Your eyes are sending a signal representing this text to your brain, where processing builds from determining color, orientation and borders within the visual field until the point where these obsidian markings are recognized as symbols. Symbols reference semantic meaning within our minds, activating their respective concepts so that we may experience the meaning of language. All of this, fantastically, is simply the different levels of organization that the brain applies to the incoming signal of the environment; instead of seeing the sea of individual photons the mind applies boundaries and recognizes objects with behaviors in an ordered meaningful world. So then, what makes symbols special?
Symbols are studied heavily in Logic, where a few symbols representing axiomatic logical concepts are combined to follow specific rules of inference. In the 1930’s, the mathematician Kurt Gödel shattered logical and mathematical worlds with his Incompleteness proofs, and the interested reader should check out Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach for a brilliant treatment of these concepts and more. These proofs were revolutionary because he managed to use a language of mathematics to prove something about all of mathematics, not just the math of the language.
Gödel was able to do this by realizing that we interpret mathematical symbols as concepts, and by being clever. He developed a scheme to give a unique Gödel number to all symbols in his language, so that a number is interpreted as an expression of symbols, which in turn is interpreted as a concept. In the case of just symbol-concept the language can only describe the conceptual domain, whereas here some of the symbols are interpreted as other symbols, allowing one language to describe the other.
Gödel numbering allowed for the mental simulation of the language. Instead of just using the mental representation or meaning of the language, the mind simulates the language and its behavior making it an interpretive end. This holds true for all representation; numerical models simulate animal populations when interpreted by people into concepts. The relationship between symbol, interpretation and simulation is a systematic way of investigating the difference between percepts, the things put in the mind by the world, and concepts, the things put there by the mind.
Primal attributions, such as object and change, seemingly belong to both percept and concept categories. They are basic Gestalts for constructing perceptions and are also some of the most abstract and fundamental human concepts. Object and change, like causality, come from simulation. In an earlier article cause and effect were represented respectively as something composed with a placeholder, and a placeholder composed with something. This leads to classifying changes as the composition of cause and effect around the placeholder; an object would simply be the identity case where the two somethings are the same. It also classifies consecutive changes, causality or functional composition as effects composed with causes around a shared something. Essentially changes are the simulation of nothing in everything, and their composition simulation of everything in nothing.
The physical world is interpreted by our senses into nerve signals, which are then interpreted or processed to create conceptual life, transforming the signals from a representation of the world to an active simulation. This simulation gives language, sings and symbols, the miraculous ability to transmit feeling as well as meaning.