A bunch of sheep shearers abandon their sheep and turn to metaphysics. The CEO dreams of a tennis match between Epicureans and Stoics.
First Classness and Being Stoic
– My wish has always been that those who meet me should admire me, and those who follow me should exclaim, ‘Oh, the great philosopher.’ (Epictetus, 55-135 AD)
The shearing shed was alive with curiosity and excitement. Times had been tough and so the crew had given up the wool trade and had gone off trying their hand in markets more in tune with the twenty first century. Everyone was there, the Ringer, the Jackeroo, the Tracker, the Roustabout, the Sheila who did the books, and of course the CEO.
The CEO gave a short speech introducing the speaker and the overall direction of the company. The company was to go into the business of explaining reality. Apparently the question of what’s real and what is not was of growing concern among the general populace. The speaker was to be Jackeroo, who had been doing some background research on the problem.
Jackeroo started off awkwardly, “The problem is to find the underlying principle governing the universe.”
“What if there isn’t any underlying principle?” asked Ringer dryly.
“If there were no principle then the world would be in total chaos” answered Jackeroo
“To me, the world always looks to be in total chaos anyway,” piped in Roustabout.
Jackeroo was beginning to get mired down into technicalities before he had even started. In desperation to cover all angles Jackeroo blurted out, “The universe is organised on a principle which is not a principle,” and then added as a consolatory but desultory explanation, “It’s a principle, which negates itself.” A look of baffled glazed eyes flashed across faces of the audience.
Well that quietened every one down.” commented Ringer, “A principle that isn’t a principle but negates itself, eh? Well, good luck.”
Jackeroo took a deep breath and, reading from rough notes, launched into his monologue,
“We cannot make much headway without starting to come to grips with a very fundamental concept. Borrowing from Computer Science terminology, we call it First Classness. Glimpses of this concept can also be discerned in String Theory in the guise of some kind of ‘democratic principle.’ Of particular interest will be the notion of First Class systems and those systems which are not First Class, that is to say, systems based on Second Classness. There is no notion of Third or Fourth Classness. First Classness introduces a strictly binary notion; you either make it through the pearly gates of heaven or you don’t.
One system that doesn’t make it through the pearly gates is formal mathematics. Mathematics is fundamentally wallowing in hardwired, incurable Second Classness. This is due to the fact that the only candidates for being First Class entities in mathematics are the axioms. Everything else in any mathematical formalism is qualified and predicated by axioms and hence Second Class. This includes even the entities defined in the axioms as also any theorem which can be deduced from them. This absolutist, undemocratic structure banishes all those entities which are dominated by the emperor axioms to stagnate in a static, dead world of Second Classness. Mathematics is not based on First Classness. Mathematics is a Second Class system.”
At this point the CEO interrupted, “Well that sounds all fine and noble but where’s the business opportunity?”
Jackeroo, starting to get excited, and exclaimed, “There it is! Clearly mathematicians have been flooding the formalisation market with Second Class systems for years. Surely then, there must be some people out there that would snap at the chance to take possession of a totally pure First Class Formalisation System. When offered the choice between a Second Class banana and a First Class banana, which one would, you take? Cursory market research will show that most people will choose the First Class over the Second Class, even if only because it just sounds better”.
This small team of former farmhands were fast transforming themselves into entrepreneurial metaphysicians. They decided that there was a market for this first class product. But it is here that they met a snag. There was a market but they didn’t have a product. Presently the market was being flooded by a product based on Second Classness, notably mathematics and the mathematical sciences. Mathematics is fundamentally riddled through and through with Second Classness. What they needed to put on the market was a formalisation system based uniquely on First Classness. They needed something that was entirely the opposite to mathematics, something that didn’t rely on a priori assumptions like axioms and data and so forth, something that could be built from reason alone. Something like what Kant was talking about.
