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Back to the ancients to find the future of science

The Hard Problem — also Freud and Jung Semiotics

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.

Relativistic Relativity

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.

Semiotic Square of Freud

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.

One can only think of the poor Bertrand Russel, one of the greatest analytic, left side thinkers trying to understand Hegel, a great right side thinker. Trying to understand the right side with left side thinking technology? The atomist trying to understand monism? That is really a Hard Problem, as Russell freely admitted.

With the exception of Kiyosaki’s quadrant, the semiotic square examples have so far been concerned with the rarefied environment of the highly non-qualified. Understanding entities, which are practically devoid of any qualifying specificity, presents quite a challenge. A practical path to understanding is via the theological interpretation. This has many advantages as the entities are often seen as divinities that naturally spring into life in one way or another. The figures may be adorned in myth and shrouded in icons, which can be confusing. At the same time, every myth, every icon is the product of various people’s deep intuitions and wisdom accumulated across the ages. The author believes that a desirable part of modern education should be to impart the skill of being able to read and interpret these icons, myths, legends and sacred texts. This is not to debunk them, but to revel in them. The necessary skills can come from even an elementary mastery of semiotic analysis of the kind presented here.

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.

The relationship between the personal Self and the impersonal Self has been a long discussed topic. Advaita Vedanta provides the most elaborate accounts where the impersonal Self (Brahman) and the personal self (Atman) are considered as non-dual. Advaita non-duality is a more subtle way of saying that they are indistinguishable but different whilst being identical and distinguishable. For our immediate needs, it suffices to say that they share the same structure with the personal Self simply being a more determined version of the impersonal Self. The extra determination comes about via introducing a second cut of reality with the personal Self occupying the front and the rest of reality, the personalised objects relative to the personal Self, taking up the rear as shown in Figure 5.

As can be seen, the semiotic square illustrates the human psyche, the Self, can be understood in terms of the triad of psychoanalytic terms, the Ego, Id (the “It), and the Super Ego.

Carl Jung, one of Freud’s students, claimed that the right hemisphere of the brain was the “religious” side, an observation that has already become tantalising more evident as we have been advancing. The Freudian semiotic square is essentially what Jung described as a One-plus-Three  structure. He remarked that these structures underlie most religions. This is in agreement with the theological semiotic structures that we have examined in previous sections. We wish to push the envelope further and demonstrate how any structure, treated holistically will present in a One-plus-Three format. Thus, instead of explaining Freud’s’ Ego, Id and Super Ego in strictly psychoanalytic terms, we will take a more generic approach.

In the next section, we add in the semiotic square for a holistic system that is easy to understand, a political democracy.
Figure 5 Freud’s semiotic square of the personal Self in the form of the human Psychic Self.
Political Psychology and Psychological Politics
gure 6 Two semiotic squares with a generically common ground but different figures

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.

Side note:

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.

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, Consciousness, the Hard Problem.

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