So You Think Your Life Was Wasted (27)

Learning to communicate

When we were babies, learning how to work the body machinery, one of the things we had to learn to do was to speak to the embodied presences around us. First came meaningless sounds, (and, sometimes, howls of frustration), then came baby talk, then came the ability to speak recognizable words and sentences and — in a word — communicate. As adults we rarely remember going through the process, but we all went through it.

What is easily forgotten is that besides learning to talk, we also had to learn to listen. That is, we had to learn to distinguish meaningful from meaningless sounds. We had to learn to recognize and categorize voice, tone, emotional nuance, etc. We learned to fill in the blanks when people used words we didn’t know, and often enough we heard correctly but misunderstood what we heard.

It was a lot to learn, but we learned it. Learning to communicate with the disembodied is much the same process. The major difference, as far as I can see, is that, learning it as adults, we typically don’t have as much confidence, or patience with our learning curve, as babies do.

Here’s an example of learning the process. Four years ago, my friend Hank Wesselman, knowing that I had contacted various historical personages, asked if I could ask Carl Jung about a specific letter from Max Zeller. The results of the experiment are instructive.

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