What is a Model?
Limitations of Models
Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric
model of proof
Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation
Early Linear Models
The Shannon-Weaver Mathematical
Schramm’s Interactive Model, 1954
Helical Spiral, 1967
Westley and MacLean’s Conceptual
Mosaic Model, 1968
Ruesch and Bateson, Functional Model, 1951
Barnlund’s Transactional Model, 1970
Systemic Model of Communication, 1972
Brown’s Holographic Model, 1987
Although adapted and updated, much of the information in
this lecture is derived from C. David Mortensen, Communication: The Study of Human Communication (New York:
McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1972), Chapter 2, “Communication Models.”
is a Model?
Mortensen: “In the broadest sense, a model is a
systematic representation of an object or event in idealized and abstract form.
Models are somewhat arbitrary by their nature. The act of abstracting
eliminates certain details to focus on essential factors. . . . The key to the
usefulness of a model is the degree to which it conforms--in point-by-point
correspondence--to the underlying determinants of communicative behavior.”
“Communication models are merely pictures;
they’re even distorting pictures, because they stop or freeze an essentially
dynamic interactive or transactive process into a static picture.”
Models are metaphors. They allow us to see one
thing in terms of another.
Advantages of Models
They should allow us to ask questions.
“A good model is useful, then, in providing both general perspective and
particular vantage points from which to ask questions and to interpret the raw
stuff of observation. The more complex the subject matter—the more amorphous
and elusive the natural boundaries—the greater are the potential rewards of
They should clarify complexity.
also clarify the structure of complex events. They do this, as Chapanis (1961)
noted, by reducing complexity to simpler, more familiar terms. . . Thus, the
aim of a model is not to ignore complexity or to explain it away, but rather to
give it order and coherence.
They should lead us to new discoveries-most
important, according to Mortensen.
another level models have heuristic value; that is, they provide new ways to
conceive of hypothetical ideas and relationships. This may well be their most
important function. With the aid of a good model, suddenly we are jarred from
conventional modes of thought. . . . Ideally, any model, even when studied
casually, should offer new insights and culminate in what can only be described
as an “Aha!” experience.
Can lead to oversimplifications.
is no denying that much of the work in designing communication models
illustrates the oft-repeated charge that anything in human affairs which can be
modeled is by definition too superficial to be given serious consideration.”
like Duhem’s (1954), believe there is no value in models at all:
We can guard against the risks of oversimplification by
recognizing the fundamental distinction between simplification and
oversimplification. By definition, and of necessity, models simplify. So do all
comparisons. As Kaplan (1964) noted, “Science always simplifies; its aim is not
to reproduce the reality in all its complexity, but only to formulate what is
essential for understanding, prediction, or control. That a model is simpler
than the subject-matter being inquired into is as much a virtue as a fault, and
is, in any case, inevitable [p. 280].” So the real question is what gets
simplified. Insofar as a model ignores crucial variables and recurrent
relationships, it is open to the charge of oversimplification. If the essential
attributes or particulars of the event are included, the model is to be
credited with the virtue of parsimony, which insists-where everything is
equal-that the simplest of two interpretations is superior. Simplification,
after all, is inherent in the act of abstracting. For example, an ordinary
orange has a vast number of potential attributes; it is necessary to consider
only a few when one decides to eat an orange, but many more must be taken into
account when one wants to capture the essence of an orange in a prize-winning
photograph. abstracting. For example, an ordinary orange has a vast number of
potential attributes; it is necessary to consider only a few when one decides
to eat an orange, but many more must be taken into account when one wants to
capture the essence of an orange in a prize-winning photograph.
can miss important points of comparison.
Chapanis (1961), “A model can tolerate a considerable amount of slop [p.
Can lead of a confusion of the model between
the behavior it portrays
“Critics also charge that models are readily confused with reality. The problem
typically begins with an initial exploration of some unknown territory. . .
.Then the model begins to function as a substitute for the event: in short, the
map is taken literally. And what is worse, another form of ambiguity is
substituted for the uncertainty the map was designed to minimize. What has
happened is a sophisticated version of the general semanticist’s admonition
that “the map is not the territory.” Spain
is not pink because it appears that way on the map, and Minnesota
is not up because it is located near the top of a United
proper antidote lies in acquiring skill in the art of map reading.”
model designer may escape the risks of oversimplification and map reading and
still fall prey to dangers inherent in abstraction. To press for closure is to
strive for a sense of completion in a system.
