures for millions of years have
had active minds happening in their brains…” (Damasio, p. 17)

With these general notions of “mind” and “experience,” it may be possible to
apply the working definition to both animal and human communication. There is,
however, another problem with this definition. Signals are patterns of physical
energy, and experiences are mental representations. It is not clear how the two
are related in a communicative transaction. For example, we don’t experience
speech signals. Rather, we experience the verbal gestures we make when we
speak and the sounds we hear when words are spoken. We only know about
speech signals from our general knowledge of acoustic phenomena.

There seems to be something missing in the above working definition of
communication. Therefore, it is only a first step toward developing a general
concept of communication. Before going further, however, it may be helpful to
take a closer look at signals and experiences in the next several articles.

Statton Rice

Black, Max. Models and Metaphors. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962.

Carey, James W. Communication as Culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

Chang, Briankle G. Deconstructing Communication. Minneapolis: University of
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Damasio, Antonio. Self Comes to Mind. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010

DeVito, Joseph A. Communication Concepts and Processes. Englewood Cliffs:
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Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Noth, Winfried. Handbook of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.

Peters, John Durham. Speaking into the Air, A History of the Idea of
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Pierce, J. R. Symbols, Signals and Noise the nature and process of
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Reddy, Michael J., The Conduit Metaphor- a case of frame conflict in our
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Ryle, Gilbert. The Concept of Mind. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1961

Shannon, Claude E. and Warren Weaver. The Mathematical Theory of
Communication. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1949.

The Columbia Encyclopedia. Sixth Edition, 2001-07, 26 May 2009

Trenholm, Sarah. Human Communication Theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J:
Prentice-Hall, 1986.

Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Co., 1954.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords, A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1992.

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