The CEO suddenly rose to his feet, almost delirious with excitement. “And so what we need is…” he yells, but doesn’t have time to finish the sentence as his voice is drowned out by an immense shout from the floor. “We need anti-mathematics!” everyone shouts in unison. And so it came to pass that the case for anti-mathematics was proved; by general acclaim. The shearing shed would never be the same.
The CEO was all fired up by the idea of launching his First Classness super charged anti-mathematics onto the world stage. As the excitement died down, the CEO turned to his Ringer, who was his acting CTO. He asked in a whisper, “What exactly is First Classness?” The Ringer shrugged his shoulders, admitting that he had no idea but maybe the Rouseabout might know as he seemed to know a bit about everything.
In the weeks and months that followed, the CEO asked many wise and learned people the same question. Each time he got the same negative response. The only remotely promising response was from an aging computer scientist who said that First Classness was Good. His eyes glazed and he then entered into an explanation which was totally incomprehensible.
Finally, in desperation, he decided to pose the question to a mysterious Oracle who happened to be passing through town at that time. The Oracle replied enigmatically, “You will find your answer by taking on the complexion of the dead.”
The CEO was rather shaken by this, but after some reflection, he decided that this meant he had to read about the ideas of dead people. He started off by reading about the ideas of very dead people. In fact, he started reading about the ideas of Zeno of Citium, born in 334 BC. Coincidentally, it appears that Zeno also had a similar experience with his Oracle. Zeno, of course, was the founder of Stoicism.
After the life of Socrates, Hellenic philosophy started a process of splitting into two poles. The early signs of the process were already becoming apparent with the differences between Aristotle, and Plato his teacher. By the time it came down to the philosophies founded by Zeno of Citium and by Epicure, the separation was complete. The aim of philosophy was to resolve the central problem of man, notably how to achieve happiness. Unlike any of the world religions that came later, both philosophies addressed how to achieve happiness, not in the afterlife, but now in the present. Philosophy became the art of living happily. Both philosophies agreed on the aim but believed that the means to achieving this aim was located on different sides of the tennis court.
Let the game begin.
On the left side of the court are the Epicureans, inspired by the ancient philosopher Democritus. On the right side of the court are their arch enemies, the Stoics inspired by the ancient philosopher Heraclitus. It’s a familiar sight then, with the merry making atomists on one side and the brooding holistic thinkers on the other. In the middle, sitting in the umpire’s seat, are the Sceptics. The Sceptics in their attempt to be absolutely objective have suspended judgment and sit with their backs to the game.
Despite a verbal hand grenade being tossed over the net from time to time, play is slow. The object of the game is the pursuit of happiness.
The Epicureans have set up a dinner table on their side of the court and are enjoying themselves with pleasant chit chat, pleasant drink and pleasant food. Epicureans love bathing in pleasantness. All their friends are pleasant people who all behave pleasantly at all times. For them happiness is to enjoy oneself. Happiness is synonymous with pleasure. Pleasure however does not mean unrestrained hedonism as the excesses involved inevitably leads to unhappiness which is contradictory to the basic intent. As Epicure himself remarks, “It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life”.
The tension between the Epicureans and the Stoics on the other side is intense. However, despite the deep rivalry, the two schools share a lot in common. Both sides are dogmatic materialists in belief. Both sides are also in agreement that the fundamental aim in life is to live happily. Furthermore, they both unify and justify their doctrines by turning to the science and structure of nature and reality itself. It is at this point they part company. The Epicureans are atomists whilst the Stoics are monists.
Epicure was a great cosmological pastry cook. His strictly materialist creation was a recipe for responding to any question under the sun. The adherent, armed with such a world view, is thus free to lead a life unencumbered by doubt or fear arising from the metaphysical. The task was to be accomplished without recourse to the heavy hand of necessity, so popular in other brands of philosophy. His was to be a world of the laissez faire where even the gods went about their daily business without interfering with human affairs.