The danger is that the model limits our awareness of
unexplored possibilities of conceptualization. We tinker with the model when we
might be better occupied with the subject-matter itself. In many areas of human
behavior, our knowledge is on the level of folk wisdom ... incorporating it in
a model does not automatically give such knowledge scientific status. The
majority of our ideas is usually a matter of slow growth, which cannot be
forced.... Closure is premature if it lays down the lines for our thinking to
follow when we do not know enough to say even whether one direction or another
is the more promising. Building a model, in short, may crystallize our thoughts
at a stage when they are better left in solution, to allow new compounds to
precipitate [p. 279].
can reduce the hazards only by recognizing that physical reality can be
represented in any number of ways.
Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric. Ehninger, Gronbeck and Monroe:
One of the earliest definitions of communication came from the Greek
philosopher-teacher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.).
is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of
persuasion” (Rhetoric 1335b).
speaker-centered model received perhaps its fullest development in the hands of
Roman educator Quintilian (ca. 35-95 A.D.), whose Institutio Oratoria was filled with advice on the full training of
a “good” speaker-statesman.
model of proof. Kinnevay also
sees a model of communication in Aristotle’s description of proof:
inheres in the content or the message itself
inheres in the audience
inheres in the speaker
Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation. Lloyd Bitzer
developed described the “Rhetorical Situation,” which, while not a model,
identifies some of the classical components of a communication situation (“The
Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1 (Winter, 1968):1-15.).
defines the “rhetorical situation” as “a complex of persons, events, objects,
and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be
completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation,
can so constrain human decision or action so as to bring about significant
modification of the exigence.”
See more of Bitzer's approach here.
Claude Shannon, an engineer for the Bell Telephone
Company, designed the most influential of all early communication models. His
goal was to formulate a theory to guide the efforts of engineers in finding the
most efficient way of transmitting electrical signals from one location to
another (Shannon and Weaver, 1949). Later Shannon
introduced a mechanism in the receiver which corrected for differences between
the transmitted and received signal; this monitoring or correcting mechanism
was the forerunner of the now widely used concept of feedback (information
which a communicator gains from others in response to his own verbal behavior).
This model, or a variation on it, is the most common
communication model used in low-level communication texts.
development. “Within a decade a host of other disciplines—many in the
behavioral sciences—adapted it to countless interpersonal situations, often
distorting it or making exaggerated claims for its use.”
as an approximation of the process of human communication.”
only slight changes in terminology, a number of nonmathematical schemas have
elaborated on the major theme. For example, Harold Lasswell (1948) conceived of
analyzing the mass media in five stages: “Who?” “Says what?” “In which
channel?” “To whom?” “With what effect?” In apparent elaboration on Lasswell and/or
Shannon and Weaver, George Gerbner (1956) extended the components to include
the notions of perception, reactions to a situation, and message context.
concepts of this model became staples in communication research
Entropy-the measure of uncertainty in a
system. “Uncertainty or entropy increases in exact proportion to the number of
messages from which the source has to choose. In the simple matter of flipping
a coin, entropy is low because the destination knows the probability of a
coin’s turning up either heads or tails. In the case of a two-headed coin,
there can be neither any freedom of choice nor any reduction in uncertainty so
long as the destination knows exactly what the outcome must be. In other words,
the value of a specific bit of information depends on the probability that it
will occur. In general, the informative value of an item in a message decreases
in exact proportion to the likelihood of its occurrence.”
Redundancy-the degree to which
information is not unique in the system. “Those items in a message that add no
new information are redundant. Perfect redundancy is equal to total repetition
and is found in pure form only in machines. In human beings, the very act of
repetition changes, in some minute way, the meaning or the message and the
larger social significance of the event. Zero redundancy creates sheer
unpredictability, for there is no way of knowing what items in a sequence will
come next. As a rule, no message can reach maximum efficiency unless it
contains a balance between the unexpected and the predictable, between what the
receiver must have underscored to acquire understanding and what can be deleted
Noise-the measure of information not
related to the message. “Any additional signal that interferes with the
reception of information is noise. In electrical apparatus noise comes only
from within the system, whereas in human activity it may occur quite apart from
the act of transmission and reception. Interference may result, for example,
from background noise in the immediate surroundings, from noisy channels (a
crackling microphone), from the organization and semantic aspects of the
message (syntactical and semantical noise), or from psychological interference
with encoding and decoding. Noise need not be considered a detriment unless it
produces a significant interference with the reception of the message. Even
when the disturbance is substantial, the strength of the signal or the rate of
redundancy may be increased to restore efficiency.”
