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Pages in this series:
» Better communication?
» Sending Messages  
» Perception  
» Signs and more signs
» Codes  
» Redundancy  


What are "codes"?

A code is an organized system of signs. Codes are the rules and conventions about how you combine signs, how signs relate to each other. (Remember that signs can be words or images, but also behaviors, or concepts such as metaphors.)

4 x 9 = 36

Language is a code. So is the system of highway signage, the system for classifying plants, computer algorithms, and etiquette.

homo sapiens

In fact codes govern every aspect of our lives: a code structures the way people act in church; how one plays the piano or soccer; when/how/what you eat; how a person gets dressed, makes a phone call, argues with a family member, attracts a mate; ..... on and on.

taking a test

It is amazing how many codes there are in any culture, and that even young children come to understand their intricacies and get upset when they aren't followed.

Humans organize life in nested codes: small codes that fit into larger and larger ones. For example, Alphabet letters are arranged using codes to form words, which are arranged by grammatical codes into sentences, which are arranged by semantic codes into paragraphs, which are arranged by rhetoric codes into essays, which are arranged by performance codes into a presentation.

26 under par

A code provides the frame, the rules for how one understands and behaves in a particular environment. Action chains (culturally defined sequences of actions) are also codes.

Endnote on convention and arbitrary symbols.....

Lewis Carroll gives Alice a glimpse of what conversations would be like without conventional agreement about the meaning of signs (words):

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all. .... Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

`Would you tell me please,' said Alice, `what that means?'

`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

`Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

Here's the complete "conversation" with Alice.

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