How to read a symbol?

At first sight symbols look simply like a picture or an image. At second sight it could be an icon with `a story´. But how can you read the story without the use of speculations?

Without any knowledge of the meaning of symbols, it has to be noted that it is always an hypothetical attempt to base your phenomenological research on what you could see in a symbol as a picture, using only the bare forms.

The question arises, when you can only use the bare forms in a picture, how you can learn and work step by step, methodically, to read the symbol as an icon.

First step: 

How do you position the picture in front of you?

What is for you above, below, right and left in this picture?

How do you decide on what you see in the picture what is above or below, right or left? 

Realize that it remains a hypothetical attempt.

When you decide to position the picture in a certain way, try consequently to relate the probable key positions to the chosen position at this moment, until the shapes within the symbol contradict the chosen position.

In abstract terms what is for you in this picture the vertical and what is the horizontal dimension, or may be the diagonal dimension?

Realise that one position in a picture is not enough to decide what is above, below, right or left.

See a picture as a whole with more possible related positions than the particular one you chose.

All the possible positions, related to each other, could determine in what way you want to explore the position of the forms in relation to their possible meaning.

At the end all the related forms could tell a story to the observer.

But before this story can be told, you have to decide with what probable significant forms you will start your investigation.

Second step:

Choose a significant form or better significant forms in this picture.

For example: the two forms that look like black `birds´, or the look-alike black `triangles´ or `pyramids´, the two threefold look-alike black `streams´ or `flows´, the two look-alike `combs´or `hairbrushes´ to `untangle´ and or `arrange´ the two `streams´ or `flows´, and so on.

If you start with the two look-alike birds, what does the picture show? Are they flying in an opposite direction, leftwards and or rightwards or upwards and or downwards?

In which (different) directions are the birds looking? What is a possible hypothetical connection between the two streams and the two birds?

How are the two birds shaped? And what are their differences? For example can you count the number of feathers on the wings? Are the two tails shaped the same? Did one of the two look-alike birds lose her tail feathers? What are those four little dots?

What are the two birds doing in relation, for example, to the one black triangle and to the two black triangles, or in relation to the two streams? Are the birds flying in the horizontal or in the vertical direction? If they are flying in the vertical direction, what is in this vertical up and what is down? Or in the horizontal opposite direction left or right? Is there a `polarity´ between up and down, above and below? Is there also a `duality´ between left or right?

Third step:

Probably is not only the chosen shape in the picture decisive but also the hypothetical dynamics between the shaped forms or figures?

What kind of dynamics can you differentiate in this picture? For example, could you see in the two opposite streams, birds a contrariety or a contrary direction?

One bird, losing his tail feathers, is flying to one black triangle, the other is flying to two black triangles; what happens first in this two opposite dynamics?

Can you relate the probable direction of the two birds to the probable direction of the two streams, one is streaming to two triangles, and one is streaming to one triangle, but what is their direction or is there no direction between these two opposite streams?

Can you relate the function of the two `combs´ to the probable direction of the two `streams´, one comb is `detached´ from the stream or flow and the other comb is half `attached´ to the flow or stream?

What are the differences between these two look-alike combs, what are their functions related to the look-alike two streams or flows? Could there be a hypothetical relation between the combs and the streams, flows?

You see, that one form or figure on its own has a possible meaning or significance, but a possible relation between two figures or two dynamics could alter this meaning profoundly or could help to understand how these figures and dynamics realize a possible synthetic coherent and consistent meaning?

Fourth step:

When realizing what could happen or what functioned or is in functioning in this picture, it is very important not to argue or to discuss what is the only real story that this picture tells you.

A possible reasoning has to be build on what you could see exactly, there could be possible hypothetical stories to tell about this picture.

It could be helpful to give hypothetical names to the figures, like birds, feathers, wings, triangles, pyramids, flows, streams, combs, hairbrushes, but stay cautious and research with care until the moment that the relation between the figures could be interpretated as a hypothetical function between them in the context of the whole picture.

Step by step, starting to determine the relevant positions, figures, dynamics in the context of the whole picture, you can build on an image and at least you could read a symbol as an image who tells you a probable story. 

There is no emperical correspondence between an image and a story, there is only a possible coherence between this symbol and this story, but you could try to find out if there could be a hypothetical coherent and consistent relation between image and story, as well as in the symbol on its own as well as in the story on its own and probably you can see the hypothetical analogy between them.