Channel Capacity-the measure of the
maximum amount of information a channel can carry. “The battle against
uncertainty depends upon the number of alternative possibilities the message
eliminates. Suppose you wanted to know where a given checker was located on a
checkerboard. If you start by asking if it is located in the first black square
at the extreme left of the second row from the top and find the answer to be
no, sixty-three possibilities remain-a high level of uncertainty. On the other
hand, if you first ask whether it falls on any square at the top half of the
board, the alternative will be reduced by half regardless of the answer. By
following the first strategy it could be necessary to ask up to sixty-three
questions (inefficient indeed!); but by consistently halving the remaining
possibilities, you will obtain the right answer in no more than six tries.”
vi. Provided an influential
yet counter-intuitive definition of communication.
From Littlejohn, Stephen W. Theories of
Human Communication. Second Ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1983, p 116.
Information is a measure of uncertainty,
or entropy, in a situation. The greater the uncertainty, the more the
information. When a situation is completely predictable, no information is
present. Most people associate information with certainty or knowledge;
consequently, this definition from information theory can be confusing. As
used by the information theorist, the concept does not refer to a message,
facts, or meaning. It is a concept bound only to the quantification of
stimuli or signals in a situation.
On closer examination, this idea of
information is not as distant from common sense as it first appears. We have
said that information is the amount of uncertainty in the situation. Another
way of thinking of it is to consider information as the number of messages
required to completely reduce the uncertainty in the situation. For example,
your friend is about to flip a coin. Will it land heads up or tails up? You are
uncertain, you cannot predict. This uncertainty, which results from the entropy
in the situation, will be eliminated by seeing the result of the flip. Now let’s
suppose that you have received a tip that your friend’s coin is two headed. The
flip is “fixed.” There is no uncertainty and therefore no information. In other
words, you could not receive any message that would make you predict any better
than you already have. In short, a situation with which you are completely
familiar has no information for you [emphasis added].
vii. See Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of
Communication (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949). For a number of
excellent brief secondary sources, see the bibliography. Two sources were
particularly helpful in the preparation of this chapter: Allan R. Broadhurst
and Donald K. Darnell, “An Introduction to Cybernetics and Information Theory,”
Quarterly Journal of Speech 51 (1965): 442-53; Klaus Krippendorf,
“Information Theory,” in Communication and Behavior, ed. G. Hanneman and
W. McEwen (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975), 351-89.
Not analogous to much of human communication.
a fraction of the information conveyed in interpersonal encounters can be taken
as remotely corresponding to the teletype action of statistically rare or
Shannon’s technical concept of information is
fascinating in many respects, it ranks among the least important ways of
conceiving of what we recognize as “information.” “
formal—does not account for content
“Shannon and Weaver were concerned only with technical problems associated with
the selection and arrangement of discrete units of information—in short, with
purely formal matters, not content. Hence, their model does not apply to
semantic or pragmatic dimensions of language. “
Once, when he was explaining his work to a
group of prominent scientists who challenged his eccentric definition, he
replied, “I think perhaps the word ‘information’ is causing more trouble . . .
than it is worth, except that it is difficult to find another word that is
anywhere near right. It should be kept
solidly in mind that [information] is only a measure of the difficulty in
transmitting the sequences produced by some information source” [emphasis
Roszak points out, Shannon’s model has no mechanism for
distinguishing important ideas from pure non-sense:
In much the same way, in its new technical
sense, information has come to denote
whatever can be coded for transmission through a channel that connects a source
with a receiver, regardless of semantic content. For Shannon’s
purposes, all the following are “information”:
E = mc2
Thou shalt not kill.
I think, therefore I am.
Phillies 8, Dodgers 5
‘Twas brillig and the slithy roves did gyre
and gimble in the wabe.
