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Back to the ancients to find the future of science

Kiyosaki and the Semiotic Square

Kiyosaki’s books, mentioned in the previous semiotic post, illustrate the difference in thinking between his highly educated, abstract thinking poor dad and his uneducated, but smart, rich dad. The author’s favourite way of summing up the situation is with the observation:

Most people who successfully complete university studies end up working for someone that didn’t.

The author is being deliberately provocative. However, the present state of world affairs demands some sorely needed provocation. Left side, abstract thinking increasingly dominates university education, even in the humanities. However, such a way of thinking leads to high rate of failure in the real world, and particularly in the business world. Apparently Kiyosaki’s clever, university educated dad was a dedicated left side thinker and so had all the ingredients for becoming a flop in the world of business. His other dad, had learnt business acumen by avoiding abstraction, shunning opinion, calling a spade a spade, and relied more on right side thinking.In an attempt to overcome this problem, and cash in on business demand, many universities have set up their own version of the famed MBA, the Master of Business Administration. Other university degrees are oriented to produce future employees for the universities themselves, government, and corporations. In contrast, the MBA provides some kind of remedial epistemological therapy for graduates that aspire to run these enterprises. To some extent, the MBA can be successful. An important part of the MBA is real world experience in a wide number of case studies, rather than offering abstract theories of real world experience. Often these case studies involve the student moving to another country to carry out the work. One can also detect some attempt to experiment in other modes of thinking than the abstract and analytical modes. The MBA can dabble in the synthetic and the lateral. The author is unaware of MBAs that do drills in semiotic analysis, thus taking a leaf out of Kiyosaki’s book, but would not be surprised to see such cases.

In the next section, we take a deeper look at the difference between left and right side rationality.

Left Side Versus Right Side Reasoning

The mantra being repeated many times here is that there are two takes on reality. From an epistemological viewpoint, this can be seen as two kinds of knowledge, conditional and unconditional knowledge. Conditional knowledge corresponds to all of our traditional sciences, including axiomatic mathematics. The big question lies on the unconditional side of knowledge where any corresponding science is lacking. The kinds of thinking involved in these two forms of knowledge, we refer to as left side and right side knowledge, the inference being that the fundamental epistemological dichotomy is mirrored in the architecture of mind, and correspondingly of its implementation as brain.
One popular approach to a dichotomy is to interpret in the thesis-antithesis format leading to some kind of synthesis, which is supposed to resolve the inherent opposition. Some might even claim that this constitutes dialectics. Semiotics offers an alternative approach. Rather than attempt to explain how Nature or Mind might function synchronically as a temporal or logical process, the emphasis is placed on the diachronic structure. We concentrate on the shape of knowledge and the corresponding shape of Mind. Appealing to poetic license, we interpret the corresponding structure as the epistemological mind. We may employ other terms that help understand the notion such as the semiotic brain, and sometimes the metaphorical brain.
Initially, this metaphorical brain architecture is characterised by a split right down the middle, dividing it into a left and a right hemisphere. As a structure carving up scientific knowledge, traditional scientific knowledge and its characteristic way of thinking goes into the left hemisphere, and the mysterious, yet to be understood, holistic, unifying science and its way of thinking goes belong to the right hemisphere.

In addition, the left-right split there is the front-back split based on the dichotomy between subject in the front and object in the back. In this case, knowledge is divided into knowledge of self and knowledge of object. Combining the two dichotomies together leads to the semiotic square shown in Figure 2. When interpreted from an epistemological perspective, the resulting semiotic square, it illustrates the four fundamental kinds of scientific knowledge. On the left side, the traditional sciences of object correspond to the physical sciences. Axiomatic mathematics, which has the study of axiomatically defined abstract objects as its vocation would also belong here. The traditional left side science of subject would correspond to the social sciences and would include empirical, behaviourist psychology. In passing, one could consider the possibility of an axiomatic mathematics of subject. Perhaps mathematical Category Theory would fit into this slot, as it is an attempt to provide an abstract overview of all mathematics. It is the closest that the axiomatic can come to the notion of mathematical subjects rather than mathematical objects. However, we will not labour over that point.

There are a myriad of different traditional sciences and the number keeps on growing. This is a characteristic of left side science: there are many of them. There is an explosion of knowledge into an ever-increasing number of specialisations. Each science is fundamentally atomist in its philosophy and the overall epistemology ends up as an atomism of sciences. We then come to the question of what kind of sciences should occupy the right side slots of the semiotic square. The first thing to note is that the monism of the right replaces the atomism that dominates the left side. There is only one right side science. Right side science has for its vocation, the unifying of knowledge. There can only be one such science. Right side science, as the science with the role of unifying reality science, is the science of unified reality. The one right side science must still answer two questions and provide a science of object and a science of subject, but in a different manner to the left side science. On the left side, knowledge splits irrevocably into the sciences and the humanities. On the right side of the epistemological divide, object and subject presents itself as two sides of the one coin. As a preliminary attempt, the epistemological square shown in the diagram below has knowledge of Self in the frontal lobe and knowledge of Object in the rear.

