The notion of symbolic representation is near to the hearts of most everyone in artificial intelligence. Indeed, within the technologically informed human sciences, cognition is almost universally understood to involve, in some fashion or another, the manipulation of assemblages of symbols called representations. The vast majority of this research assumes symbolic representations to have certain properties: they are
objects (neither events nor processes),
passive (not possessing any sort of agency themselves, though cfBirnbaum),
static (not apt to undergo any reconfiguration, decay, or effacement, except through an outside process or a destructive act of some agent),
structured (composed of discrete, indivisible elements whose arrangement is significant in some fashion),
visible (can be inspected without thereby being modified), and
portable (capable of being transported to anyone or anything that might use them without thereby being altered or degraded).
...Although the cognitivist understands symbolic representations as abstract mental entities, observe that all of these properties are shared by texts written on pieces of paper. Indeed, words like 'structured,' 'inspected,' 'modified,' 'transported,' and 'altered' must be interpreted metaphorically, by extension from similar operations performed on physical materials such as paper, in order to apply to abstractions inside of computers.