And indeed, these are no more or less
meaningful than any string of haphazard bits (x!9#44jGH?566MRK) I might be
willing to pay to have telexed across the continent.
the mathematician Warren Weaver once put it, explaining “the strange way in
which, in this theory, the word ‘information’ is used .... It is surprising but
true that, from the present viewpoint, two messages, one heavily loaded with
meaning and the other pure nonsense, can be equivalent as regards information”
“Finally, the most serious shortcoming of the Shannon-Weaver communication
system is that it is relatively static and linear. It conceives of a linear and
literal transmission of information from one location to another. The notion of
linearity leads to misleading ideas when transferred to human conduct; some of
the problems can best be underscored by studying several alternative models of
Ehninger, Gronbeck and Monroe:
“The simplest and most influential message-centered model of our time came from
David Berlo (Simplified from David K. Berlo, The Process of Communication
(New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1960)):”
an adaptation of the Shannon-Weaver model.
after World War II because:
The idea of “source” was flexible enough to include
oral, written, electronic, or any other kind of “symbolic”
was made the central element, stressing the transmission of ideas.
model recognized that receivers were important to communication, for they were
notions of “encoding” and “decoding” emphasized the problems we all have
(psycho-linguistically) in translating our own thoughts into words or other
symbols and in deciphering the words or symbols of others into terms we
ourselves can understand.
Tends to stress the manipulation of the message—the
encoding and decoding processes
implies that human communication is like machine communication, like
signal-sending in telephone, television, computer, and radar systems.
even seems to stress that most problems in human communication can be solved by
technical accuracy-by choosing the “right” symbols, preventing interference,
and sending efficient messages.
even with the “right” symbols, people misunderstand each other. “Problems in
“meaning” or “meaningfulness” often aren’t a matter of comprehension, but of
reaction, of agreement, of shared concepts, beliefs, attitudes, values. To put
the com- back into communication, we need a meaning-centered
theory of communication.”
Wilbur Schramm (1954) was one of the first to alter the
mathematical model of Shannon and Weaver. He conceived of decoding and encoding
as activities maintained simultaneously by sender and receiver; he also made
provisions for a two-way interchange of messages. Notice also the inclusion of
an “interpreter” as an abstract representation of the problem of meaning.
(From Wilbur Schramm, “How Communication Works,” in The
Process and Effects of Communication, ed. Wilbur Schramm (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1954), pp. 3-26):
Schramm provided the additional notion of a “field of
experience,” or the psychological frame of reference; this refers to the type
of orientation or attitudes which interactants maintain toward each other.
is reciprocal, two-way, even though the feedback may be delayed.
Some of these methods of communication are very direct, as when you talk in direct
response to someone.
Others are only moderately
direct; you might squirm when a speaker drones on and on, wrinkle your nose
and scratch your head when a message is too abstract, or shift your body
position when you think it’s your turn to talk.
Still other kinds of feedback are completely indirect.
politicians discover if they’re getting their message
across by the number of votes cast on the first Tuesday in November;
commercial sponsors examine sales figures to gauge
their communicative effectiveness in ads;
teachers measure their abilities to get the material
across in a particular course by seeing how many students sign up for it the
message may have different meanings, depending upon the specific context or
“Fire!” on a rifle range produces one set of reactions-reactions quite
different from those produced in a crowded theater.
message may have different meanings associated with it depending upon the
culture or society. Communication systems, thus, operate within the confines of
cultural rules and expectations to which we all have been educated.
model designers abstracted the dualistic aspects of communication as a series
of “loops,” (Mysak, 1970), “speech cycles” (Johnson, 1953), “co-orientation”
(Newcomb, 1953), and overlapping “psychological fields” (Fearing, 1953).
Schramm’s model, while less linear, still accounts for
only bilateral communication between two parties. The complex, multiple levels
of communication between several sources is beyond this model.
Depicts communication as a dynamic process. Mortensen:
“The helix represents the way communication evolves in an individual from his
birth to the existing moment.”
“At any and all times, the helix gives geometrical testimony to the concept
that communication while moving forward is at the same moment coming back upon
itself and being affected by its past behavior, for the coming curve of the
helix is fundamentally affected by the curve from which it emerges. Yet, even
though slowly, the helix can gradually free itself from its lower-level
distortions. The communication process, like the helix, is constantly moving
forward and yet is always to some degree dependent upon the past, which informs
the present and the future. The helical communication model offers a flexible
communication process” [p. 296].
Mortensen: “As a heuristic device, the helix is
interesting not so much for what it says as for what it permits to be said.