Right side knowledge of self can be interpreted in many ways. It can include knowledge of the personal self and knowledge of the impersonal, generic self. It includes knowledge of the personal god and knowledge of the impersonal, transcendental god. Unlike the left side knowledge obsession with labelling everything, right side knowledge dispenses with labels. Instead of trying to put this and that into individually labelled, cardboard boxes, right side knowledge is always relative: it knows this relative to that. As such, right side knowledge can accomplish something to which the left side mode of thinking is totally oblivious: the right side can know the cardboard box as well as what it has come to contain. Right side knowledge works as a doubled edged sword. Even what is container and what is contained becomes relative.

Epistemological Semiotic Square

Figure 2. Superimposing the two fundamental dichotomies of knowledge leads to an epistemological square. Only right side science is aware of the full significance of such structure of oppositions and so has the potential for knowledge of Self.

Left Side Obsession with Truth Value

Left side reasoning can be formalised in terms of the various kinds of logic; propositional calculus, predicate calculus, modal logic and so on. All of these different species of logic come under the common genus of symbolic logic. Here we see the first obsession of left side reasoning, the obsession with symbols and the manipulation of symbols. Symbols form the basic atomic material of logic: Take away the symbols and there can be no symbolic logic. Sequences of symbols lead to logical expressions: reasoning takes on a linguistic character. At this point, the second obsession of left side reasoning comes into the fray; attaching truth values to logical expressions. A logical expression is either true or false. Of course the expression must be meaningful (be a well-formed-formula, wff). Thus, the meta-logical expression “the expression X is a wff”, can itself be true or false. Left side reasoning embraces the law of the excluded middle, and so militantly ignores any possible truth-value other than true or false: the logic is systemically binary valued.

Left side reasoning, as mirrored in axiomatic formulations, involves non-constructionist formalisms. As is well known, constructionist formalisms require reasoning that breaks with the law of the excluded middle. A third truth-value of “unknown” is required. To cater for this situation, three valued, and even unlimited multi valued logics have been introduced into formal left side reasoning. However, this is just a smokescreen. Ultimately, at a lower level than the three-valued proposition P, there can be another proposition Q that ultimately states, “P has the truth value of undefined” where, once again, Q is either true or false. This inbuilt, systemic obsession with truth-value of symbolic expressions and the ultimate binary valued nature of truth is a primary characteristic of left side reasoning.

Left side thinking relies on sequential, deductive forms of reasoning dominated by a binary valued truth system. Pioneered by George Boole in the mid-nineteenth century, the symbolic logic mode of reasoning became increasingly formalised to end up underpinning all present day sciences and left side schools of philosophy such as Analytic Philosophy. In The West, it has become the dominant mode of reasoning in our time. However, this apparent victory may be short lived.

Left and Right Reasoning in the Biological Brain

Symbolic logic is an example of abstract reasoning, the speciality of left side thinking. A prime consideration of this book is to attempt to avoid the fatal attraction of abstract thought, a primary characteristic of left side thinking. This can be difficult at times, due to the profound questions that we have to confront. The book (McGilchrist, 2009) by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist shows has been a source of inspiration for the author in drawing parallels between the philosophy and the biological brain. Consider what he has to say concerning the difference in reasoning between the two hemispheres of the biological brain.

First, there is his basic thesis, namely:

My thesis is that the hemispheres have complementary but conflicting tasks to fulfil, and need to maintain a high degree of mutual ignorance. At the same time they need to co-operate. How is this achieved, and what is their working relationship like?

Here, McGilchrist is talking about the biological brain. He is also implicitly talking about what we have been calling, the epistemological brain.In his chapter entitled The Triumph of the Left Hemisphere, ponders over what the world would look like, if the left hemisphere of the biological brain were dominant.
… the world would change into something quite different. And we can say fairly clearly what that would be like: it would be relatively mechanical, an assemblage of more or less disconnected ‘parts’; it would be relatively abstract and disembodied; relatively distanced from fellow-feeling; given to explicitness; utilitarian in ethic; over-confident of its own take on reality, and lacking insight into its problems — the neuropsychological evidence is that these are all aspects of the left hemisphere world as compared with the right.