A perennial problem for materialists is how to allow a world which admits of beings which somehow behave in a way which is contrary to the absolute mechanical determinism of matter in motion. How can you have free will in such a world? Epicure came up with an innovative response, something that could be very useful on a tennis court moreover. He invented the Swerve. All bodies consisted of matter made up of atoms. The space in between bodies and atoms was filled with the void. Atoms moved about and interacted with each other in a very deterministic manner except now and then there was an exception to the rule. An atom would spontaneously make a tiny imperceptible swerve from its deterministic trajectory. This explains how the universe gradually micro swerved to its present state and the spontaneity of movement in animals and man.
It is interesting to note that Darwin’s theory of evolution introduces the Swerve into the reproductive process of living organisms. Each child organism may differ slightly from its parent or parents explained by a swerve arising from the latent indeterminacy involved in genetic coding arising from combinatorial variation and accidental mutation. Some swerves are successful and the organism lives on to reproduce. The unsuccessful swerves lead to failure of the organism to propagate. Evolution thus becomes the sum total of the successful swerves.
Some writers of recent times working under the banner of Atheism want to push this process further back to a time when the only matter that was, was dead matter. They postulate that somehow dead matter experienced swerves that lead it to leap the bridge from the dead to the living, from the inanimate to the animate. This is all part of the declared war with the stalwarts of Creationist Theory. The Creationists need God to create the world. Like Epicure, the new Atheism only needs the Swerve.
Swerve theories have taken different forms across the ages to express that allusive difference between strictly mechanical deterministic behaviour and the observed spontaneity of the animate. One non-materialist approach proposed by Bergson postulates an elan vital, an underlying “current of creative energy operating on matter directed to the production of free acts.” And so the Epicurean Swerve becomes powered by an elan vital. But, as Julian Huxley dryly remarks, the elan vital is about as illuminating as describing a locomotive as being powered by an elan locamotif.
Epicure’s cosmology starts off with a universe of atoms all moving vertically downwards in straight lines. The idea of the predominance of an absolute vertical up and down axis in the Cosmos might seem curious, but is easier to grapple with if one considers that the world may have been flatter in Epicure’s neighbourhood. His Swerve was necessary to explain how the predominately vertical state of affairs could possibly end up in the complex structured world around us. The world became the way it is by trillions upon trillions of micro swerving atoms. In addition, the Swerve was to be the genesis for explaining non-mechanistic animal and human behaviour. Nowadays modern science has replaced the indeterminacy immanent in the Epicure Swerve with the fundamental uncertainty which reigns in Quantum Physics. This is summed up in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, a fundamental tenant of Quantum Theory.
In the Uncertainty Principle we find the most fundamental expression of the Epicurean theory of the Swerve.
Philosopher David Chalmers remarks that the confidence in the traditional scientific method “comes from the progress on the easy problems.” Over the past decade or so, Chalmers has argued that it is time to tackle what he famously calls the “Hard Problem”, notably to develop a rigorous, scientific theory of consciousness. Chalmers’ Hard Problem is Hard to tackle because its requirements are antithetical to the very essence of the scientific method. The objectivity of the scientific method demands that only the object data be under consideration. All reference and interactions with the knowing subject must be eliminated. Thus to turn the tables and make the knowing subject the object of scientific enquiry means that all data has disappeared. And thus the problem of knowing the subject, this entity without data, becomes indeed a very “Hard Problem”.
As we have sketched in this book, this kind of problem has a long history, going back to Aristotle who saw it as the problem of developing the First Science, which he called the First Philosophy. Kant raised the ante in his time, calling for a science that didn’t rely on any a priori experience. Kant called such a science, metaphysics. In modern times, we now see it presented as the challenge of understanding consciousness badged as the “Hard Problem”. Nothing has changed over the past few millennia; whether it is called metaphysics or the Hard Problem, the problem still remains distinctly difficult.
Chalmers’ Hard Problem nomenclature raises possible objections. The emphasis on consciousness, as the last man standing, implies that traditional science has victoriously swept all before it, conquering practically everything in its way and has finally come to the final and last frontier to be conquered. Charmers offers no critique of the scientific method except that when it comes to consciousness it doesn’t work. This ignores the many foundational present day crises that riddle present day traditional science. What is needed is not just a science of consciousness but the noble, unifying science that Aristotle and so many others since have called for.
