Not a blank slate

One of my greatest pleasures is when I come across someone, who is saying something I have been banging on about for years, but doing so with greater clarity and elegance than I have ever been able to manage.
My most recent experience of this is in an interview in Edge, where Dan Sperber,a French anthropologist, makes this point about human communication:
“Just as the human mind is not a blank slate on which culture would somehow imprint its content, the communication process is not a xerox machine copying contents from one mind to another. This is where I part company not just from your standard semiologists or social scientists who take communication to be a coding-decoding system, a transmission system, biased only by social interests, by power, by intentional or unconscious distortions, but that otherwise could deliver a kind of smooth flow of undistorted information. I also part company from Richard Dawkins who sees cultural transmission as based on a process of replication, and who assume that imitation and communication provide a robust replication system.”

and a little later
“From the point of view of the audience, a speaker is providing rich pieces of evidence, which we interpret in a context of shared background knowledge, drawing on the common cultural, on the local situation, on the ongoing conversation, and so on. You construct a complex representation helped by all these different factors. You to end up with something which will have been strongly guided, sometimes guided in an exquisitely detailed manner, by the communication, by the words used by the speaker, but which end up being a thought of your own, relevant to you, a recognition, to begin with, of what the speaker meant, from which you extract what is relevant to you.”

Read the whole interview. My sense is that the implications of this view of human communication are immense and worth pondering on for a while.