Signs & Symbols
“Symbols are the imaginative signposts of life.”
― Margot Asquith
A sign is anything that stands for something. That something could be a concrete thing to an abstract thought. It could be an experience with self to an exchange with others. A sign could be a language in communication to a direction in transportation. Sign simplifies the complexity in interaction. It has to be simple to justify its usage. Signs indicate and needs interpretations. Signs delve deep into in deriving interpretation out of indications. Signs of aging to signs of astrology, signs of happiness to signs of sorrow, signs of joy to signs of frustration, signs of appreciation to signs of depression, signs of maturity to signs of success. These are signs in our daily life that indicates multiple things and we all interpret to our understanding. Signs are significant component in building our understanding of life and living.
A symbol is something that represents anything. That anything could be something else. A symbol by virtue of association presents something more than itself. Symbols could be to represent trademark to copyright to musical notes to mathematical methods to infinite to finite. Symbols are powerful mode of abbreviated communication. Thereby symbols sinks the usage of space which otherwise is expanded in words. A star in the keyboard to a start button in the remote to a short hand in the writing to a dot symbol in the sentences signifies the essence of symbols. Symbols are used to encode a meaning to decode a secret.
Signs and symbols have multiplicity of meaning. It could be intrinsic. It could be extrinsic. It could be literal. It could be symbolic. It could be simple. It could be complex. But meanings are integral to the existence of both the signs and symbols. A doctor interprets the signs of a patient to diagnose and discover the disease. A patient narrates the symptoms and a doctor clinically correlates with the signs to decide the line of treatment. Numbers to ranges enables the doctor to de-construct the symptoms. Engineers use the symbols in the drawing to represent the large structure in small scale. Lines to shapes enable engineers to construct the system. Circles to triangles to rectangles to bold lines to dotted lines become the new language for an engineer to an architect. Ironically for doctors the pathological numbers becomes the deduction and for engineer’s geometrical shapes becomes the addiction.
There are symbols in mathematics which defines the basis of science. The symbol “Sigma” denotes duality based on the type of representation. The upper case letter is used as symbol of sum and series, and the lower case letter is used as a symbol of standard deviation to normal distribution. The symbol “Pi” is interesting as nobody knows the exact value, no matter how the digits you calculate, the number never end. There are symbols in spirituality. The symbol “Om” has specific and significant spiritual meaning. But just adding a letter ‘h’ between the two letters of Om, it becomes “ohm” the meaning changes. It represents electrical currents. Symbols acts as the umbilical cord between the science, spirituality and mathematics.
When we talk of symbols we simply cannot escape the comparison with metaphors. Paradoxically, unlike metaphor the symbol needs no comparison. Metaphors draw comparison between two distinct objects and symbols defines representation of a distinct object. We use freely and figuratively the metamorphic symbols and symbolic metaphors in literature to lighten the language. Hence literary masterpieces are loaded with metaphors and symbols. Coincidentally, both the symbols and the metaphors have Greek origination. Symbols means put together and metaphor means to get transfer. The creative use of symbols and metaphors in literature by writers evokes the imagination of the readers.
The invisible ideas and individual ideals are the real representation and reflection of symbols. Ideas and ideals are integral parts of symbols, symbols by itself has no existence. Keep the idea out of symbols, it crumbles and disintegrates. The symbol embodies the true value and face of the object or the subject. Religious symbols have multiple manifestations. “Ankh” symbol coming from ancient Egypt represents the eternal life. “Wheel of Dharma” symbol represents the Buddha’s teaching of the path to enlightenment. In fact religious symbols are iconic representation of specific principles or large belief within that religion. Swastika symbol which means good fortune or well being, having deep history to its origin and usage by Aryans.
Unlike symbols, signs are simple and significant in their communication. An arrow sign shows us the direction to reach our destination. A red colour sign tells to stop and a green colour sign tells us to move. Male sign on the door to the female sign on the door, directs us to the right place. Moon signs to sun signs keep the astrologer enlightened and engaged. Zodiac signs determine our personality traits. The word zodiac literally means “circle of life”. Astrologers view zodiac as the archetypes of “cycles” and “circle time”. Each of the 12 signs symbolizes significantly different characteristics. Each of the sign is associated with a planet that is called as the ruler of that sign.
Symbols can be conventional or could be natural. The symbol of crescent is conventional to moon and the symbol of sun symbolizes light and life. Symbols gets it share in arts. Arts are not about subjects but also about the symbols. Signs can be conventional or could be unconventional. Signs gets it share in maps. Signs in maps are conventional and signs in mind are unconventional. Signs are therefore events whose presence or occurrence of something else. Symbols therefore also represent or present something else. Signs are manifestations though symbols are representations.
Symbols have a spectrum of meaning could be narrow to wide and, similarly signs have unique to universal meaning. Signs expand the interpretation and symbol contracts the imagination. Yes, in symbols there is a sign of bit of both the concealment and the revelation.