Once again, McGilchrist is talking about the biological brain, however, by attending a seminar in any one of the sciences there is a good chance you could come out feeling the same impressions and sentiments. It looks as if the left hemisphere has taken over in the scientific world.

The two biological hemispheres harbour two different ways of thinking. McGilchrist describes repeatable experiments carried out by Deglin and Kinsbourne that clearly show this difference. How does each hemisphere process a syllogism?
Take the following example of a syllogism with a false premise:
  1. Major premise: all monkeys climb trees;
  2. Minor premise: the porcupine is a monkey;
  3. Implied conclusion: the porcupine climbs trees.
Subjects with one or other of their hemispheres disabled, or both intact were asked, “Do porcupines climb tree?”

As Deglin and Kinsbourne demonstrated, each hemisphere has its own way of approaching this question. At the outset of their experiment, when the intact individual is asked ‘Does the porcupine climb trees?’ she replies (using, of course, both hemispheres): ‘It does not climb, the porcupine runs on the ground; it’s prickly, it’s not a monkey.’ (Annoyingly, there are in fact porcupines that do climb trees, but it seems that the Russian subjects, and their investigators, were unaware of this, and therefore for the purposes of the experiment it must be assumed that porcupines are not arboreal.) During experimental temporary hemisphere in activations, the left hemisphere of the very same individual (with the right hemisphere inactivated) replies that the conclusion is true: ‘the porcupine climbs trees since it is a monkey.’ When the experimenter asks, ‘But is the porcupine a monkey?’, she replies that she knows it is not. When the syllogism is presented again, however, she is a little nonplussed, but replies in the affirmative, since ‘That’s what is written on the card.’ When the right hemisphere of the same individual (with the left hemisphere inactivated) is asked if the syllogism is true, she replies: ‘How can it climb trees — it’s not a monkey, it’s wrong here!’ If the experimenter points out that the conclusion must follow from the premises stated, she replies indignantly: ‘But the porcupine is not a monkey!’
Deglin and Kinsbourne’s experiment can be repeated with syllogisms ranging across many different subjects and the result will be the same. The experiment clearly illustrates the fragilities of left side reasoning based on what is essentially a simple form of symbolic logic.
Symbolic logic is very easy to teach and master, even though the resulting apparatus has only the most tenuous grounding in reality, if at all. However, despite many philosophical objections, it has to be granted that left side forms of reasoning underpin the most successful scientific venture to date. Left side reasoning underpins science, as we know it. This raises the question: What is the corresponding organon for right side rationality?

Right side forms of thinking were much more dominant in ancient times. In pre-Socratic times we find Heraclitus who exclaimed that reality could only be understood in terms of oppositions. To every proposition there was an equally valid second proposition in total contradiction with the first. Heraclitus’s picture of reality consisted of a ferment of oppositions. His philosophy lacked discipline and gave a picture of reality dominated by irrational anarchy. Even with Kant, several thousand years later, the picture had not progressed significantly. One way Kant treated the oppositions was in the form of his four antinomies. There might be many oppositions in metaphysics, but he claimed his four antinomies were the most important. Kant put the spotlight on the possibility of a new, noble science and that somehow it would be fundamentally involved with rationality based on oppositions. a form of dialectical reasoning in some way. However, he provided little guidance to how such a science of oppositions could be organised. He also presented his versions of the Categories (hastily prepared, according to Hegel). The categories were arranged in a four by four structure, vaguely indicating that deep reality could be understood in terms of organised square like structures.

The purpose of this book is to show how Heraclitus’s Cosmos of apparently confusing oppositions can be presented in a rational manner. The first step towards understanding the science is to achieve an elementary familiarity with handling oppositions. This involves practical exercises in semiotic analysis where the basic tool is the semiotic square. We have already considered one practical example, Kiyosaki’s semiotic cashflow quadrant. A number of other examples follow below.

Teaching semiotic analysis should be an essential part of the curriculum. The approach is simple, simplifying, but can reach into the most profound areas. This elementary training in right side thinking can help to counteract the excesses of left side rationality emphasised in present day education. To be successful, students must work across many problem domains. Unlike left side thinking, specialisation is not a characteristic of right side thinking.
Fundamentally, reality can only be understood in terms of oppositions. Semiotic analysis introduces such an understanding. At the basic level, two oppositions, themselves opposed to each other, form the semiotic square. The next task is to start to understand the semiotic square in more detail. The next example of semiotic analysis will illustrate how left side thinking, obsessed as it is by truth-values, is based on belief. On the other hand, we will come face to face with right side thinking with the startling realisation that it doesn’t believe in anything. In the process we discover that the right side belief free zone, nourishes a much more reliable form of truth.
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.

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