We have images that surround us. Maybe you walk down the street and there is a billboard with a burger, some fries and a drink and message about ‘doing it your way’. Some of you might have assumed that the billboard is advertising Burger King. You would be right! Images flash across our television screen. Sometimes famous people are coupled with these images. Do we need icons? Do we need images and symbols to make sense of our world? If so, do religions need their icons to make sense of the world? What would it look like without them?
According to Brentano, “Intentionality” has been called the “mark of the mental” because of some observations by the philosopher Brentano to the effect that mental states always have an inherent, intended (mental) object or content toward which they are “directed”: I see something, want something, believe something, desire something, understand something, mean something etc.; and that something is always something I have in mind.” Our minds have been wired to express themselves in certain ways. We have been conditioned to make sense of our world through a series of environmental experiences, such as childhood, relationship with parents, friends, high school, jobs, books we read and other things. All these things help us define how we define the world we experience.
For example: A plate is a plate because in our society a round thin object that most use to eat food off of is defined as a plate. We have these icons all over our society.
Each group we participate in has their own set of icons that represent something. If you are part of a baseball team, your jersey has a symbol or logo on it. If you go to AMC theaters, you will see the letter in bold ‘AMC’ above the movie theatre. This is the symbol and icon for the theatre. If we saw that symbol all on its own we might assume it is the icon for the movie theatre. Once we label something, once we give someone or something a symbol it becomes nothing more or less than that. It might become less than what it was, but nothing more than what it now has become. Unless we change it. Unless society comes together and agrees on it.
But do we need icons? Can our world exist without?
Icons tend to be stayed once their made. For most people when they look at the Swastika, they don’t think of ancient Hinduism, they think of Nazi’s. When some see the Golden Arches they don’t think heaven, they think Mcdonald’s. Once an icon becomes an icon the definition of what it represents tends to not evolve. The danger in that is then we can only know what the icon has to offer based on the origin of its making. It can be nothing more. Unless we change it. “It is probably unreasonable to expect us to know the rule for picking out the intended referents of our words — to know it explicitly, at least*.” The idea behind the computation theory is that we don’t need the rule to dictate to us how words should be defined. That we don’t need to try and discover the rule, but that the rule itself is part of our brain, but also that in our brains is the willingness to change the meaning and what it refers to. Its sometimes we who are afraid to change it. It is scary. But we must come to a place where realize our symbols shouldn’t have the power over us, but that we should have influence over our symbols. Icons seem to thwart the potential of the object we identify it with. We should come to realize the limitations of our symbols and how they compute to us in our brains.
When we realize and are willing to hold our symbols and icons loosely than we can be people who are transformed by the potentianality of each of our symbols. If we don’t we may not grow. If we don’t we may not continue to learn. We will be stunted by the very things that once gave us meaning.
This can happen in religion too.
If Buddha represents Buddhism than Buddha seemingly cannot represent Christianity. If Jesus represents Christianity than he cannot represent anything else. Yet, Jesus says he came for the world. So, if Jesus had a symbol it wouldn’t be the cross it would be the world. It might be a symbol for all religions, or all people, or a big globe. Maybe that would be his necklace.
Maybe what could happen is we could expand our symbols to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Whether they be religious or not. When we intentionally choose inclusive images and symbols we deny the accusation that diversity is a scary thing. We embrace the kaleidoscope that is humanity. We deny that indifference has the last word. We proclaim that love wants to understand rather than ignore. When we willingly re-interpret our symbols in light of being human, we embrace what it means to be better humans.