How does one person actually communicate to another person? In fact all communication follows from shared symbolic codes in the brain. Thoughts are never directly communicated between people. All communication vehicles are art—speaking, writing, music, painting, dance, theater, design, and psychotherapy. Art is a partial trance through which one expressively projects a human story through a symbolic brain code—art is artifice. The synthetic ability of my expressive image-ination (the making of images in the brain) allows me, within the frames of an art form, to project human drama. Your receptive imagination can take in my drama through the frame of the art form.
Communication and art are one and the same thing. Art frames are high-end levels of symbolic codes. The particular structure of the symbolic code differs for each art form. Art forms, as frames of experience, are not visible. They produce the experience, through artifice, of direct communication. Each art form utilizes a partial trance and specific codes for the communication of the human narrative. Thoughts are transmitted expressively through brain codes and are received receptively through a shared art code. If you and I don’t share the codes, we cannot communicate. If you speak only French and I speak only English we don’t share a common code. If we both use the western musical scale—whole tone, whole tone, half tone, whole tone, whole tone, whole tone, half tone, I can play music and you can receive the feeling communication from me. If the music is an Indian raga in a different scale, then you will not receive the communication. It will sound like noise or dissonance.
The human narrative is composed of people in story—in relationship, in solitude, in activity, in thinking, and feeling states. The stuff of the human story is universal to all of us. If you and I share the specific symbolic codes of an art form, I can go into a partial trance and transmit a story from my image-ination expressively. And you can go into a partial trance to take it in receptively, and feel it, and experience it.
I travel around in the shifting trance states of my bubble of consciousness, and you travel around in yours. The actual boundary between us is total and impenetrable. There is no such thing as a magical direct transmission of thoughts from one person to another. Communication between us only and always transpires through art forms. This is the vehicle that allows my image-ination to reach your image-ination, despite our total separateness.
Each of us lives the personas and stories of our inner plays within our impenetrable bubble of consciousness. How in the world do I communicate the contents of this blog to you? How do you make sense of what I write? Let’s look at the writing and reading of this blog as an example of an art form for communication. What processes are involved in our apparent mind meld? You are reading this blog that I wrote from my image-ination. Both of us have established the high-end, symbolic language and reading/writing mappings in our cortexes for phonetic writing in English. I translate a bunch of ideas, images, and stories from my image-ination into a visual symbolic code of twenty-six letters. My work gets coded as these black symbols printed onto this white page. You visually take in this coded information and give it form by translating it back into ideas, images, and story by your image-ination.
The movie I express comes from within me. The movie you receive comes from within me. You recreate my movie in your consciousness. I project (throw outside of me) the contents of my consciousness, my image-ination, through the letter code onto this page. You introject (throw inside) the contents of my consciousness by giving form, through reading, to the code on your end. You go into a reading trance. You see and hear my movie. When you are reading, you are in a partial trance and are mostly unaware of the world around you. Your focused attention is absorbed in the reading world. Your process of reading is your receptive re-creation from my expressive creation. The formed images, ideas, and story you see and hear in your mind are created by your image-ination. You have given me the control, through the writing/reading code, for giving form to my content by your image-ination.
Phonetic writing of European languages uses very different cortical mappings from the ideogram writing of Asian languages. They are completely different codes. Phonetic writing, which combines combinations of twenty-six letter symbols, stands for units of sound (phonemes) to symbolize the sound of syllables and words—“fo-ne-tic ri-ting.” The brain mappings for this symbolic code utilize correspondences between visual and auditory and language processing. Chinese and Japanese writing is very different. It uses ideograms composed of thousands of symbolic visual representations of the thing or concept themselves. Ideograms do not represent the sound of words, per se, in a particular language. They represent the image of a thing or the idea that has no reference to sound or language. The symbols are purely visual. The ideogram for girl is a symbolic picture of a girl. The ideogram for cat is a symbolic picture of a cat. Consequently, if Chinese ideograms were identical to Japanese ideograms (which they’re not, although there is some overlap), then a Chinese author could write a book and it could be read by a Japanese reader. He would supply the language and sound of Japanese to these purely visual non-language-specific symbols. A Japanese reader could read the book of a Chinese writer, but the two of them could not talk to each other. We do something similar with our numeric symbols. Our numbers stand for the thing, not in a language. I see a “3,” and it is “three.” A Frenchman sees the same “3,” and it is “trois.
Robert A Berezin, MD is the author of Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain