What is semiotics?

October 10, 2023



What is semiotics?

The world is a semiosphere meaning the visual world around us have a symbolic and mythical meaning. In Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR), we often say that when it comes to making meaning of the outside world, ‘everything is significant’ or ‘nothing never happens.’ To a semiotically sensitive person i.e., to someone who becomes aware of the limits of their senses, there is so much wisdom in coming to terms with our ignorance. Being semiotically aware makes us culturally sensitive and risk intelligent.


I hope you will enjoy listening and watching this podcast as much as Dr Rob Long and I enjoyed creating it for you.


Further information



Nippin Anand, Rob Long


Nippin Anand  00:00

Hello and welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin. I am the founder of novellus, a company based in the UK specialising in organisational culture and risk maturity. Our work is to make organisations rather people culturally sensitive and risk intelligent. And we promote the idea of transdisciplinary thinking and managing risk, which basically means bringing together different disciplines to make sense of how human beings make decisions, how we learn, and how we learn to work together. Our area of work includes organisational culture, accident investigations, leadership training, and a culture of learning through proven experiential learning methods based on social psychology of risk. Everything we do is semiotic meaning our methods are visual and verbal. And it is only through visual and verbal methods that we begin to appreciate that no two people see the world in the same way. Meaning, if I see things differently than you, then slow down, ask open ended question, start respecting and listening to my point of view, so that we can both learn from each other. The world is a semi sphere, meaning that the visuals around us have a symbolic and medical meaning. In social psychology of risk, we often say everything is significant, or nothing never happens when we go in the field. If you’re semiotically sensitive, you are aware of the limits of your senses, then there is so much wisdom to be gained in coming to terms with the limits of our senses, which is coming to terms with our ignorance. Being semiotically aware makes us culturally sensitive, and risk intelligent. And that is precisely what this podcast is about. In this podcast. I’m joined with Dr. Rob long. And together we explore the idea of what is semiotics. I hope you will enjoy listening and watching this podcast. As much as Robin I enjoyed creating it for you. Rob I’ve done several semiotic walks with you in the last three to four days if I think it would be great to speak about semiotics of what is semiotics to somebody who is completely new to this area? So let’s just discuss what is semiotics? And then see where the discussion goes. It’s a bit like maybe, maybe Rob, the starting point should be you telling you you’re just sharing your How did you come to the world of semiotic?


Rob Long  02:45

Oh, that’s a long way back.


Nippin Anand  02:46

That’s very briefly,


Rob Long  02:47

I was going to say, I know people who would give you a technical answer, and oh, semiotics is a sign symbol systems. You know, so much of the academic life about defining what something is, is so much like just reading a dictionary, the truth is, lots of our, our experiences of what we understand are way, way, way beyond the dictionary. So when you ask me about semiotics, I’m not interested in the technical explanation of semiotics. If you said to me, what semiotics I’d say, Let’s go for a walk. If you don’t feel semiotics, and you actually don’t know what it is, it’s like culture. Don’t mean give some nonsense. A culture is what we do around here. Oh, really? So how does mysticism fit in with what we do around here? You have to experience it. You have to see it. You have to feel it. And so when I come to semiotics, it is so big. You can hardly define it. Yuri Lachman called the world the semi a sphere. That’s how big semiotics is. It is it is the world it is everything. And so what is semiotics? Could be a binary trap. If I say that sign symbol systems. That’s such a small part. I’d rather say back to you. You’ve been on three rather long semiotics walks with me in three days. What did you learn semiotically from the cemetery? What did you learn from the cook plantation? What did you learn from semiotic drive today? We didn’t walk we drove. What did you learn about semiotics? At at the cemetery, maybe let’s start there.


Nippin Anand  04:41

But even before we did that, I just fell in love with the word dream time.


Rob Long  04:48

Now the Indigenous Australia. Yes,


Nippin Anand  04:50

I mean, the more I think about it in the last three to four days, the more I’m intrigued by the idea of dream time, which is taking some time to reflect on how do we connect with nature? How do we are part of nature, we are not against nature? Why are we going so much against nature all the time. And that thought itself is so fascinating. And it’s my limited view of what semiotics is all about is when you walk into nature, when you go for a walk doesn’t matter whether it’s a safety walk, or it’s a forest walk, how do you how do you feel? How do you see how do you hear? How do you resonate with nature? Yes, yeah, that that stood out to me. And the more non rational you are, the more poetic you are, the more relaxed you are, the more the nature talks to you. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, just take the example of symmetry as the question. How much one could draw from that experience of going and walking into a cemetery? Here is a few people who are supposed to be buried in this place, the privileged ones, and everyone else? On a completely different side? Yes, yeah. How much of it is about geometry? How much of it is about something like a penis protruding upwards? It’s