Hence, it exemplifies a point made earlier: It is important to approach models
in a spirit of speculation and intellectual play.”
(1961) called “sophisticated play:”
The helix implies that communication is continuous,
unrepeatable, additive, and accumulative; that is, each phase of activity
depends upon present forces at work as they are defined by all that has
occurred before. All experience contributes to the shape of the unfolding
moment; there is no break in the action, no fixed beginning, no pure
redundancy, no closure. All communicative experience is the product of learned,
nonrepeatable events which are defined in ways the organism develops to be
self-consistent and socially meaningful. In short, the helix underscores the
integrated aspects of all human communication as an evolving process that is
always turned inward in ways that permit learning, growth, and discovery.
May not be a model at all: too few variables.
Mortensen: “If judged against conventional
scientific standards, the helix does not fare well as a model. Indeed, some
would claim that it does not meet the requirements of a model at all. More
specifically, it is not a systematic or formalized mode of representation.
Neither does it formalize relationships or isolate key variables. It describes
in the abstract but does not explicitly explain or make particular hypotheses
Questions, but leaves much unaswered.
Mortensen: “For example, does not the helix imply
a false degree of continuity from one communicative situation to another? Do we
necessarily perceive all encounters as actually occurring in an
undifferentiated, unbroken sequence of events? Does an unbroken line not
conflict with the human experience of discontinuity, intermittent periods,
false starts, and so forth? Is all communication a matter of growth, upward and
onward, in an ever-broadening range of encounters? If the helix represents
continuous learning and growth, how can the same form also account for
deterioration and decay? What about the forces of entropy, inertia, decay, and
pathology? And does not the unbroken line of a helix tacitly ignore the
qualitative distinctions that inevitably characterize different communicative
events? Also, what about movements which we define as utterly wasted, forced,
or contrived? Along similar lines, how can the idea of continuous, unbroken
growth include events we consider meaningless, artificial, or unproductive?
Countless other questions could be raised. And that is the point. The model
brings problems of abstraction into the open. “rtificial, or unproductive?
Countless other questions could be raised. And that is the point. The model
brings problems of abstraction into the open. “
Westley and MacLean realized that communication does
not begin when one person starts to talk, but rather when a person responds
selectively to his immediate physical surroundings.
interactant responds to his sensory experience (X1 . . . ) by
abstracting out certain objects of orientation (X1 . . . 3m). Some
items are selected for further interpretation or coding (X’) and then are
transmitted to another person, who may or may not be responding to the same
objects of orientation (X,b),
conceptual model of communication. (Reprinted with permission from Westley
and MacLean, Jr., 1957.)
(a) Objects of
... X) in the sensory field of the receiver (B) are transmitted directly
to him in abstracted form
(XZ ... X3)
after a process of selection
from among all Xs, such selection being based at least in part on the
needs and problems of B. Some or all messages are transmitted in more than
one sense (X3m,
same Xs are selected and abstracted by communicator A and transmitted as a
message (x') to B, who may or may not have part or all of the Xs in his
own sensory field (X1b). Whether on purpose or not, B transmits feedback (fBA)
(c) The Xs
that B receives may result from selected abstractions which are
transmitted without purpose by encoder C, who acts for B and thus extends
B's environment. C's selections are necessarily based in part on feedback
(fBC) from B.
(d) The messages which C
transmits to B (x") represent C's selections both from the messages he
gets from A (x') and from the abstractions in his own sensory field
which may or may not be in A's field. Feedback moves not only from B to A
(fBA) and from B to C (fBC)
but also from C to A (fCA). Clearly, in mass communication, a large number
of Cs receive from a very large number of As and transmit to a vastly
larger number of Bs, who simultaneously receive messages from other Cs.
Accounts for Feedback
for a sensory field or, in Newcomb’s (1953) words, “objects of co-orientation.”
for non-binary interactions—more than just two people communicating directly.
for different modes. E.g. interpersonal vs. mass mediated communication.
Westley and MacLean’s model accounts for many more
variables in the typical communication interaction. It is, however, still
two-dimensional. It cannot account for the multiple dimensions of the typical
communication event involving a broad context and multiple message.
