Symbolism

Test question. Define "abstract", subject to the following rules: (1) definition must not be circular or negative; (2) definition must not use other abstract terms; (3) definition must be provided in less than a minute. No one can pass this test, primarily because of the second rule, though rule three adds greatly to the difficulty. But if we cannot define complex words in terms of simpler words that have a direct relation to sense perception, how are we then capable of using these words in speech and writing? And by we, I'm referring to those people who can even give a circular or negative definition, such as "abstract is the opposite of concrete or non-concrete". At least half the population, if not 99%, is incapable of even that. So how do we communicate complex ideas with these low-intelligence types? In particular, how do we discuss the spiritual world with them?

Answer: symbolism. By limiting our language to which can be can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched, we can communicate with even the low intelligence types in a way they can understand. The abstract message is encoded into concrete symbolic form, and the subconscious will automatically decode, at least in those with "eyes to see and ears to hear". Symbolic thinking is one of the truly amazing abilities of the human mind, and is the secret behind the success of popular religions, best-sellers, blockbuster movies, etc. Symbolic encoding has the further advantage that is can be plausibly denied, in the event that the decoded message is one which the authorities don't want disseminated.

Parables are an example of symbolic language. Abstract version: "In teaching others, or passing along ideas, the teacher himself understands and remembers better that which he is teaching, because of how he is forced to organize his ideas, express them clearly, consider how these ideas might be perceived by those with a different background, answer any and all objections that might be raised." Symbolic version: "Jesus fed the masses with just a few loaves and fishes, and after he had fed them, they gathered up the leftovers, and what was left over was more than they started with." Amazingly, this parable occurs just a few paragraphs after Jesus berates the disciples for not understanding that, by "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees", he was referring to the teachings of the Pharisees rather than to literal yeast, and yet countless are the scholars (not ordinary lay people, but scholars teaching at divinity schools!) who cannot understand this simple parable. The inability to explicitly decode a parable does not mean that the parable does not have an effect at the subconsicous level—this is a critical point.

Even better than symbolic language is symbolic communication without language, via images, sounds, smells, bodily movements. Language shapes the conditioned mind in the first place, then language prevents the conditioned mind from being easily reshaped. Symbolic communication without language allows bypassing these defense mechanisms. Tarot cards and Astrology charts are a fine example of such symbolism (though there are some words on the Tarot cards).