030907 – Rationality and communication

030907 – Rationality and communication

Following up on Watzlawick, et al., Pragmatics of Human Communication I find that in later discussions by the “communications” community, there is an unspoken assumption that communication has rational motivation.  For example, quoted from Dirk Schouten, “Real Communication with Audiovisual Means”


Habermas divides speech acts (what someone says) into two principal categories.  There are Strategic actions (speech acts which make people do things) and Communicative Actions (speech acts which are designed to arrive at a common understanding of a situation).


Speech acts, according to Habermas contain a propositional and a performative part (like Watzlawick and Austin, he believes that when we say something we also do something.) The propositional part indicates a state of affairs in reality. For example: “The average income of farmers in South America is just 87 dollars per annum”. The performative part implies or indicates how the propositional part needs to be understood (in this case “The speaker thinks this is disgraceful”). In that way one can categorize or question something. An audience can respond: “I think that is disgraceful, too.” Or: “Why do you think it disgraceful?” Or: “I see what you mean, but…”

In fact a speaker, by saying something, not only says something that is true to her, but also says: “I claim the communicative right towards you to have an opinion and to say it to you in this defined situation”. The performative part defines the boundaries of the communicative action. It marks out the (communicative) context of the (propositional) content. It makes clear which relation the speaker wants to make to their audience. As long as the participants are aimed at reaching mutual agreement, a communicative situation is shaped, because the speaker makes three “validity claims” with their speech act:

1. They claim that they are speaking the truth in the propositional part of the speech act;
2. They claim normative legitimacy concerning the communicative act in a smaller sense (the performative part); and
3. They claim truthfulness/authenticity concerning the intentions and emotions they express.

These validity claims the speaker makes can, in principle, be criticized, although in practice this possibility is often blocked. In communicative action the hearers can (if they wish) demand reasons from the speakers to justify their validity claims.

The problem with this analysis is that the process of originating a communication is one of shaping and selection of behaviors based on internal models and internal states.  The “intention” of behavior is to add a pattern that will move the shape of the current pattern towards a projected pattern which is created by feeding the current pattern and the “intended” behavior into the optimal projection pattern.  Huh?

Let’s try this again.  There is a current pattern of activation.  It is a combination of

existing patterns


patterns created by external receptors, enteroceptors, and proprioceptors


patterns created for and by effectors (motor patterns, behaviors)


modulating influences (generally neurochemicals)

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