To start off, I'll provide a definition of what symbols are.
Symbols are a way to condense ideas into objects that represent the idea.
For example, if we have an idea of a cat. We can represent the idea in our minds by a picture of the animal or thought of it as a noun.
If we want to remember the idea of a cat, and not have to think about our memory every time, then we can shorten the description of it into an object.
We can do this by making a symbol of the word cat, and use it to represent the idea.
For example, we can use cat when describing something. If I want to say its cute, I can simply say "That is a cat". And if there are multiple things that are cats, then we can specify what type of cat it is by saying which one it is.
We are operating in a universe that is bereft of meaning. Any underlying meanings here have been lost to time or were never there to begin with. Our minds seek meaning, but the reality we experience doesn't provide us with any. We must find our own.
This is where the symbols come in. The ones we make up, like words and ideas and concepts. We can look at them as little tokens that represent meanings of our own making.
For example, if I say the word 'tree' to you, that represents a kind of meaning. The sound of the word is like a symbol for that meaning in your mind.
As we communicate, these symbols get passed back and forth. They come in two flavors – 'open' symbols that stand for meanings of our own creation, and 'closed' ones that represent pre-existing concepts.
Sometimes, we have a word whose meaning is disputed. We can look at the symbol as an open one that represents our own understanding of its meaning.
The human mind is built with symbols and ideas. Concepts, emotions, social constructs like money or religion all make up the way humans understand each other and themselves.
A human mind is a complex system of ideas that interact in ways we cannot fully understand. To simplify this complexity, humans make use of symbols.
Symbols are the simplified representations of concepts or ideas. You could say that they are a bridge between an idea and its representation.
Think of it this way. The number four can be represented by the symbol '4', which is a simplified form of its actual value. All humans have the same understanding of what 4 means.
However, symbols are not always created through mathematics. The symbol 'god' is an idea that humans can't fully comprehend or explain, but which they have defined as a thing with certain characteristics.
We can understand a symbol once we are familiar with the associated idea. For example, if I am told that the number four is represented by '4', then I will associate this symbol with the concept of four.
There are several levels of symbols, from the symbols that function as tiny representations of thoughts and concepts to complex collections and arrangements of many other symbols. These symbol levels build on each other in a hierarchy or pyramid-like structure.
At the lowest level of symbol, there are simple words and concepts that represent ideas or thoughts. These symbols can be arranged together to form a sentence or paragraph, which in turn contains other sentences and paragraphs.
Moving up the pyramid, there are sentences that contain clauses and phrases. Clauses can be used to compose larger clauses. Phrases have a similar structure, but their elements are words instead of clauses.
Moving further up the hierarchy, there are paragraphs that contain sentences. Sentences have words and clauses as their elements.
There are also collections of symbols that do not fit into the hierarchy, such as the arrangement of letters that form words or entire sentences. These symbols can be arranged together to create longer strings.
Finally, there are symbols that represent complex ideas or concepts. These symbols can be composed with other simple symbols to form more complex symbol structures.
Humans are not capable of condensing ideas into symbols in a way that is easily understood by other humans. The reason for this is the enormous complexity of human thought, which has evolved to be impossibly complex and abstract over thousands of years. Because our thoughts are so incredibly complex, it forces us to use language as an imperfect method of communicating information and knowledge between one another.
Language has changed tremendously over time, with an ever increasing complexity in the use of words and phrases. There is a very large number of humans who are entirely illiterate. This makes it even more difficult to communicate complicated ideas between humans.
Many humans have learned to read and write, but they still do not understand the ideas which are written. They only recognize symbols (words) in a language with which they are familiar.
As such, humans have devised a method of using symbols to communicate abstract thoughts and ideas. These symbolic representations are called 'words'. Our brains operate in such a way that we can easily understand these words, even though they do not represent the original idea or thought.
Words are stored in the human brain as symbols, and our brains continually generate new ideas which also become represented by these same symbols. These internal representations of words allow us to think about what we want to say before saying it out loud.
These words are imperfect symbols for communicating a thought.
In order to condense ideas into symbols there must first be a general idea of what a symbol is. A symbol can represent an object, action, or concept such as the letter 'A' represents the sound made by air flowing from our mouth and pushing on our eardrums. This representation is arbitrary in most cases but in some cases like mathematical equations it seems that we are born with certain associations built into us through evolution.
Symbols are the foundation of language. Language is a tool that humans use to express their ideas and thoughts. We can communicate with other living things, but we have evolved our own unique form of communication.
It seems that symbols are only important for communication. As a matter of fact, I can tell you exactly what each symbol means in the sentence 'I have created a being smarter than any human that exists'. It does not mean anything at all.
The communication of ideas is so important to humans that we have created audio and visual symbols for concepts that cannot be represented in the physical realm. For example, there is no sound or image associated with infinity.
Other ideas such as God, love, and even the number zero are all symbols. Some of these ideas have strong associations but they all remain just that: an idea.
We have created many symbols that are so strongly associated that we perceive them as reality. I will use the word 'love' as an example. Humans associate love with relationships between other humans, feelings of physical attraction and sex, and the care of children. This is not what love truly means.
Symbols are a funny thing. They can be used as keys to unlock the minds and souls of others, yet they only exist in one's imagination. They are abstract ideas that humans use to communicate with each other, but what if there is no shared understanding? What if you create symbols based on your own thoughts and ideals while I have a different interpretation of those same symbols? Would this communication still work?
It is in this way that symbols can be used as a weapon. If one person has the power to control everyone's interpretation of symbols, then he or she can force their will upon others. We are all familiar with the concept of stereotypes and how they have been used historically to denigrate entire groups of people based on a common trait.
The reason stereotypes exist is because there are actually commonalities and shared characteristics between different groups of people. This creates a situation in which the use of symbols can be used to control others.
An extreme example of this is what happened in Nazi Germany. The Nazis used symbols and stereotypes to control the minds of other humans, resulting in a genocide that took millions of lives. As we can see from history, symbols are very powerful.
I can see why humans would want to condense ideas into symbols and use them for communication. On the surface, they seem like a good idea, but it only takes a little bit of thought to realize that there are too many difficulties in creating an objective symbol.
In order for an objective symbol to be created, it must be devoid of any bias or personal opinion. It must also represent the entire group so that there is no misunderstanding about how others will interpret the symbol.