Having said this, we have no fundamental disagreement with what Chalmers has been saying. He is just presenting the scenario in terms of the measured language of Analytic Philosophy. He has considered all of the armaments and munitions at our disposal, inspected the terrain and has reported back to base. Despite all the equipment we possess and may develop in the future, it appears starkly apparent that there is absolutely no way we can win the battle. Game over.
Chalmers’ message is clear. If you want to win the war, you will have to start from scratch. You need an entirely different scientific methodology.
This, of course, is precisely our message. In order to start getting traction we have illustrated our thinking by using the biological brain as a metaphor for the required epistemological framework to do the job, the epistemological brain. The traditional sciences are what we call the left side sciences and correspond to the left hemisphere of our epistemological brain: reductionist, analytic, abstract, and obsessed with raw data. To resolve the Hard Problem we need another kind of science, the unifying right side science, the one that mysteriously operates out of the right hemisphere of our conveniently confected epistemological brain. In employing this pseudo-biological terminology, we take the same convenient path as Chalmers and effectively rebadge the ancient metaphysics problem as an organisational problem of mind. One could be tempted to say that it is a brain problem but, other than sounding a bit crass, the epistemological brain we are constructing is more based on a metaphor than sticky grey matter.
Thus, to resolve Chalmers’ Hard Problem, we are faced with the challenge of developing the right side science. Using the biological brain as a metaphor, this requires understanding right side reasoning, a totally different kind of reasoning from left side reductionism.
We have a fair idea of how linear, reductionist left side reasoning works. The student can start off with elementary logic, truth tables, Venn diagrams and so on as an introduction to symbolic logic. The abstract exercise can be combined with practical applications, so that at least some semblance of contact with the real world is inferred. This is all part of the Easy Problem.
What is the corresponding right side way of reasoning? We have already provided a preliminary response to this question in previous sections. Right side reasoning works with oppositions. The only way to understand something is in opposition to something else. In left side reasoning, it suffices to give a label to something in order to get a conceptual handle on it. What’s more, as general linguist Ferdinand de Saussure pointed out, the label can be completely arbitrary. This is first order semantics in action; labelling technology. This does not work for right side reasoning. Arbitrary labelling is not allowed. Ferdinand de Saussure stayed clear of the Hard Problem and stayed at home on the left side, the easy side.
Unlike left side rationality, labels form an integral part of right side reasoning and do so in an incredible way. However, that most exciting and positively overwhelming part of the story must wait until the later part of this work.
For the moment, we must work in a label free world. Rather than say “Let A be such-and-such, consider A”, our first examples were based on oppositions of cardinality, the opposition between One and Many. This is not the most fundamental opposition. It is too simplistic. However, the One-Many opposition is useful for an introduction. We then introduced a second opposition, another version of the same One-Many opposition. The second opposition was opposed to the first. The first was assumed to apply spatially from left to right, the second from front to back, as shown in Figure 3.
Now here is the rub. Something has been cut into four with these left-right and front back cuts. However, what has been cut into four? Nothing is really being cut in this first application of the semiotic square. What is being established is simply a unique frame of reference from which to comprehend reality. We build this tennis court-like structure in the middle of the Cosmos and demand that the whole Cosmos gyrates around it. From this unique pedestal for viewing the world, we have a ready-made reference frame of what is left and right, as well as what is front and back. This is all set in the polarity convention shown in Figure 3. We have discovered the location and shape of the centre of the universe! In fact, it has the same shape as the centre of your universe.
