Damasio, Professor Antonio - Systems of communication and Inner speech
Type of Spiritual Experience
Communication is something common to many creatures, they just use different physical methods to us. My little dog makes all sorts of noises to communicate with us, he doesn’t just bark. We have vocal cords capable of quite complex noises, so we use them to talk, our dog doesn’t, but he tries nonetheless using sound and body language.
Writing and language are separate learned activities, but being able to communicate is a function with which we are born, we just have to find out how to use it.
In order to communicate we have to take our goals, the memory extract on which the communication is to take place or the perception, as well as any emotions that also need to be conveyed and turn it into an appropriate ‘communication’. If we want to use language, there is a further stage that involves taking the communication and turning it using the rules of language into words.
Language – that is, words and sentences – is thus a translation of something else, a conversion from non-linguistic images which stand for entities, events, relationships and inferences.
It sounds so simple, but the reality, as we know is hugely complex. According to the way we communicate we can give any number of different impressions.
That there is a system of communication separate from the learnt function of language, can be demonstrated when one sees what happens to patients with global aphasia. Professor Antonio Damasio studied patients with global aphasia, which is a major breakdown of all language faculties. Patients with this illness are unable to comprehend language whether auditorily or visually. In other words, they understand no speech when spoken to and they cannot read a single word or letter; they cannot even repeat a word or sound if you ask them to.
But, whilst it is out of the question to maintain normal conversation with a global aphasic, it is possible to communicate. Professor Damasio also found that this can be ‘richly and humanly, if only you have the patience to accommodate to the limited and improvised vocabulary of non linguistic signs the patient may develop’.
These findings also add an interesting perspective on the way learning takes place and tend to confirm the way I described memory being stored. It is fairly clear from this that learning is perfectly possible without language and that memory is not organised around language, but may well be organised around other images or symbols of a more universal nature. To a large extent, the learnt function of language enables us to translate thoughts into words and sentences, and words and sentences into thoughts.
A description of the experience
Professor Antonio Damasio - The Feeling of What Happens
There is no evidence that, in their awake and attentive minds, any words or sentences are being formed. On the contrary, there is much to suggest that theirs is a wordless thought process.