It remains an interesting phenomenological exercise, based on visual forms or figures, to seek and find words, notions for certain particular, partial, proportional and participial figures in the context of the whole picture to build on a possible meaningful story.

This exercise is helpful in developing visual thinking and is a necessary step to be able to read a visual map, diagram, model on a qualitative system dynamic way. Because system dynamic thinking and working tries to bring together: thinking in notions and thinking in images, in an emperical analytic way or method and in a phenomelogical synthetic way or method.

Perhaps the challenge is to rediscover a symbol as a system dynamic constructed mind map as a scheme, designed as a picture, concepted as a model and framed as a pattern of compatible functional models. Nobody knows, before a serious attempt, if old symbols will tell us an important story, perhaps a holy or holo-tropic story to reanimate the human capability to think in images, to solve, for example, complex ecological problems.

In the end, when you find the story of this symbol, you can probably understand why we called this symbol a cosmic diagram. What could be the meaning of this `diagram´ in the dynamics of this symbol, could it be more systematic than in first sight?

Would it not be an amazing experience when we formalized the related positions in this symbol with the help of topological, non-linear, qualitative mathematical rules into a fractal pattern hypothetical compatible with other symbols and concepts? How to bridge quality to quantity?

Jules Henri Poincaré´s visual mathematics is a mathematics of patterns and relationships known as topology, Karl Friedrich Gauss with his diagram as a Cartesian coordinate system: the real numbers on the horizontal axis and the imaginary numbers on the vertical axis to construct complex numbers (z=x+iy) in a two dimensional complex plane, Benoît Mandelbrot how to formalize the mathematical rules (for example the Gaston Julia set: z → z² + c, where z is a complex variable and c a complex constant) of fractal patterns.

Dit kosmogram staat afgebeeld op een schaal uit de oudheid. 

Afkomstig uit Elam (c.a. 3100-350 v.Chr), gelegen in het midden oosten, het huidige Zuidwesten van Iran, langs de Tigris.

Een zeer oud volk met een bijzondere cultuur, taal, religie en een matriarchale samenleving, zie voor verdere info wikipedia.

Hier zien we een van de vele pogingen van de mythisch denkende mens om de dynamische grondstructuur van de kosmos uit te beelden.

In al deze pogingen zien we een beperkt aantal gelijksoortige vormen, ze geven bepaalde grondsymbolen weer zoals de cirkel, het vierkant, de substantiele as, de vier kwadranten, een drievormigheid, een berg, een vogel, een wereldboom, de axis mundi, etc. zie afbeelding.

Deze kosmogrammen zijn te 'lezen' als visuele informatie bronnen in beeldtaal. Ze vormen ons uitgangspunt voor het ontwikkelen van een visueel beeld medium waarop denkprocessen uitgebeeld kunnen worden in een systeem dynamisch verband. Vandaar dat we deze afbeeldingen zijn gaan beschouwen als 'cd-rommetjes' uit de oudheid. De gevonden dynamieken in al deze symbolische beeldvormen zijn we systematisch gaan ordenen in een visueel gestructureerd beeldveld: door ons verder aangeduid als diagrammen en dynagrammen

Bron: Afbeelding uit Mythen van de mensheid Alexander Eliot, 1977 uitgeverij Kosmos ISBN 90 215 06521


This cosmogram is depicted on a scale from the antiquity.

Originating from Elam (C. 3100-350 BC), located in the Middle East, the current Southwest Iran, along the Tigris.

A very old group of people with a special culture, language, religion and a matriarchal society, see wikipedia for further info.

Here we see one of the many attempts, of a mythical thinking being, to imagine and to depict the dynamic ground structure of the cosmos.

In all these attempts we see a limited number of similar forms, they represent certain ground symbols such as the circle, the square, the substantial axis, the four quadrants, a trinity, a mountain, a bird, a world tree, the axis mundi, etc. see image.

These cosmograms can be seen and 'read' as visual information sources in visual language. They form our starting point for the development of a visual image medium on which thinking processes can be depicted, in a system-dynamic context. That is why we have come to see these images as 'cd-ROMs' from ancient times. We have systematically ordered the dynamics found in all these symbolic image-forms into a visually structured image field: diagrams and dynagrams

Source: Image from Myths, Alexander Eliot, Publisher: McGraw-Hill (1976),ISBN-10: 007019193X ISBN-13: 978-0070191938