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Symbol system

The dictionary defines a symbol as

A thing regarded by general consent as naturally typifying or representing or recalling something, by possession of analogous qualities or by association in fact or thought”.

Anything can be used as a symbol as long as the person recognises the imagery conjured up and understands the characteristics/attributes or functions that the spirit is trying to convey.

Using our computer analogy, you can’t see software – the Microsoft Word program doesn’t have a form or visible shape attached to it.  Microsoft  gave an overall image to the program itself, then little icons to each of the bits of code we were to use.  For example:

The little symbol of the cursor [to point to something], the undo symbol, the lock symbol [security], the light bulb [idea, thought, hint or tip] are just icons which we can see and understand, which Microsoft use to represent a concept or action.  They have analogous properties – functions -  to the concept itself.  

The spirits [and mystics] have just done the same as Microsoft. 

Is a universally applicable spirit language feasible?

 I asked myself the question initially whether it was actually feasible for the spirit world to communicate with us in a universal symbolic language and interestingly enough I found it was.  In order to answer this question I turned to the world of the deaf and particularly those who are born deaf.

Oliver Sacks – Seeing Voices
The deaf from birth employ predominantly visual thought patterns and … think differently about physical objects.  These thoughts have a graphical quality, spatial reference is essential, the whole scene is set up, it is visualised with a detail that is rare in the hearing – an architectural power

Because of this different way of thinking, those born deaf are taught and use a symbolic language from the start.  The deaf use ‘Sign’ and although there are different Sign systems for the deaf [American Sign Language ASL, Universal Sign Language USL, British Sign Language BSL and so on] the principles behind Sign can be used to easily switch from the one to another. 

Sign has all the characteristics of the sort of symbol system apparent in visions

William Stokoe
Speech has only one dimension – its extension in time, writing has two dimensions, models have three,  but only signed languages have at their disposal four dimensions – the three spatial dimensions accessible to a signer’s body, as well as the dimension of time.  And Sign fully exploits the syntactic possibilities of its 4 dimensional channel of expression

Compare Sign to the sorts of scenes and images presented in the observations and you can see that Sign and the vision symbols are similar in their capabilities.  Observations contain not just ‘still’ images, but ‘cinematic’ images as well  - ‘movies’.

William Stokoe
In a signed language … narrative is no longer linear and prosaic.  Instead the essence of sign language is to cut from a normal view to a close up to a distant shot, to a close up again and so on, even including flash back and flash forward scenes, exactly as a movie editor works … Not only is signing itself arranged more like edited film than like written narration, but also each sign is placed very much as a camera, the field of vision and angle of view are directed but variable…
Thus Sign can be seen as fully comparable to speech but with unique additional powers of a spatial cinematic sort, at once a most complex and yet  transparent expression and transformation of thought.  The cracking of this enormously complex 4 dimensional structure may need the most formidable hardware as well as an insight approaching genius.  And yet it can be cracked effortlessly and unconsciously by a 3 year old Signer

So Sign and the symbolic language of the observations share a number of important characteristics.

 Finally, a person familiar with ASL can be communicating with a person using BSL in only a few days.  Thus a universal symbolic language for communication with us is feasible. 

Is such a language rich enough?

 The next question is whether such a symbolic language can be rich enough to convey the same concepts we use in languages based on words.

Oliver Sacks – Seeing Voices
De l’Epee* was unaware or could not believe that Sign language was a complete language, capable of expressing not only every emotion, but every proposition, and enabling its users to discuss any topic, concrete or abstract as economically and effectively and grammatically as speech.  This indeed has always been evident, if only implicitly, to all native signers, but has always been denied by the hearing and speaking, who, however well intentioned, regard signing as something rudimentary, primitive, pantomimic, a poor thing.  ….  On the contrary, it must be understood that Sign is the equal of speech, lending itself equally to the rigorous and the poetic – to philosophical analysis or to making love – indeed with an ease that is sometimes greater than speech.

……………Our extraordinary difficulty in even imagining a spatial grammar, a spatial language, imagining a linguistic use of space, may stem from the fact that we [the hearing who do not sign] lack any personal experience of grammaticising space itself … and are physiologically unable to imagine what it is like.
In 1960, William Stokes published ‘Sign Language Structure’ and in 1965 ‘A Dictionary of American Sign Language’.  It was Stokes’s genius to see and prove that Sign satisfied every linguistic criterion of a genuine language, in its lexicon and syntax and its capacity to generate an infinite number of propositions. 
* In 1771 Abbe de l’Epee established the first educational institution for the deaf.

