The Nonsense of Modern English
A symbol is something that represents something else by association, resemblance, of convention. The word arises from Greek (syn-), meaning “together,” and βολή (bolē), “a throw”, having the approximate meaning of “to throw together”, literally a “co-incidence”, also “sign, ticket, or contract”. *
A symbol is the “outwards sign” of something – it is of that thing though it is not that thing. The meaning of a symbol resides in its coincidence with the thing it represents.
Coincidence arises from Latin com- “together” (see co-) + incidere “to fall upon” from which arises the meaning “exact correspondence” or “harmony, agreement”. Since the 1640s correspondence has come to be associated with the “communication by letters”. Then in the 1680s, as with many of our prime symbols, much of the essential meaning of the coincidence was destroyed and it came to refer to a lack of meaning, as in “a concurrence of events with no apparent connection”.
Such destruction is symptomatic of the trickery of the ego. Smile.
In brief, modern English now makes nonsense when trying to define a symbol because symbols are about meaning – the relative correspondence or harmony of a symbol with reality.
Physics of Hope
Perhaps we can clarify this confusion by reminding ourselves of the universal reality. In brief, the Conservation Principle of Energy advises us that energy is so bounteous is can be usefully considered a constant and it continually transforms.
The principle that information is physical is also helpful to this discussion.
Any quantum of information can be known from an electrical, chemical, nuclear or other perspective. And it is worth noting that the ego tends to reject such belief as clinical and demeaning of both beauty and the human spirit. In practice, embracing this principle of information results in the reality experienced tending to be one of greater inspiration, wonder and hopefulness or meaning.
(* Mean arises from early Indo-European meino– “opinion, intent” from which arises meaning “sense, import, intent,”. Import has two symbiotic definitions here – that of “sense”, “intent” and that of “carries, conveys”.)
In brief: a symbol is a shared, crystallized quantum of meaning.
A symbol conveys information that forms true sense when the symbol accurately reflects the universal reality and generates that same sense in the symbol’s audience.
All sentient forms are ephemeral beings and form trace elements of the universal flux. Hence no symbol truly reflects the grand reality and it generates different responses in every user. Thus symbol use is an evolutionary process involving continual trial, self and other reflection, forgiveness of error and retrial. This refining process is easier said than done because of the eccentric conduct of the ego. Smile.
The power of symbols
All sentient forms employ symbols at every level and in myriad ways. Every living cell and body of cells uses symbols to survive and propagate amidst the continual change. The principles of physics suggest the following principle of sustainability:
The existence of a life form is enhanced as its symbol use better reflects reality because the organism is more able to retain vital meaning, develop resilient structures and thrive.
The existence of a life form is diminished as its symbol use fails to mirror reality because vital meaning becomes corrupted, it develops increasingly flawed structures and it dies.
This is true of the DNA symbols of cells, the colours of butterflies, dances of bees, the memories of whales, the words of children or structures of corporations.
Symbols are extremely potent devices – without them life cannot exist. Wise uses of symbols enhance life. Flawed uses of symbols put life at risk and can destroy it.
Symbol use involves paradox: the symbol use simultaneously reflects and generates the state of being of the user.
We may register a symbol through just one body sense. However the image generated in the mind is an amalgam of all the body senses. For instance our response to the written or spoken word “rose” may generate an image formed in all our memories of sensations of smell, taste, touch and sight of a rose.
The potency of individual symbols is enhanced when symbols are used together in systematic ways to form language.
Hope resides in our capacity to choose our use of symbols. Hopefulness and true hope tend to prevail when our use of a symbol embraces the universal reality of change. Hopelessness and false hope tend to prevail when our use denies this reality.