This is my first attempt of externalising the ideas I have built I through having many conversations, primarily by those with my best friend, Justin. Regularly, when we talk, we take a sort of meta perspective: we look at or discuss the conversation from a distance. We’ll say things such as: “how did we get to this topic?” or “let’s go back a bit”. I think this is not at all unique to us, but we do it a lot. I think this is a very important part of the skill of conversing, so I will attempt to explain how I/we look at conversations. This is not an attempt to formalise conversations, or to show the “true structure” of conversations. I believe that would require a lot of knowledge about epistemology, which I do not have.
First off, let’s start with a sentence: “John was not in class today”. From this sentence, we can go several directions. Let’s use two responses to keep the example simple: “What did you do in class?” and “Why was John not in class today?” I will represent this as follows:
In a real conversation, you can only take one direction at a time. Therefore, you are always – consciously or subconsciously – making decisions of where the conversation is going. Different conversations can differ in their entertaining, bonding, or informational value. A good converser is able to steer the conversation into high value directions. Below is a larger conversation scheme, which I will use to highlight some interesting concepts:
So a possible conversation could go like this: “John was not in class today.” “Why was John not in class today?” “He rather spends his time reading fantasy books.” “Oh, I like fantasy too, especially when there’s multiple races involved!” and then the conversation can go on and on, about fantasy, about different races and the portrayal of the human race in fantasy, about fiction vs. non-fiction etc. However, one of the persons can also go back in the scheme, and talk or ask about what happened in the class, that would look like this:
Furthermore, this scheme is very simple. Every node consists of one sentence only, and two responses. What’s more, the different nodes can be grouped according to topics. A more complicated scheme looks like this:
So what are the implications of this? First of all, if you are aware of how conversations are structured, you can use this to create a more valuable conversation. You can return to a previous topic and take a different direction, or you can not mention the first thing that comes to mind, because you want to steer clear from a certain topic. Furthermore, if both you and your conversation partner(s) are aware of how conversations can be viewed, your meta conversation skills will allow to collaborate and create valuable conversations! I hope to write more about conversations in the future, and also venture more into how this model can be applied to thinking.
I am aware that I have left at least several things out of this post, for example:
- not every relation is the same
- who says what matters
- you can arrive at points from different angles
- different people have different associations (creative, stoned and knowledgeable people may have more associations, and thus more directions for a conversation to go in)
Actually this scheme is just a scheme of relations between concepts, and conversations are concept schemes that are passed through, because time passes.