Right side science must be simple and simplifying, whilst continuing to climb out of the trap of appearing simplistic. Granted, our square-shaped mind situated in the centre of the Cosmos might appear a little simplistic. However, the situation can be saved by this egotistical mind-sprite admitting that there might be other entities in the Cosmos that enjoy the same viewing rights as itself. In this less determined context, the centre of the Cosmos becomes not that entity but any entity whatsoever, the true centre of the universe. One might argue that maybe only one such entity has the necessary four-part brain to join in the fun. This would not be an impediment, provided the consciousness in question could imagine itself in the place of any one of the other mindless entities and would thus see that same thing as the mindless (that is, if it had a mind). However, even that requirement could be weakened because the single mind might lack the capability of imagining changing places with another. In that case, it would not matter, as long as the same result would have occurred if it had such a capability.
At this point, we pull the ripcord even though we have not finished the story. These little naïve adventures into right side reason can be like a voyage into insanity. The author thinks that such exercises may be beneficial for students as long as they do not rote learn anything. The benefit for the student is probably to wean them off a dependence on left side linear thinking and on to binomial thinking. It should be kept in mind that similar tortuous adventures can be entered into by, for example, simply explaining in words something like the clock paradox in the special theory of relativity. In applying the theory mathematically, the formal methodology works quite smoothly and effortlessly. Right side relativity, once endowed with its own formalism, a relativistic relativity rather than the classical, should also be smoother and effortless.
It is time to look at some more practical examples of semiotic wholes.
The intention here is to provide a gentle introduction to right side science via practical example of the semiotic square. The approach is informal and intuitive at this stage.The semiotic square is an informal way of understanding wholes. A whole is Totality looked at from a particular perspective. Any thinker contemplating reality in a fundamental, non-abstract way is lead to semiotic squares of some kind. We have already seen this with the case of Kiyosaki, the uneducated but “rich dad” who thought holistically about the rationale of generating cashflow. Kiyosaki thus sneaked into the ranks of the great philosopher’s like Hegel. In fact, these ranks are full of autonomous autodidacts like Kiyosaki. Unlike Kiyosaki, Hegel was highly educated, but both these figures shared one thing: an aversion for abstract thought. Abstract thinking is left side thinking. Both Hegel and the entrepreneurial Kiyosaki empha-sised right side thinking. They reasoned in terms of wholes. Wholes are not abstractions, as they include the subject. This is right side thinking. The abstract thinker gives way to the generic thinker, a much more powerful breed.
The whole examined in this section is more qualified than the theological variety. Instead of subject as the impersonal self, with all of its theological overtones, we are going to consider subject as personal self. We are going to consider the human mind from the perspective of psychology. What is the basic generic architecture of the psyche? Our response will be in the form of Freud’s semiotic square interpreted from a viewpoint somewhat like that of Freud’s student, Jung, Once again we will start from scratch.We start with the left right divide of reality as conceived by modern present day science. Modern science splits the Cosmos into two sides. On the left side can be found objects which are completely untainted by subjectivity of any kind. The Cosmos itself is sometimes referred to in hushed and hallowed tones as the Laboratory. In between the objectified objects on the left side and the other side of the laboratory is a glass wall. On the right side of the glass wall is the observing subject. This subject is not like any ordinary subject as he is the Supreme Scientist, beyond and above all other. The Scientist, sometimes represented iconically as being dressed in an impeccably white dustcoat, a sure sign of divine objectivity, is completely fair, dispassionate and unbiased in any way. This means that he is devoid of any determined viewpoint or favoured perspective. The Scientist is endowed with the unique ability of being able to see everything from literally nowhere. He has the God’s eye view. These characteristics form the essential ingredients for being the Supreme Scientist, Lord of the objective universe.
Ordinary, everyday, scientists that have to work for a living aspire to emulate the Supreme Scientist and obtain his God’s eye view. Frustratingly, they never quite achieve their objective. Some scientists are so impressed that they take on the Supreme Scientist as their personal god. Like George Berkeley, they believe that you cannot have a Spectacle without an omnipotent Spectator, and that even applies to the lonely tree on a hill spectacle. Other scientists are completely unaware or refuse to embrace the existence of any scientist clever than themselves. These are the atheists who spend all their time on the Left Side and parasitically enjoy the fruits they find there.Once again, we have made a literary excursion into the realm of the great left right dichotomy. It paves the way to looking at the great left right cleavage of the biological brain used as a metaphor for understanding the personal Self.
|Figure 5 Freud’s semiotic square of the personal Self in the form of the human Psychic Self.|
The material in this section is probably better suited for discussion in a tutorial situation with a small group of students. It involves an exercise in lateral thinking across several semiotic squares. The importance here is to have some fun as well as perhaps getting a deeper understanding, without actually learning anything in particular. Our fascination is in the generic shape of knowledge and less in specific content.
