Category:Symbolic Thinking

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'Symbolic thinking' means distinguishing between our symbols and what they represent.

I hold back to share with you my excitement about how simple and at the same time how profound the change to symbolic thinking is. Let me rather share how symbolic thinking has been represented by different people, and what sort of consequences it had.


In Physics

It is not an accident that Einstein outlines symbolic thinking as his 'epistemological credo' at the beginning of his autobiography. See Einstein's thoughts about symbolic thinking.

In Philosophy

The distinction between impressions and what creates them is the goal and the substance of philosophy. It is a step to awareness, freedom, higher humanity and, yes, to better society or culture.It is not an accident that Plato told his Alegory of the Cave in his Republic. Symbolic thinking means liberation from the imprisonment of identifying reality with impressions. It means coming out of the 'cave'.

In Politics

Seen from the symbolic point of view, the political scene truly looks like a shadow theatre! Murray Edelman must be credited for developing the symbolic approach to political science. How much I wish to see a newspaper which embraces symbolic thinking! An example of a good symbolic view on contemporary world situation and politics is given in this interview with Zygmunt Bauman

In Communication

Informing as 'reality mapping' has given us the world as is: Division into traditional disciplines, specialization, exclusion of everything that does not fit into our existing picture... It is what makes us fight over our worldviews instead of learning from each other. I consider this obsession with reality picture to be the main obstacle to communication. I consider it a sort of addiction (in Addiction Pattern article I called it 'pseudoconsciousness', or addiction to information).

Information design is the result of application of symbolic thinking to communication or informing at large. This approach allows us to reconcile the traditions. It is a way to step beyond the idiosyncrasies in language and truly communicate.

In Spirituality or Religion

It is remarkable how quickly the command to love our neighbor is forgotten when we are defending some belief, even when that belief is very the religion which commands us to love our neighbor!

Religion is a prime witness of the obstacle that pre-symbolic thinking (if I may call it that) presents to communication. Religion has been a major part of every tradition. But since the beliefs on which religions tend to be based vastly collide with our scientific ones, we didn't quite know how to incorporate incorporate religion into our modern tradition. It seems, in fact, that in order to practice religion in such pre-symbolic world one would need to accept some age-old worldview and lifestyle verbatim. What an obstacle to cultural evolution!

In all traditions, humanity's great teachers discovered ways to spiritual insight, which were also ways to a better human life and better society. But in the pre-symbolic world they had no other way to communicate their message, but to present it as some teaching about reality. The trouble then was that the subtle symbolic message was all too easily replaced by the more obvious explicit one. The medium took the place of the message, and the message was ignored. The way to spiritual insight through human development remained a minor branch in every tradition, which has been called 'mysticism' and thereby placed under the same category as 'vague, groundless speculation' (American Heritage Dictionary). I would like to quote here one of those 'mystics', the great Persian classical poet Hafez, who inspired Goethe to write his Diwan.

As the example of Hafez and Goethe suggests, religion is only one among so many other things which will be quite easily communicated and understood when we begin to think symbolically.

In Culture

We must give credit to Bourdieu for polishing up the word 'doxa'. It is the experience that our cultural reality is as absolute as the physical reality. 'Orthodoxy' still admits the possibility of another, 'incorrect' view. Doxa, on the other hand, is considered to be the only possible option.

When we are no longer dominated by doxa, we will begin to think: Why in the world do we (for example) eat spaghetti with meat balls and drink beer? Why do we sit in chairs? A whole new realm of knowledge and of possible creation opens up before us. It will turn out that we know little or nothing about the most basic and practically the most relevant questions about our personal and communal living. We will then for a long time wonder: How is it possible that we took all these things for granted, without even looking at them? Well, it's the doxa...

Another way the direction change is visible in culture is the following. What prevails now is naive values, the sort of things which are experienced directly as pleasant and easy. We use the technology to cater to those values. What if such naive approach to pleasant and easy living is completely misdirected? What if a much better way of making choices is available? I have argued this point in one of the earliest informatio design articles, which is a sketch of a book in preparation, see Convenience Paradox.

Pages in category "Symbolic Thinking"

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