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Sign and Symbol

One of the more remarkable achievements in the evolution of humankind is how we learned to communicate through symbols. In our language, images, and gestures we convey messages that must be learned and interpreted by others. A symbol is something that represents or stands in for something else. The term symbol originates from the Greek word symbolon meaning token or sign. Symbols must be learned as they represent, stand in for, or suggest something else such as an idea or object. Anthropologists and sociologists define symbols as “representative forms of thought.” For Robert Sapolsky, “Symbols serve as a simplifying stand-in for something complex. (A rectangle of cloth with stars and stripes represents all of American history and values.) And this is very useful. To see why, start by considering basic language-communication without a lot of symbolic content.”

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