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On Nov 15, 2007 8:48 PM, Herman Miller <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Is there anything about cave-dwelling that could be relevant? Their
> ancestors made their homes in caves to protect themselves from dragons.
> Perhaps the need to keep quiet while dragons were nearby encouraged the
> development of silent means of communication.

Possible.

FWIW, the most plausible current theory about how empathy (in the raw,
I-feel-what-you-feel sense) works is like this:

1. when you feel X you display X' via (facial, etc) affect
2. when I see X', part of the cells in my brain that would fire when
*I* display X', fire. (called 'mirror neurons'; they fire both for an
action and for seeing that same action in others - so if they smile,
part of your brain "smiles" too, ish)
3. when those cells fire, they trigger emotional correlates - i.e. X
(though usually weaker than the real thing)

And the (very new and not well verified) theory for how this comes
about for each individual is Hebbian learning ("neurons that fire
together, wire together") - you tend to see other people doing X while
you are feeling X', either because you're both reacting to Y that
makes you both feel X', or because they are mirroring your expressions
(like parents tend to), or somesuch similar.

From a more social (and much less well researched TTBOMK) perspective,
some strong and unregulated empaths tend to have 'issues' - notably
crowd-sickness (too much input from too many different people =
overload), difficulty discriminating own thoughts/emotions from
others', bipolar-type symptoms when being around people with disparate
emotional states, and feedback loops when being around other empaths.
Most of these can be controlled through various techniques, but plenty
of people don't seem to learn 'em. (See empaths.livejournal.com for
examples thereof; warning, high woo quotient.)

Silent communication, to me, is more plausibly a sign language.
Empathy IRL at least is mostly only useful for adding a layer of
connotation or emotional understanding, not for denotation (that'd be
telepathy). It would be interesting if, for example, all the stuff
that we use in regular languages to explicitly connote emotional
content (such as vocal intonation, or speed/manner of signing) were
devoted explicitly to denotation instead (because the connotation is
presumed to be gotten through empathy). This could make for a somewhat
denser/faster language.

It'd also make for them probably looking to outsiders as if they have
totally flat affects, if they're used to having their affect picked up
at very subtle levels. So they'd be unreadable, while being able to
read others... could create weird diplomatic / intercultural effects.

Of course, it's your conworld so you're free to change all that if you like. :-P

As for the original - Caves imply echoes; if dragons also inhabit the
caves, then that's probably a Bad Thing and you'd want silent comms.
Which is basically what you already said.

HTH,
 Sai