Mortensen: “Becker assumes that most communicative acts
link message elements from more than one social situation. In the tracing of
various elements of a message, it is clear that the items may result in part
from a talk with an associate, from an obscure quotation read years before,
from a recent TV commercial, and from numerous other dissimilar
situations—moments of introspection, public debate, coffee-shop banter,
daydreaming, and so on. In short, the elements that make up a message
ordinarily occur in bits and pieces. Some items are separated by gaps in time,
others by gaps in modes of presentation, in social situations, or in the number
of persons present.”
“Becker likens complex communicative events to the activity of a receiver who
moves through a constantly changing cube or mosaic of information . The layers
of the cube correspond to layers of information. Each section of the cube represents
a potential source of information; note that some are blocked out in
recognition that at any given point some bits of information are not available
for use. Other layers correspond to potentially relevant sets of information.”
It depicts the incredible complexity of communication
as influenced by a constantly changing milieu.
also accounts for variations in exposure to messages. In some circumstances
receivers may be flooded by relevant information; in others they may encounter
only a few isolated items. Individual differences also influence level of
exposure; some people seem to be attuned to a large range of information, while
others miss or dismiss much as extraneous.
kinds of relationships between people and messages cut through the many levels
of exposure. Some relationships are confined to isolated situations, others to
recurrent events. Moreover, some relationships center on a particular message,
while others focus on more diffuse units; that is, they entail a complex set of
relationships between a given message and the larger backdrop of information
against which it is interpreted.
may be useful to conceive of an interaction between two mosaics. One comprises
the information in a given social milieu, as depicted in the model; the other
includes the private mosaic of information that is internal to the receiver.
The internal mosaic is every bit as complex as the one shown in the model, but
a person constructs it for himself.
Even though this model adds a third dimension, it does
not easily account for all the possible dimensions involved in a communication
“Ruesch and Bateson conceived of communication as functioning simultaneously at
four levels of analysis. One is the basic intrapersonal process (level 1). The
next (level 2) is interpersonal and focuses on the overlapping fields of
experience of two interactants. Group interaction (level 3) comprises many people.
And finally a cultural level (level 4) links large groups of people. Moreover,
each level of activity consists of four communicative functions: evaluating,
sending, receiving, and channeling. Notice how the model focuses less on the
structural attributes of communication-source, message, receiver, etc.—and more
upon the actual determinants of the process.”
“A similar concern with communicative functions can be traced through the
models of Carroll (1955), Fearing (1953), Mysak (1970), Osgood (1954), and
Peterson (1958). Peterson’s model is one of the few to integrate the
physiological and psychological functions at work in all interpersonal events.”
Mortensen: “By far the most systematic of the
functional models is the transactional approach taken by Barnlund (1970, pp.
83-102), one of the few investigators who made explicit the key assumptions on
which his model was based.”
“Its most striking feature is the absence of any simple or linear
directionality in the interplay between self and the physical world. The spiral
lines connect the functions of encoding and decoding and give graphic
representation to the continuous, unrepeatable, and irreversible assumptions
mentioned earlier. Moreover, the directionality of the arrows seems
deliberately to suggest that meaning is actively assigned or attributed rather
than simply passively received.”
one of three signs or cues may elicit a sense of meaning. Public cues (Cpu)
derive from the environment. They are either natural, that is, part of the
physical world, or artificial and man-made. Private objects of orientation
(Cpr) are a second set of cues. They go beyond public inspection or awareness.
Examples include the cues gained from sunglasses, earphones, or the sensory
cues of taste and touch. Both public and private cues may be verbal or
nonverbal in nature. What is critical is that they are outside the direct and
deliberate control of the interactants. The third set of cues are deliberate;
they are the behavioral and nonverbal (Cbehj cues that a person
initiates and controls himself. Again, the process involving deliberate message
cues is reciprocal. Thus, the arrows connecting behavioral cues stand both for
the act of producing them-technically a form of encoding-and for the
interpretation that is given to an act of others (decoding). The jagged lines
(VVVV ) at each end of these sets of cues illustrate the fact that the number of
available cues is probably without limit. Note also the valence signs (+, 0, or
-) that have been attached to public, private, and behavioral cues. They
indicate the potency or degree of attractiveness associated with the cues.
Presumably, each cue can differ in degree of strength as well as in kind. “t
each end of these sets of cues illustrate the fact that the number of available
cues is probably without limit. Note also the valence signs (+, 0, or -) that
have been attached to public, private, and behavioral cues. They indicate the
potency or degree of attractiveness associated with the cues. Presumably, each
cue can differ in degree of strength as well as in kind."
