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Reframing Human Needs: Communication

Image by Gerd Altman from Pixabay


Communication has been one of the most studied behaviors in history. Miscommunication has been called the single greatest impediment to success in business. Pick up any business magazine or journal, and in each issue there will almost certainly be discussion about communication. Yet none of the major theories of human needs lists communication as a need, and the question is: why not?


Without the social communication that enabled early hominids to function as a group, humanity would not have survived. (Fay et al, 2010) Like attachment and subsistence needs, communication behaviours start in the womb. By the time children are born, many of them have already learned 30 words. Sign language can be taught to children as young as 6 months of age, because their neurological systems are prepared to communicate before birth. When children are learning to talk, they become frustrated when they can’t make themselves understood, because they need to communicate.

Guenther Wintzany, MD, Ph.D. is an Austrian philosopher whose theory on biocommunication has been validated by scientists from various disciplines. Dr. Wintzany sees ‘communication as the main characteristic of life.” This is, in fact, the title of a chapter in the Handbook of Astrobiology Wintzany wrote. All life forms communicate in one way or another, some with more complexity than others, but we must realize that all life communicates because it needs to do so in order to survive. One example that has been discussed before is quorum sensing by single cell bacteria, empowering them to make decisions as a community for their survival and the survival of the environment in or upon which they live.

The communication system used by humans is highly complex and unlike any other known communication system. “. . . language production always occurs with the involvement of not only the vocal tract and lungs, but also the trunk, the head, the face, the eyes and, normally, the hands.” (Levinson & Holler, 2014, p1) This neurological coordination of the different parts of the brain to communicate is under almost continuous study, with new research changing the ways we think about communication. What I learned about communication in my first neuropsychology class at the University of Northern Iowa in the 1970’s is completely outdated today. Advances in neural imaging and biochemistry have radically changed how we view the brain, and the ways in which communication takes place.

Up until the 20th century, it was thought that only humans were capable of complex communications with each other. We now know that is not the case. All life forms communicate to one degree or another. Communication is a need, and it is a core need, just as subsistence and attachment are core needs upon which all other human endeavors are built.

Bob Bowen

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