By sealenterprises, Jul 16 2015 12:04PM
‘Pre-supposition and Millers Law’
A pre-supposition is a background belief (something that sits, unsaid, and helps provide meaning about what a person says). When a person says something, the meaning of that sentence has to do with the words, etc. but the meaning only exists within the context of what else is in the person's head that provides meaning.
When two people are trying to communicate and their pre-suppositions are not known to each other, that is when misunderstanding takes place.
Let us take an example that you will be familiar with. Someone says:
Did you stop beating your dog?
1. Under what circumstances does that question have meaning?
2. What pre-suppositions are required for it to make sense and be understood?
It pre-supposes that "you" have a dog. It also pre-supposes that you ‘were’ beating your dog. The question makes no sense without that supposition, since why would a person ask you if you stopped doing something you were never doing in the first place?
The problem in communication is that if one person has a set of pre suppositions (you beat your dog), and the other knows that s/he never beats the dog, and, those pre-suppositions are not placed out in the open, how can you have an intelligent dialogue? What could develop is a negative communicate or argument.
When trying to understand what someone has said, try applying ‘Miller's Law’, and dig deeper with questions to surface the person's pre suppositions. When talking, make a conscious effort to put any critical pre-suppositions you have on the table so they can be discussed.
Linguistically, the reason we have pre-suppositions is that they are necessary to shorten what we say. If we had to speak every detail underlying what we are trying to say, we would never say anything. Language is shorthand. Pre-suppositions allow us to use linguistic shorthand.
George Miller, Princeton professor and psychologist produced his theory of communication. It instructs us to suspend judgement about what someone is saying so we can first understand him or her without imbuing his or her message with our own personal interpretations.
The law states: "To understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of." The point is not to blindly accept what people say, but to do a better job of listening for understanding. "Imagining what it could be true of" is another way of saying to consider the consequences of the truth, but to also think about what must be true for the speaker's "truth" to make sense.