Defined Words: sympathy, language, words
Animals adapted a method of communicating by expressing and mirroring emotions. The mirroring of emotions is also called sympathy and it is why you actually feel what someone else is feeling. Some animals, like wolves, honed their ability to pick up on emotions of others and it became their main method of communication.
Humans use emotions, but we’ve developed another form of communication: language. Early humans used sounds to represent more concrete ideas. For example, splashing your hand in water while saying the word “water” synapses the sound of the word with the physical feeling so you can recall the water when the word is spoken.
The use of verbal communication has obvious advantages. If you’re hunting and can call multiple commands to your group, you have a better chance of a successful hunt. Over time, the use of many more complicated sounds adapted due to the selective advantage of verbal communication. Our anatomy adapted more dexterous tongue and lip muscles to pronounce new words.
Words can be used as a reinforcement of something physical, but more importantly as a representation of something not currently present. Words allow us to teach lessons to our children after the events already happened. They allow us to create more vague concepts like good and bad; the stories that followed solidified those concepts. It was when our ancestors chose to record their words by use of symbols that we took our first leap toward eternity. Over generations, when the carbon of our bodies has been recycled again and again, the ideas we recorded can still live on as long as someone can interpret them.
Written language lets us communicate with far away people. At first, the speed of the message delivery was as fast as our transport animals, like birds and horses. With the Industrial Age, we could communicate faster with boats, trains and planes. We also discovered a way to send signals at the speed of light with radio, then TV and eventually the Internet! Today, we can communicate instantaneously around many parts of the world; I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job when it comes to communicating.
Communication allows humans to discuss much more complex subjects than what is right in front of them, but it’s inherently linear. When you begin a sentence, you are accessing vocabulary words, the muscle memory needed to make them, and constantly referring to your understanding of grammar in order to form the rest of that sentence.
Forming a single sentence requires conscious access to several areas of your brain simultaneously. Your consciousness is limited meaning fewer neural paths will fire elsewhere and you can focus on finishing that thought. This is why some people need to talk or write themselves through big decisions, communicating in words slows down their brain for long enough to unpack a single thought.
Communication becomes institutionalized when a language becomes official according to the authority of a region. The institutionalization of our current world language, which looks like it’s going to be English, is embodied by the official dictionary. However, our dictionary is constantly updating and modifying to keep up with the ever adapting myriad of common words and phrases. Languages, like species and societies, can adapt and change and die. Like the life cycle of stars or mountains, we only get to see a tiny snippet of those changes.