Mortensen: “The assumptions posit a view of communication
as transactions in which communicators attribute meaning to events in ways that
are dynamic, continuous, circular, unrepeatable, irreversible, and complex.”
Mortensen: “The exception is the assumption that
communication describes the evolution of meaning. In effect, the model
presupposes that the terms communication and meaning are synonymous and
interchangeable. Yet nowhere does the model deal in even a rudimentary way with
the difficult problem of meaning. The inclusion of decoding and encoding may be
taken as only a rough approximation of the “evolution of meaning,” but such
dualistic categories are not particularly useful in explaining the
contingencies of meaning.”
Some communication theorists have attempted to construct
models in light of General Systems Theory. The “key assumption” of GST “is that
every part of the system is so related to every other part that any change in
one aspect results in dynamic changes in all other parts of the total system
(Hall and Fagen, 1956). It is necessary, then, to think of communication not so
much as individuals functioning under their own autonomous power but rather as
persons interacting through messages. Hence, the minimum unit of measurement is
that which ties the respective parties and their surroundings into a coherent
and indivisible whole.”
Systemic Communication Model would have to address the following axioms by
Watzlawick and his associates (1967).
The Impossibility of Not Communicating
Interpersonal behavior has no opposites. It is not
possible to conceive of non-behavior. If all behavior in an interactional
situation can be taken as having potential message value, it follows that no
matter what is said and done, “one cannot not communicate.” Silence and
inactivity are no exceptions. Even when one person tries to ignore the
overtures of another, he nonetheless communicates a disinclination to talk.
and Relationship in Communication
All face-to-face encounters require some sort of
personal recognition and commitment which in turn create and define the
relationship between the respective parties. “Communication,” wrote Watzlawick
(1967), “not only conveys information, but ... at the same time . . . imposes
behavior [p. 51].” Any activity that communicates information can be taken as
synonymous with the content of the message, regardless of whether it is true or
false, valid or invalid. . . . Each spoken word, every movement of the body,
and all the eye glances furnish a running commentary on how each person sees
himself, the other person, and the other person’s reactions.
Punctuation of the Sequence of Events
Human beings “set up between them patterns of
interchange (about which they may or may not be in agreement) and these
patterns will in fact be rules of contingency regarding the exchange of
reinforcement” [pp. 273-274].
and Complementary Interaction
A symmetrical relationship evolves in the
direction of heightening similarities; a complementary relationship hinges
increasingly on individual differences. The word symmetrical suggests a
relationship in which the respective parties mirror the behavior of the other.
Whatever one does, the other tends to respond in kind. Thus, an initial act of
trust fosters a trusting response; suspicion elicits suspicion; warmth and
congeniality encourage more of the same, and so on. In sharp contrast is a
complementary relationship, where individual differences complement or dovetail
into a sequence of change. Whether the complementary actions are good or bad,
productive or injurious, is not relevant to the concept.
Rhetorical theorist, William Brown, proposed “The
Holographic View of Argument” (Argumentation, 1 (1987): 89-102).
against an analytical approach to communication that dissects the elements of
communication, Brown argued for seeing argument or communication as a hologram
“which as a metaphor for the nature of argument emphasizes not the knowledge
that comes from seeing the parts in the whole but rather that which arises
from seeing the whole in each part.”
ground of argument in a holographic structure is a boundaryless event.”
model of communication based on Brown’s holographic metaphor would see
connections between divided elements and divisions between connections.
Polish-born mathematician, Benoit Mandelbrot, while
working for IBM in the 1960s and 70s, became intrigued with the possibility of
deriving apparently irregular shapes with a mathematical formula. "Clouds are
not spheres," he said, "mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and
bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line." So if these regular
geometric forms could not account for natural patterns, what could?
solve the problem, Mandelbrot developed the fractal, a simple, repeating
shape that can be created by repeating the same formula over and over.
