[Martin Taylor 2003.12.20.1351]
I'm not going to respond directly to other messages in this thread.
What I want to do is to outline my "Layered Protocol Theory" of
communication as a specialization of PCT. According to this view,
communication has no necessary connection with the use of language,
though in many circumstances, language is a convenient way to
The first thing to address is that there are many different cases,
involving at least three roles: Originator, Recipient, and Passive
onlooker (O, R, and P).
The Originator of a message has the intention to alter some
perception in the Recipient, whether or not that perception is a
controlled perception (meaning that the result is an action
perceptible to the Originator). In everyday language, the Originator
wants the Recipient to learn something or do something. There is no
requirement for the Originator to be able to achieve that goal. The
intent (i.e. an error in a controlled perception in the Originator
involving the Recipient) is enough, if the Originator acts to reduce
Also, O need not require R to perceive that a message is being
passed--indeed, in cases of deception it may be necessary for O to
obscure from R that there has been a message. The classic example is
in Shakespeare's Othello, when Iago drops Desdemona's handkerchief in
order that the Recipient, Othello, perceive (believe) that Desdemona
is unfaithful. It is crucial to Iago, that Othello not perceive that
a message is being passed.
For the Recipient, there are two possible conditions, one in which R
perceives O to have the intention to pass a message, and one in which
O does not. The first case has sub-cases: R may have a reference to
perceive O as being satisfied that the message has been correctly
passed (i.e., to be cooperative), or R may not have such a controlled
perception. If R does perceive (rightly or wrongly) that O indends to
send a message, R can try to act so as to perceive that O perceives
the message to have been correctly passed. This may require many
cycles of back-and-forth passing of supporting messages--a protocol.
In a cooperative dialogue, R is controlling a perception of how O
perceives the success of the communication. A non-cooperative R is
not controlling such a perception. I suppose R also could have a
reference level that O NOT believe that the communication was
successful. This, I would call anti-cooperative (but not
antagonistic). It's a kind of deception.
The third party, P, th Passive Observer, is in a different position.
P can observe what overtly passes between R and O, and can imagine
what each might perceive, but cannot act so as to test the accuracy
of the perceptions that result from the observations. Because of
this, a third party observing message passing may completely miss the
main message being cooperatively passed between O and R.
The Layered Protocol Theory is mainly about the cooperative case of
message passing, when both O and R believe that a message is being
passed, and both want the message to be passed successfully. But it
also covers the conditions when O passes the message without R's
knowledge that there is a message, and the case where R receives a
message that O did not intentionally send (as in the Bruce-to-Rick
"baiting" message that Rick received over the course of several
e-mails, but that Bruce never sent).
The last time I tried to expound LPT, it took several tens of pages,
which I don't intend to repeat. But what I would like to get across
is that the "layers" are like the levels of the PCT hierarchy, though
there isn't a one-to-one correspondence, and the number of levels
involved in any particular message is not fixed. The kinds of levels
involved when the medium of communication is language could be
described loosely as physical-sensory, elemental (i.e. phonemes or
letters), words and idiomatic phrases, clauses and sentences, theses,
and meanings (the intention of the communication as a whole). Don't
take those labels or the levels they describe too seriously. They are
only intended as possible examples.
In LPT, the concept of a "message" applies at each level of the
hierarchy, a message at one level being passed through the medium of
a dialogue (one or more messages passed) at the level below, all the
way to the lowest level of all. At the bottom is the physical medium
through which the effectors of each party influence the sensory
receptors of the other. At the top is the meaning -- the perception
the Originator is controlling by means of sending the message (or, in
the case of an unsent message, the Recipient's perception of the
Originator as controlling some perception by means of the message).
We call this "top level" message the "Primal Message."
A Primal message, such as O wanting R to have a deep understanding of
relativity Theory, can take years to pass using myriads of back and
forth dialogues at many lower levels, or it can take fractions of a
second (e.g., O wants R not to get hit on the head, and implements
the message by shouting "DUCK").
Now in the latter example, according to LPT theory, "DUCK" is not the
primal message, but it is a message at the level of understanding the
words. There's an intermediate level, even in this simple case, as
evidenced by the possibilitiy that R, instead of ducking, says
"Where? What kind of duck?" The word is understood, but the meaning
of the word is not, and it is through the meaning that the action
that constitutes the successful passage of the primal message is
accomplished. And there is a level below. Imagine that R is
monolingual Korean. The sounds of "D-U-K" may be perfectly
intelligible, but the word is not.
So even in this simple case, we can identify several levels of
abstraction, each of which can lead to queries from R back to O
(themselves messages) as to O's intention at that level. Those
queries can be answered in ways that help O to understand the message
at the level of the query. "Did you say Duck or Luck?" "Did you mean
me to drop my head or to look for the flying bird?" "Could you repeat
that in Cantonese?". These loops of back and forth messages
("dialogues", in LPT) correspond to the environmental feedback loop
in PCT, complicated by the fact that the environment consists of
another control hierarchy. The loops are the "Protocols" of the
Layered Protocol Theory, because at each level, there are socially
agreed ways to structure the dialogue. (For a discussion of social
agreement, look at an earlier thread).
Another important concept in LPT is that a message may support more
than one higher-level message at the same time, just as in PCT, an
act may be part of the control of more than one higher-level percept.
To the Recipient, "DUCK" may also carry the message "The Originator
cares about me." The Originator may or may not have intended to send
that second message. And incidentally, failure of O to say "Duck" may
result in R being hit on the head, which may cause R to receive the
message "O does not care about me." Inaction can send a message, just
as action can.
When we come around to "Words that Hurt" we have to consider the
different cases of communication, and what it means to be hurt. I
distinguish hurt from pain. Pain, I see as a perceptible symptom of
hurt, but one can be hurt without pain. There is the (probably
apocryphal) story of the Duke of Wellington and his aide on horseback
in some battle. A cannon ball whizzed between them. The Duke looked
down, and said "By God, Major, your leg's been shot off." The aide
looked down at his leg, and said "By George, Sir, so it has." I'd say
he was hurt, but without pain. In previous exchanges, I've defined
hurt as a reduction in ability to control, and I still think that's a
We talked about different ways words can reduce one's ability to
control earlier in the thread. I just wanted here to point out that
messages can be received without being sent, just as they can be sent
without being received. And messages received that were not sent can
hurt just as much as can messages deliberately intended to hurt, even
when (as with Iago's handkerchief trick) the Recipient does not know
that any message was sent. Consider the effect of O not saying
"Duck," causing R to perceive "O does not care about me." R loses the
possibility of affecting O's action by disturbing O's perception of
R's well-being. It hurts.
I expect this all comes across as rather garbled. If it's of any
interest to anyone, a much longer exposition (50 times longer!) was
in the PCT issue of IJHCS. Maybe that's less garbled.