So a universally applicable symbolic language is feasible and is rich enough to convey all the things that we in the speaking world can express and, it would seem, more than that, as Sign and thus symbolic languages in general have the capacity to be more expressive.
Sacks also found that symbolic systems/languages are better able to help us think conceptually.

Edward Klima and Ursula Bellugi – The Signs of Language
Sign is closer to the language of the mind.

Furthermore, Sign as a symbol system appears to be able to encompass areas outside hearing language – such as art, as well as being adaptable enough to allow for jokes, the equivalent of puns or plays on ‘words’.

Edward Klima and Ursula Bellugi – The Signs of Language
Deaf people are acutely aware of the undertones and overtones of iconicity in their vocabulary … In communicating among themselves, or in narrative, deaf signers often extend, enhance, or exaggerate mimetic properties.  Manipulation of the iconic aspects of signs also occurs in special heightened uses of the language [Sign poetry and Sign art] … Thus ASL remains a two faceted language – formally structured in significant respects mimetically free

Oliver Sacks – Seeing Voices
Speech and writing have distanced themselves from the iconic – it is by association not depiction, that we find speech poetry evocative; it can elicit moods and images, but it cannot portray them.  Sign retains a direct power of portrayal that has no analogue in, cannot be translated into, the language of speech; on the other hand it can ascend to any height of metaphor or trope

So potentially a symbolic language is richer and more expressive than language and words. 

Are we mentally equipped to be able to understand such a language?

Again, the answer appears to be yes.  In fact, it is clear that we are preprogrammed to be able to handle symbolism.

Oliver Sacks – Seeing Voices
[A] child is not taught grammar, nor does he learn it, he constructs it from the ‘meagre and degenerate’ data at his disposal.  And this would not be possible were the grammar or its possibility not already within him in some latent form that is waiting to be actualised.  There must be, as Neom Chomsky puts it ‘an innate structure that is rich enough to account for the discrepancy between experience and knowledge’

Neom Chotsky believed that this ‘deep structure’ to language and grammar consisted of a vast system of rules [many hundreds of rules of different types] containing a certain fixed general structure.  Since the deep structure of language, as envisioned by Chomsky has an essentially abstract or mathematical nature, it could in principle be mapped equally well onto the surface structure of a Sign language, a touch language, a smell language and so on.

So where we have visions which involve smell, touch and so on, there may well be a deep underlying Universal language being employed.

Two indicators help to show that we are preprogrammed to handle this ‘underlying grammar’.

The first indicator  is that the problems people have with language turn up again in the use of Sign language.  For example, the deaf with Tourette’s syndrome distort and exaggerate different phonemic elements of the signs;  deaf schizophrenics split signs – deconstitute and reconstitute the Signs just as they would do with words- the so called word salad you get with non deaf schizophrenics; and there is also a condition called ‘Sign aphasia’ equivalent to verbal aphasia which limits grammatical competence.

The second indicator is what happens in dreams.

Oliver Sacks – Seeing Voices
The old lady in her nineties, but sharp as a pin, would sometimes fall into a peaceful reverie.  As she did so, she might have seemed to be knitting, her hands in complex constant motion.  But her daughter, also a signer, told me she was not knitting but thinking to herself, thinking in Sign.  And even in sleep, I was further informed, the old lady might sketch fragmentary signs on the counterpane – she was dreaming in Sign …. Sign I was now convinced was a fundamental language of the brain

So all the evidence seems to point to the fact a universally applicable language for communication with the spiritual world is feasible, could be rich enough, is capable of being learned and understood by everyone and furthermore seems to be better matched to the actual way the brain is organised to think. 

But does a universally applicable spirit language exist?

 In the computer world, there is no universal symbolic language.  Go from a  Macintosh to Microsoft and you find different icons being used.  But there is some commonality there – the window, the use of the mouse and its functions, certain icons, and so on.  So in effect within the computer world, some icons are unique to the ‘culture’ in which they are found.  But some are common across all cultures.
And so it is with the spiritual world. 
The answer then is no, no such universal language exists, symbolism tends to be culturally based, but where the spirit world has found it useful to have a single symbolism that it knows everyone will understand, it does exist.
Which made it all rather difficult for me because I then had to work out which symbols were common to us all and which were ‘culture or person specific’.  What was heartening from the evidence above, however, was that even with culturally specific symbolic languages, the mapping from one set of symbols to another was actually less complex than we may at first think.  This turned out to be the case when I did the analysis.  The underlying ‘grammar’ of symbols is such that it is easier to map symbols than to map language. 


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