“I coined fractal from the Latin adjective
fractus. The corresponding Latin verb frangere means ‘to
break’: to create irregular fragments. It is therefore sensible—and how
appropriate for our needs!—that, in addition to ‘fragmented’ fractus
should also mean ‘irregular,’ both meanings being preserved in
fragment.” Benoit Mandelbrot
shapes occur everywhere in nature: a head of broccoli, a leaf, a
snowflake—almost any natural form. See
discovery changed computer graphics—by using fractal formulas, graphic engines
could create natural-looking virtual landscapes. More importantly, fractal
formulas can account for variations in other natural patterns such as economic
markets and weather patterns.
allow for almost infinite density. For example, Mandelbrot considered the
deceptively simple question: “How long is the coast line of Britain?”
A typical answer will ignore inlets and bays smaller than a certain size. But
if we account for these small coastline features, and then those smaller still,
we would soon find ourselves with a line of potentially infinite and constantly
changing length. A fractal equation could account for such a line.
vi. Fractal geometry is in some ways
related to chaos theory, the science of finding pattern in apparently random
sequences, like a dripping faucet or weather patterns. Chaos theory has been
applied to computer-generated landscapes, organizational structures (http://www.cio.com/archive/enterprise/041598_qanda_content.html),
and even washing machines. Of course, it has also been applied to economics and
the stock market, in particular:
markets are said to be nonlinear, dynamic systems. Chaos theory is the
mathematics of studying such nonlinear, dynamic systems. Does this mean that
chaoticians can predict when stocks will rise and fall? Not quite; however,
chaoticians have determined that the market prices are highly random, but with a
trend. The stock market is accepted as a self-similar system in the sense that
the individual parts are related to the whole. Another self-similar system in
the area of mathematics are fractals. Could the stock market be associated with
a fractal? Why not? In the market price action, if one looks at the market
monthly, weekly, daily, and intra day bar charts, the structure has a similar
appearance. However, just like a fractal, the stock market has sensitive
dependence on initial conditions. This factor is what makes dynamic market
systems so difficult to predict. Because we cannot accurately describe the
current situation with the detail necessary, we cannot accurately predict the
state of the system at a future time. Stock market success can be predicted by
chaoticians. Short-term investing, such as intra day exchanges are a waste of
time. Short-term traders will fail over time due to nothing more than the cost
of trading. However, over time, long-term price action is not random. Traders
can succeed trading from daily or weekly charts if they follow the trends. A
system can be random in the short-term and deterministic in the long term (http://www.duke.edu/~mjd/chaos/chaos.html).
vii. One key premise in both chaos theory and
fractals is "sensitive dependence on initial conditions." One early chaos
theorist studying weather patterns stumbled on this when he was using a simple
computer program to plot the course of only 12 weather variables. The computer
printout ran out of paper, so he noted the status of the variables at an earlier
point, stopped the process, replaced the paper and restarted the process at the
earlier point. Even though the variables started at the same point, the patterns
quickly diverged, demonstrating the similar or even identical initial conditions
can lead to radically different outcomes (This story is in James Gleick,
Chaos: Making A New Science).
This phenomenon led researchers to talk about "the butterfly effect" to
illustrate how a very small change can produce significant changes in a system.
The butterfly effect refers to the fact that a butterfly flapping its wings over
Beijing can result in a change in the weather patterns in New York two months
Fractals to Communication
Like Dance’s Helix, seeing communication as a fractal
form allows us to conceptualize the almost infinite density of a communication
J. Wheatley has attempted to apply Fractal theory and the science of chaos to
management. (Leadership and the New Science: Learning about Organization
from an Orderly Universe. San Francisco,
Berrett-Kohler Publishers, 1992.) You can
read some of Wheatley's ideas here.
iii. The significance of this for the topic
at hand is this: First, the patterns of complexity in natural systems, of which
human beings are a part, is profoundly complex and not easily captured in any
formula. Therefore, any predictions about the outcome of these systems are
necessarily limited because of the difficulty of being sensitive to initial
conditions. A model of communication drawn from fractals and chaos theory would
have to reflect this complexity and respond to variations in initial conditions.
addition, if we marry the fractal to other mathematical constructs, we can
develop an even richer heuristic.
mathematician Rudy Rucker, in a way that only mathematicians can, said “Life is
a fractal in Hilbert space.” (Mind Tools:
The Five Levels of Mathematical Reality (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1987)
Space is a theoretical multi-dimensional space. Rucker is saying that life is
an infinitely variegated entity that exists in multiple dimensions.
we can borrow Rucker’s phrase and say that communication
is a fractal in Hilbert space.
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