The evolutionary mechanism that has created us is both random and selective.
Random mutations occur, everything is mixed up during sexual reproduction, and the best changes, the successful changes, are the ones that are kept. The changes are tiny, usually not noticeable, but over enough time, enough generations, everything changes – everything gets better.
But biology isn’t the only place that mistakes are a good thing. They serve the same function in language.
When I communicate, I know what I want to say. I may do my best to say it, but the words have a slightly different meaning for me than they do for you. We mean to say one thing, and for the most part are understood (language is very practical) but in tiny ways we are misinterpreted. The subtle differences in the meaning of words for each of us, the emotional triggers, produce imperfect communication. Whenever we communicate, the transaction is imperfect – there are mistakes. We are misunderstood .
Like in genetics, some misunderstandings are catastrophic. The mistakes can be so great that nothing works. In such cases, the embryo dies, or the conversation is abandoned. But tiny errors can be a good thing. Many tiny mistakes, over a long time, are the driving force that allows natural selection to work. They are the inspiration for change, growth, improvement.
It is the same with communication. Mistakes can go unnoticed, be irrelevant, merely annoying, or sometimes serious.
But sometimes those mistakes lead to a new thought – a thought that neither mind alone was capable of producing. Sometimes, by sheer chance, misunderstandings produce huge leaps in progress.
It seems to me that misunderstandings, mistakes in communication, are the driving force behind the evolution of thought.
On our own, we are limited. We cannot perceive the world. Our perspectives limit us. No matter how hard we try, we will never find enlightenment by thinking about it.
But we are not alone. We communicate. For too long I have defined communication by its imperfection, without thinking through quite what that means.
I can never fully understand you, no matter how long I listen. But I can understand even more than you mean, if I listen well.
When we communicate, especially when we misunderstand each other, we give ourselves a chance to know more than we can produce alone.
By sharing our thoughts we free them, to evolve and improve through so many misunderstandings and misinterpretations that with enough time they can become anything.
A thought in one’s mind is to a thought shared
what protozoa is to humanity.