I was thinking about communication. In part because I think it disgusts Liz slightly that I don’t read books (bar reference stuff and even that sparingly). Which lead me onto thinking about what it is that books lack say, in comparison to face-to-face communication. The thing that interests me I guess is the fact that emotion can be expressed entirely separately of the actual sounding of the words you’re saying. Sure, obviously, whether you frown or smile while you say something, even if you say it in exactly the same tone has a major effect on how it’s interpreted. These kind of simple facial expressions are interpreted almost instinctively. This is of course entirely separate carrier of emotion which is the tone of your voice. Not only that, you have body language as another separate carrier.
But they’re not totally separate, the different channels kinda combine and mirror eachother to produce an easily recognisable emotional response in the person trying to interpret them. This is of course on top of the emotional content contained within the words themselves, if any.
Some of the stuff you can quite consciously control – your posture towards another person, raising your eyebrow, frowning etc. Simple things that are interpreted into fairly simple emotions. But your face gives you a much greater degree of control than that. You can see by the tiny differences in the position of people’s eyes almost exactly where they’re looking. You can smile a small amount, a large amount, glare briefly and then smile. You get what I’m trying to say.
What I’m saying is that some things you can fairly easily control in the top of your conscious mind, these are the things that people will control if they’re trying to hide a lie for example – looking you directly in the eye and not blinking, that kind of thing. But I think that there are probably quite a few levels of subtleties that may be controlled directly from the emotional centre of the brain. Basically what I’m saying is that I think that your face can betray what you really feel about what you’re saying, even if you’re deliberately trying not to reveal it. And there are all sorts things people don’t want to reveal, not because they’re specifically trying to conn you, maybe just that it’s more interesting if you can’t be immediately sure of a person’s feelings on a subject.
Okay, well I guess most people would probably agree with me so far. What I also reckon is that different people can interpret the subtleties of emotional responses to varying degrees of accuracy. Furthermore, different people betray different levels of their underlying (and uncontrollable) emotions. So some people are open and shut books and some are almost impossible to read. Some people can instantly know exactly what others are thinking and others don’t have a clue.
And I think that there are probably a couple of different ways the brain unconsciously interprets all the extra data along with the actual audio content of what you’re hearing. Either by familiarity, basically knowing someone so well that from previous experience you know that blah kind of smile actually means they’re covering up a deep sadness. Or just reading the data in the correct way and learning quickly from experience. Emotional expressions on the face are movements, which flow along with what we’re saying in time. Not only do you have information on the previous display of emotion, you have information on how it changed to become the new emotion of the next word, if you catch my drift. Basically, you get a lot of information per second and learning to use the information you’ve gained in the past for interpreting the present, with new people, quickly is I guess how people get good at just understanding pretty much everyone. Meet a new person, unconsciously analyse the emotions displayed against a set of knowns and assumptions (they’re probably not telling me they’re called Bob when they’re actually called Susan.. today is almost definitely a Sunday, etc) in your first few minutes of dialogue and use that to interpret data as you receive it in your conversation.
I’m fascinated by cold reading, especially when it’s done well. Anyone with a bit of pratice can trick a person into revealing information about themselves verbally without noticing, then repeat it back to them later only to receive comments of “You read my mind!”. Easier to do on stupid people, and obviously stupid people are more inclined to believe a cold reader is actually some kind of mystic. However, these kinds of tricks are fairly easily revealed, just record the conversation and analyse each fragment of dialogue from the person being ‘read’ to determine exactly what information may have been revealed.
However, I think fast interpretation of the unconscious ways individuals change their facial expressions, tone of voice and body language can play a big part in gathering information (almost certainly unconsciously) by the cold reader, together with verbal trickery and educated guesses, this can appear to work really well, even after later examination of dialogue transcripts. In fact, it may be that the cold reader learned to do these things unconsciously simply by having a lot of experience communicating with people and therefore actually believes / deludes themselves into believing that they actually are psychic.
Of course, cold reading can work quite well even without visual clues, via telephone and suchlike – but the purpose of this entry isn’t to disprove the psychic claims made by cold readers, I just think they’re an interesting example of how what I’m talking about can be applied to do quite impressive things if you’re devious or deluded enough. Cold reading is an act of deception on the part of the reader and I don’t really approve of the kinds of people who delude their customers into believing they can see the future. Being able to take fairly accurate guesses at people’s thoughts is often enough to tell them things which may seem like they come from the future. Thoughts often become events, especially when a stupid person visits, for example, a palm reader..
After a chat the palm reader tells the stupid person that they will start a relationship with someone they already know (insert description of person here), then the stupid person has the confidence to try a relationship with someone they already thought might be attracted to them, bang! prediction comes true. Using cold reading to produce a self-forfilling prophesy. And the palm reader is laughing all the way to the bank. The stupid person non-verbally (or semi-verbally without noticing) told the palm reader that they think their secretary is attracted to them (something the stupid person may themselves have read from the secretary via non-verbal communication) and everyone’s happy because it seems the palm reader read the future when the stupid person and their secretary get it on. Well, everyone’s happy and someone’s stupid.
