Yesterday’s Thoughts

March 2, 2006

Communication usually fails, except by accident

My rule of thumb for analyzing an argument was anticipated by Wiio1 in the late 70’s.

My argument:

The likelihood of the conclusion of an argument being true is the product of the likelihoods of each statement used in reaching that conclusion being true.

Wiio’s conclusion from an inspection of each statement takes this my argument to its logical conclusion:

Communication usually fails, except by accident

Given that there are always a large number of individual statements in any communication, each of which has some probablity of not being transmitted accurately, successful communication is very rare.

What to do? Expanding the argument makes the problem worse. There are potential misunderstanding at every step, so the probability of successful communication becomes lower and lower.

The listener needs to challenge the speaker. If the listener accepts what the speaker says, then they have misunderstood.


1The link is to a translation and commentary on Wiio’s Laws by Jukka Korpela. In spite of, or perhaps because of, everything else I say, here, Korpela’s presention of makes them very clear. (From Law 3, that implies that I am not really understanding them.)

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