Sitting with FIre

Four Day. Overslept this morning. Too much grrr brrr yesterday in Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill. And I tried out a new Linux podcast this morning and since only one sample, too sparse to comment.

So I fall back to stored ideas and in this instance take up a communication from a colleague, Magnetic Inductance Force, who in turn passed on a request from a colleague of his, Displacement Current Magnetic Field, that I consider the matter of conversations. His postulate, which I have edited a bit for my comfort of presentation, is

“older folk’s conversations tends to lean toward the weather, ails and their medications; younger people tend to discuss girls, sex, sports and education; not necessarily in that order.  It occurred to me that when we get older our priorities drastically change in that we have already been educated enough to know all we need to know about girls, sex moves very close to the bottom of our priority lists and we realize that we can no longer be able to hit a baseball out of the park and win the World Series or catch the winning touchdown pass and win the Super Bowl.

If the Simple Country Physicist is open to suggested subject matter, I think he could expound on his and come up with an extremely interesting, if not entertaining synopsis.”

I ain’t a quantum inclined to think that I can do the word-that-may-not-be-said (at least by me,) be entertaining, nor synopsize but I am always happy to mumble. Having asked for a blot on conversation, we shall see where this lepus leads us (with apologies to that grand old mathematian Lewis Carrol.)

My first surprise in starting this blot was from the dictionary. I often consult the dictionary when I begin a blot to see what the Bogs think a word means. In this case, the Nerd got a bit of a culture shock. The first definition was:

Conversation  n. [OE. conversacio (in senses 1 & 2), OF. conversacion, F. conversation, fr. L. conversatio  frequent abode in a place, intercourse, LL. also, manner of life.]   1. General course of conduct; behavior. [Archaic]      [1913 Webster]

while the second was:

conversation  n 1: the use of speech for informal exchange of views or ideas or information etc.

which indicates that the common usage of the word has changed in the last century from behavior to information exchange. The surprise was that I was comfortable with the latter but not with the former. But I found this fit in with what I knew about people mechanics.

Humans, as in homo sapiens, have been around about 0.2 MY. There is considerable debate as to (a) whether homo neandertalensis had language, and (b) when sapiens developed language between 0.2 MYA and 50 KYA when the Great Cultural Explosion occurred.  We do have some indications from observation of recently existing Hunter-Gatherer bands that language is fundamentally human. [Link] Borrowing from moderately trustable journalism,

She (the researcher) found that the daytime conversations focused mainly on complaints and criticisms about social relationships, economic concerns, jokes, and included a small percentage of stories. Evening conversations around campfires, however, centered on storytelling. “At night, people really let go, mellow out and seek entertainment. If there have been conflicts in the day, they overcome those and bond. Night conversation has more to do with stories, talking about the characteristics of people who are not present and who are in your broader networks, and thoughts about the spirit world and how it influences the human world. You have singing and dancing, too, which bonds groups,” . Wiessner (the researcher) suggests that imaginative firelight activities spurred the cultural and social evolution of human ancestors.

The latter speculation seems trivial. From my observations, something that any good scientists is incapable of suspending, even under threat of discorporation, conversation is largely about social dynamics. Who gets to speak first indicates the nature of the group. What gets discussed and what branches spring up similarly.

In my experience, conversations mostly takes two forms

  1. What have I/You/We done/experienced/want to do; and
  2. What do I want to know that I am ignorant of.

The latter has a spectrum from gossip to actual useful information.

So, at least at this superficial level, it seems that Displacement Current Magnetic Field’s query is approximately answered that the two types of conversation are the same (within the biform taxonomy) but differ in content because the two age cohorts have done/experienced/want to do different things.

This raises a question that has dogged the study of humans since at least the invention of history circa 500 BCE, which is more important, the commonalities or the differences. This is still, and likely will remain, a significant question. When I was a student in college, back when television was monochrome and dinosaurs graced the dinner table every Ice Cream Day, anthropology (and the other “social sciences”)were coming down off a high of generalization. The taxonomy of Fried-Strange was a useful tool for characterization and analysis of social organization. Since then it has largely been abandoned and spurned because of its generality and denigration of social individuality, the victim of social constipation. 

Should we recognize and respect individual differences? Of course, otherwise we have no friends and live in a Hobbesian social environment. But, as I believe Mandelbrot said (maybe?) “Counting grains of sand does not tell you very much about the shape of coastlines.”

The counterpoint to taxonomy of conversation is that I am interested neither in matters medicalist as discoursed by Bogs since it is vacant of cause and effect beyond the anecdotal nor in the sharing of pornography, either reproductive or athletic. What counts most in conversation is that it be with people you want to associate and exchange information with.