Asymbolia has several definitions in the field of
medicine. It was originally described by Finkelburg in
1870 as a condition in which the affected person does
not understand the symbolic meaning of things such as
signs, symbols, gestures, and words. Examples would
include not understanding the meaning of a hand wave,
religious symbols, musical signs, and punctuation.
Some have used the word visual asymbolia (or cortical visual aphasia) to describe
impaired word recognition. In this form of asymbolia, reading and writing would also be
difficult (and sometimes impossible). This form of asymbolia is caused by damage to
parts of the parietal lobe known as the angular and supramarginal gyrus, which both play
an important role in language processing. The parietal lobe is an area of brain tissue
located behind the frontal lobe.
While some have described asymbolia as a type of receptive aphasia (acquired
disturbance in understanding language) others have described it as a memory
disturbance (loss of memory images). These distinctions have been a source of debate in
the neurological literature. The second definition of asymbolia is a loss of the ability to
comprehend the form and nature of an object by touch. There is another form of
asymbolia referred to as pain asymbolia (also known as pain dissociation) in which pain
is not experienced as unpleasant or bothersome. Asymbolia comes from the Greek word
"a" meaning "to do without," and the Greek word "symbolon" meaning "an outward sign."
Put the two words together and you have "without an outward sign."