Hey, maybe the palm reader actually thinks they’re in touch with some kind of psychic spirit. Delusion and over-confidence in one’s own abilities are powerful things.
And here’s another example that’s maybe a bit more common.. You’re sitting with your friends Alan and Claire. Claire is wearing a new wonder bra and her tits have doubled in size overnight, Alan notices this and so do you, but you don’t have any way to communicate that you share this observation to Alan because Claire is in the same room as both of you. You consider just looking at Alan and raising an eyebrow in Claire’s direction, but are concerned that Alan may be offended by your observation of Claire’s tits, and may think that you’re a bit of a dirty old bugger. However, you make eye contact with Alan and before any conscious non-verbal communication is exchanged, you see in Alan’s face that he’s noticed Claire’s tits too (unconscious non-verbal exchange), you therefore do not feel so bad about raising your eyebrow at Alan and thus confirm to eachother that you both think Claire’s tits are uncommonly massive. You smirk to eachother and neither of you finds the other too much of a dirty bugger because, of course, you both are.
I realised today how Jezz and I can get a pretty accurate idea of what the other is thinking just via a passing glance. That’s a major difference because I’m sure we couldn’t communicate quite as well while we were at school, but we know eachother a lot better now. Incidentally, no tits were involved in this realisation.
Lara and I used to have fairly lengthy conversations across a classroom without speaking and without often resorting to improvised sign language. I think it was one of the things that interested me most about her, Lara knows how to read people and knows how to influence people’s readings of her. She asked me once why guys always fall in love with her, and although I didn’t tell her this at the time, I don’t think I’d even noticed at the time; she can tell exactly who is attracted to her, and she deliberately manipulates the signals she sends back to the extent that her chosen victims become putty in her eyes. Maybe not the only factor influencing the fact that people are constantly falling madly in love with her, but a definitely a contributary factor. Helps that she’s quite attractive too.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that some people just completely fail to pick up on the subtlties. I’ve actually asked people about this, simple things like me noticing that someone is putting on a brave face when actually they’re really upset about something, then someone else who actually knows the person better just completely fails to notice anything’s wrong. Or someone’s having problems in their relationship, but isn’t openly saying anything about it, I notice just through the way they speak about their other half, but most people just don’t have a clue.
Not that I think I’m particularly amazing at reading people, I’ve just noticed that some people are particularly bad at it. Some people are just totally oblivious to what their friends are actually feeling, because it’s never expressed verbally. Usually a vague hunch, which may just be the result of one slightly uneasy smile at a choice moment in conversation will lead me to question further and find out that what I suspected to be true was indeed true.
I sometimes play a game with open book type people whereby they say something and I guess that there’s something they’re hiding, often even what it is, but decide not to let on that I’ve guessed. If you guess instantly and get it right, people realise it was obvious in their expression. If you guess, wait, then tell them you know a bit later, they assume you know them really well and love you all the more for it. People love to feel they’re understood, and if they don’t realise that they actually just made a mistake in conversation which betrayed their secret / hidden thing, they assume you worked it out just by *knowing* them. Stangely, open book type people also tend to be quite simple people and thus are quite happy to believe that you just know them so well you can basically read their mind. Mind you, I used to play this game with Lisa a lot, but she’s not really that simple and I do in fact know her really well and loved her dearly.
Liz and I play a slightly more complex game whereby she throws some subtle thing at me that I’ll either get or not get, most of the time I get it, but instead of just saying “Yeah, I get it”, I throw back a vaguely subtle acknowledgement which she’ll either get or not get (or not notice). I have a feeling she usually (if not always) notices and understands but likes to pretend she hasn’t, which usually confuses me royally, especially when I’m really wasted. This game works both verbally and semi-verbally and provides many hours of amusement. I assume Liz knows we’re actually doing this because well.. she’s not one of the stupid people, but y’know..
I like the little games Liz plays because they’re kinda like the games I sometimes play with people who’re usually totally oblivious. Liz is not oblivious and usually neither am I, so they tend to get batted backwards and forwards between us a few times before I usually drop the ball.
And now, after more than 36 hours without sleep, I feel I may be talking shit, so I’ll end this entry here.
.. Oh, I forgot to conclude what I was actually trying to say. Basically I think that words on their own can only express a certain amount of emotion, sure you can express emotion with just words, but I think to express anything that can be interpreted easily by the brain into a complex range of emotions you need something more. In conversation it’s all the non-verbal communication channels. There is another way that words can be interpreted almost as easily (or at least fluidly) and that’s with music. The music fills in the gaps that words lack when you take out facial expressions. A song is an interraction between the music and the lyrics and it’s the two working together, to me, in much the same way that verbal and non-verbal communication interweave to express something that’s interpreted in a fluid fashion by the brain.
The reason I don’t read anything other than reference books? Because to express the range of emotion that can be in a song or a conversation, purely in words takes either genius or a lot of words. I don’t have time for a lot of words and geniuses are few and far between.
This applies to me, not you, because I am not you, so I haven’t a clue what it’s like to be you, books may work for you, but I don’t have time for them. Fuck off and don’t hassle me.