Symbols are vessels of meaning. Nature produces some few intentional symbols – like flowers that attract bees with certain colours or shapes, or the vivid cautionary hues of poisonous frogs. But only humans can learn and create symbols arbitrarily, and in fact need to do so. Mankind produces and utilises a volume of symbols that vastly exceeds that of nature.
A little while ago I read Tolstoy’s essay “What is Art?”, and found it quite compelling. I had read a few reviews beforehand, which were critical of the religious element, and this lowered my expectations somewhat. However, upon reading it, I found that Tolstoy’s conception of religion is very different to most, and is compatible with a materialist and determinist worldview. It seems to me that perhaps the real reason some people did not respond positively to this essay was its uncompromising moral consistency, which could perhaps be mistaken for religious zealotry.