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Searl, M.N. (1933). A Note on Symbols and Early Intellectual Activity. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 14:391-397.

(1933). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 14:391-397

A Note on Symbols and Early Intellectual Activity

M. N. Searl

My preliminary remarks are one or two comments on Ernest Jones' paper on the 'Theory of Symbolism'. Dr. Jones there reminds us that symbols in the strict psycho-analytical sense of the word have lost their link with the object symbolized. I suggest that this fact preserves the original psychical situation of symbol formation: i.e. the substitution of a new object for one lost: and so that we need not discuss whether symbols can exist before the unconscious proper is formed, even if we agree that subsequently symbols are symbols only where the link is unconscious.

Dr. Jones says further that 'all symbolism betokens a relative incapacity for either apprehension or presentation, primarily the former. This may be either affective or intellectual in origin, the first of these two factors being by far the more important'. He lays stress on the standpoint familiar to psychologists and philosophers the world over; that knowledge proceeds from the known to the unknown, that apprehension of differences implies a more advanced mental activity than apprehension of the familiar; but also shews that there is some evidence that the primitive mind, both infantile and savage, may shew greater discrimination or perception of differences than a more highly developed mind. He cites the facts of certain primitive languages; for example, 'the Arabs are said to have over five hundred words to designate lions in various aspects, but no word for lion; five thousand seven hundred and forty-four for camels, but none for a camel'.

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