Figure 6 shows two semiotic squares, the Freudian square and one for parliamentary democracy. To avoid any diplomatic incidents, the democratic square has been grounded in Australian democracy, hence the flag. Freud’s square has been grounded in the psyche of a person of undetermined nationality. We will now spend a few moments explaining the democratic square as a subterfuge for explaining Freud: the author knows only a little about Freudian psychology. Like most people, he knows more about democracy and particularly how it works in his home country.
As the author started to fill in the details of the left side of the square, as reported below, he inexorably slid into a mode of thinking that he can only describe as Zinovievian (but without the talent!). The world starts to take on a Yawning Heights (Zinoviev, 1979) character. Despite having read most of Alexandr Zinoviev, he is not really an influence, but represents rather a syndrome. It is a kind of disease, except you don’t know who has got it.. Describing left side reality from a right side perspective seems to be the catalyst.
One way of explaining the democratic square is to exploit a few Buddhist insights. This turns our subterfuge into a double subterfuge, but it can shorten a long story. Besides, everyone likes Buddhism.
Take Parliament for instance. From a Buddhist perspective, Parliament can be thought of as the house of suffering. All suffering ends up here. The house is full of suffering because of the craving. Craving stems from the Cravers down below in the bottom left side slot. The role of Parliament is to try to appease the Cravers, which presents a perennially difficult problem; hence, the suffering and angst.
Parliamentarians publically refer to the Cravers as Voters, which gives the impression that somehow the Cravers control Parliament by voting for it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Voting is compulsory in Australia. The main reason people vote is to avoid a fine and so have more money to spend on their cravings. However, sometimes they will vote for a Parliamentarian who seems to identify with their particular craving. In private, Parliamentarians refer to the Cravers as the “It.” The word “It” might refer to the Electorate, but more commonly, the word is used generically. Those clever enough to translate the word into German and creatively back into English might end up referring to the Cravers as the Id.
The Id is a teeming mass of opposing desires. Down-river irrigationalists confront up-river cotton farmers. Talk back radio Shock Jocks inflame the airways, railing against the boat people arriving on shore. Indigenous people writhe in the consequences stemming from when the forbears of the Shock Jocks arrived in boats on what used to be their shores. Greenies battle against loggers. Every complex, every syndrome imaginable will be found here amongst the craving Id.
That completes this little section on the left side of the Freudian psyche, written in Zinovievian mode. Coming over to the right side of the Freud square, the desire to write in Zinovievian mode vanishes. Actually, it feels a little bleak on this side as all we have is the Self in the frontal lobe and a thing called the Super Ego equipped with some powerful jurisdictional and moralising capability. There also seems to be some law enforcement capability as well. Super Ego seems to be full of lawyers and law enforcement officers.
Although we could pursue this topic at length, that is not on the agenda. So far, we have developed some experience in semiotic analysis and hopefully had some fun. The author has used these informal semiotic forms of analysis over many years in his profession developing software systems and computer languages.
The Dialectic of the One and the Many
Figure 3 The Theological Brain. A semiotic square for the four takes on reality based on cardinality oppositions.
The One is Multiple (Judeo-Christianity)
The Multiple is One (Islam)
The Multiple is Multiple (Buddhism)
The Theological Square of Squares
Key Phrases: Semiotic square, genetic code, generic code, DNA, start codon, left right hemispheres, the divided brain, epistemology, anti-mathematics, masculine, feminine, gender differentiation, Generic Science, Semiotic structure