Trying to represent the communication channels and dynamics of relationships with any reasonable degree of accuracy and richness is quite challenging. I tend to view each human walking around as an encapsulation of the world in human form – at least that part of the learned behaviors and knowledge that any given human has managed to absorb into their mind through learning and then retain and be able to use. The complexity of humans can be mind boggling and is certainly amazing. If you then set out to model their interactions, things become very interesting indeed. The simple fact that many humans seem to understand enough about other humans to please them, enrich their lives, be a part of groups, control them, etc., etc., etc. is truly a wonder.
I hope we can all visualize a human in the physical world. We are each a container of skin with skeleton, muscles and other tissue. fluids, … We can each move or be moved around in the world, and can interact physically with the things around us. When we can see/hear/smell/touch/taste each other and the things around us, we have an enormous range of “unassisted” options for communication. We are well constructed for, among other things, this type of physical communication. While highly complex, since we are “built for it,” it is sort of by definition the “simplest” form of communication. (Yes, I did just present you with a significant contradiction because it is indeed rich) While today we take our abstract spoken language for granted to a large degree, recall that this along with most of the devices we use to communicate are inventions that are not a part of the “original equipment.”
The Movie “Quest for Fire” is an interesting window into what that world might have been like. Trying to protect and then find new burning embers, and then discovering that another group had invented a way to actually start a fire – all without words. Another approach to get some idea of what it might have been like to communicate before there was language, the closest you are likely to come would be to imagine how you would communicate with a person who speaks a language that has very few common sound-meanings with your own language. What you do know, however, is that this person very likely also has words and language. This may actually make things harder for you, however, depending upon what you are trying to communicate. If you are hungry or thirsty figuring out which words correspond with these physical realities might well be a waste of time depending upon how hungry or thirsty you are of course. Simply simulating motions for drinking or eating would likely suffice and once you have eaten or quenched your thirst, you can sort out the words and perhaps those words would serve as the start of your very own Rosetta Stone.
Actually eating or drinking to show that you are hungry or thirsty – doing the thing you are trying to communicate – is (I would argue) the most direct form of communication – let’s call this “Direct Physical Communication (DPC).” The jump from this to trying to act out eating or drinking without actually eating or drinking to communicate need may seem like a very small one, but it is the fundamental basis for all abstracted, or indirect communications. I’ll refer to this simplest form of abstracted communication (for our purposes at least) “Indirect Physical Communication (IPC).” While the distinction here is a bit interesting, DPC is of limited use so we’ll likely refer mostly to IPC.
Our path could take several branches at this point, but now is very likely a good time to introduce the idea of communicating emotions. Emotions are not a physical reality to anyone except the person who is experiencing the emotion – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, affection, etc. Many people are very adept at communicating their emotions, and many people are also very adept at reading the emotions of others. This is where things START to get very interesting and challenging. At the most basic level the individual who is feeling the emotion can generally communicate that emotion or not – with some exceptions where things are more difficult to mask. Although the reasoning is somewhat different, we’ll call this “Direct Emotional Communication (DEC).” One of our learned behaviors is the acceptable display of emotion, which can involve masking, replacement and other techniques including of course the display of the actual emotion. Adding learned behaviors into this communication mix leads to “Indirect Emotional Communication (IEC).” It is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to know when one of these terms applies and the other doesn’t. For that reason, IEC will pretty much always be assumed and so IEC and EC (Emotional Communication) will be used interchangeably unless there is some reason to know and then DEC will be explicitly referenced.
As a reminder, we haven’t gotten to “language” or other devices to assist in communication as yet. It can be difficult for us to think from a different frame of reference, but I think it is important to keep in mind that language is not required for DPC, IPC, DEC or IEC (did I lose you?!). Before there was language, people didn’t know what they were missing and I’m sure many believed they were getting along as well as can be expected without it. In fact, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the impact of this communication level. We continue to use it extensively today in our interpersonal contact and how well we are trained to use it can have a large impact upon how successful we are.