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Analog Realism II: Concrete Symbols

    After a short break, it's time to resume the series on psycho-epistemology. Before we go on, however, a disclaimer is in order. Up to this point, I introduced ideas I've been thoroughly researching, formulating, and revising for at least 3 years. Now, we've reached the edge of my knowledge. Although I will still write about fully developed ideas, many posts from now on will deal with relatively new notions, that I'm still developing, and am not yet certain of.

    Throughout this series, I've repeatedly talked about the importance of symbols qua mental existents, as the means by which we are able to make ourselves aware of, and control our associations at will. Today, however, I will talk about the importance of concrete symbols, such as drawings, or printed text, for the development of personality - and introduce the idea of "psychic capital".

    I’ve explained how the primitive structure of Man's psyche consists of multiple, largely discrete clusters of associations, and how his cognitive context shifts between these clusters automatically, in response to external stimuli. I've also shown how free will develops gradually, as a consequence of changing that structure from discrete clusters to an interconnected web - increasing his ability to alter his cognitive context at will. Rituals are a big part of that process, which is why the more primitive a society, the more ritualistic its life is. Rituals, however, are usually collective - so how does a single individual develop his own sense of self in the absence of personal rituals?

    The answer lies in concrete symbols.

    Our subjective experience is extremely dynamic. Our emotions do not provide us with knowledge. Our direct perception does not give us objective measurements, and the very memory of them fades rather quickly over time. Even our explicitly formulated conceptual definitions and value-judgements sometimes change so subtly, over such a long period of time, that we only become aware of the change after it's happened. Because of its rather fickle nature, mental existents alone are insufficient when it comes to establishing the very durable associations that allow us to freely navigate through our own mental clusters at will - and ultimately integrate them into a single, individualized, and self-aware personality.

    What if we could, however, use something as durable as an rock to build those associations? Well... that's actually what we do, and need to do to fully develop a personality. By associating specific mental content with a concrete entity - like a rock, a drawing, or a piece of clothing - we essentially turn it into a symbol, and use it the same way we use words - as means to bring specific associations to our conscious and pre-conscious awareness at will. Unlike a mental image or word however, a durable entity will not change significantly over time, and can be used repeatedly to reinforce the original association, aiding in the creation of a sense of self.

    The tradition of having a "soul stone" or some other personal token, regarded as a vessel for one's soul is common to many tribal societies. The same habit, however, still takes place in our own day and age. From the very intimate relationship between children and their toys, to the way teenagers use clothes and trinkets to establish their personality, to the deep attachment an adult develops to objects they’ve associated with important memories - a journal, an old letter, or a family heirloom - it seems that the less developed the psyche, the more it requires external reinforcement.

  -  May 27th, 2020