Symbolic Thinking

"The great step from anthropoid to anthropos, animal to man, was taken when the vocal organs were moved to register the occurence of an image, and stirred an equivalent occurrence in another brain, and the two creatures referred to the same thing."  - Susanne Langer

Every word is a symbol.  So are many gesture and sounds, and certain objects that have flexibility of meaning.  There are fascinating and contrasting theories about how humans began to use symbols - particulary language.  But human civilization evolved because of this ability to create and hold symbol versions of the world in our minds and to reach agreement with others to share a symbol.

Of course, other animals make sounds in the middle of action or excitement. 

The human mind is capable of holding and using very complex symbols. 

Until the age of 12 or so, children are in the world of real things, playing and working and gaining a multitude of sensory experiences and rules about the world and its objects.  Play is a very good thing for children.  Beginning somewhere around age 12 to 14, young people gain the ability to 'move' objects into the mind and work with them. 

Symbols mean what we know about one thing can be applied to something similar.  We do not have to reinvent each wheel over and over again.  

Being a symbolic creature allows us to learn exponentially.  A mental symbol, like a magnet, picks up elements of other tangentially related things, and this wealth of relationships, sensory data and associations based on our history add to our understanding.

On an interpersonal level, symbols allow us to share information, stories, and ideas with other people.  Significantly, humans developed the means to "hold that thought" via mind-symbol and make it reemerge through language-symbol, at a later point in time and in another person.

Next, the symbol system of economics:  Accounting