Rob Long  06:16

a phallic symbol. Yeah. And the point is that


Nippin Anand  06:20

one needs to recognise that everything is significant. If everything this no matter, what you see, has a meaning has significance, nothing never happens. So as an anthropologist, you come very quickly come to terms with the idea that everything is there for a reason. Yes. And you got to figure it out. The more you connect with the world around you, the more you live and feel and resonate with it, the more you will draw, yes, the more you try to make rational sense of it, the more brain centric you get about it, the more you start to lose it. And to me, the one of the most powerful thing was this few things. One is that when you see something, don’t see look at it as a unique thing. There are many, many other patterns around you that would that would that would look something like this. So when I looked at that symmetry and the boundary around it, and the phallus was a very, very unique indeed. And when I look at back at Hinduism, and we have Shivling, which is his Lord Shavers penis and and his wife’s vagina, it’s the same symbol. Yes, it is. And how come two cultures never never met in time and space share the same symbology? Yeah, yes, that that was powerful. The other thing that so that that the more one becomes relaxed, the more one starts to see things, the more you can connect with other cultures, the more you can connect with other other races, other ethnicities, other sources, you’re not the only one facing a problem. There are many, many more who have lived this problem, and many more who will live this problems. So one of the big takeaways for me was and I have always believed in this, that once you go deep into any culture, there are no cultural differences. These are all symbols of mortality. The we have human beings, no, we have a lot of the species that knows that it’s mortal. And we have found our ways to avoid or to claim eternal life to deny, to deny death and to to claim it on a life. So what that that was one big takeaway, that there are other cultures that share the same symbols and myths. The other thing that I found very powerful was robbed that where is the power? Who has the power, who has never assume that this place is power neutral, nothing is power neutral, whether its nature, or its artefacts of human culture, everything has power embodied in it. And you It’s only when you look carefully at it, you will, you will see power in everything, whether it’s a cemetery or the museum or the wherever we went, one could recognise power. The third thing I felt was very powerful was understanding that there is dialectic, that understanding that what you’re seeing, the opposite of that also exists. Some people would call it paradox. Some people would call it trade offs, byproducts and the Buddhists call it Yin Yang Yin Yang. Yes, yes. Mandala for example. Yeah. So when you and it’s it’s so easy that you when you see something to get to get so imbalanced that I know what this is. But once you contemplate once you start to question a little bit, you can also see the opposite of it. Yes, yes. And I think living in that paradox, living in this idea that I’m seeing a tree which is half of nature, and half of it is is is nature extracted from it? Yes. Which is the cork tree. You know, we take The shell out from the


Rob Long  10:03

bottom half the tree for


Nippin Anand  10:03

court Falco. And just You’re, you’re able to see a lot more than you normally see when you go when you adopt the semiotic way of living and being.


Rob Long  10:16

Yes, and and the word connected to semiotics is the word semiosis, which is how the human beings construct meaning by their view of the world. And one of the beautiful things about the Aboriginal dream time is very much like Lipman’s idea of the semi semi sphere. For the for the indigenous people of Australia, the world is the dream time the world speaks to them, whether it’s the moon, the sky, the planets, a tree, an animal, the earth, all of those things are important. And they have a very unique view of what for them is sacred. When you go into the world of technique, the modern Western world of efficiency, there is nothing that’s sacred, except money. And when you ended up with the contrast of like that, you actually need a pair of semiotic eyes to see the difference. And I often take people on a semiotic walk, and they don’t see anything. We stand there in front of something, which I think, am I the only one who sees this, you know, we got 20 people on a semiotic walk or a drive and we stopped was okay, what do you see, and they don’t see anything. Okay? So that it takes practice to be semiotic. It takes a different consciousness, to think of semiosis the meaning making in something. So even as people look at this video, and they see us, where are we sitting? Why are we sitting here? What’s behind us? You know, try to understand the context and so on. A lot of that is just missing, people do not ask those questions. So much of the language of control is the language of the Western world. I don’t look at something to enjoy it, I look at something to use it, I look at something to measure it, I look at something to exploit it. And that creates a way of seeing the world which is completely warped. It’s completely warped,


Nippin Anand  12:29

indeed. And if you bring it back to the Risk and Safety world, we go on a walk, and you see somebody not following the process. The default position is to bully that person or control that police. Yes. Or sometimes we do recognise that this person might be facing some some mental health issues and so on, and give them a pill. Yeah, so the point is that we never actually relate with that.


Rob Long  12:57

No, no, we don’t connect at all. We don’t need to know we’ve got the controls in place.



Absolutely. So in a way, what you’re saying is that when you see the world through the eyes of semiosis, yes, to these semiotic lenses, you see them much more as something or somebody to be controlled.


Rob Long  13:17

When I see the world semiotically through semiosis, my first question is, how do they make sense of their world? So I don’t assume that I see what they see. In fact, it’s clear they’ve seen something differently. And so they respond in that way. So I’ve got get, I’ve got to get rid of my eyes and get behind their eyes. You can only do that with the conversation. You can only do that with open questions. You can’t do it with interrogation you can’t do with audits you can’t do with inspections, you can’t do it. So I have to let go of my agenda, get into their world and say, Tell me what you see.


Nippin Anand  13:55

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Very, very hard. Yeah. Become to realise how limited our worldview our senses, our our culture of our ethics. Is is great. Thank you. Okay, great. This is what did you think? I hope you will have enjoyed listening and watching this podcast. To learn more about semiotics, culture, and risk intelligence, you can always visit our Knowledge space at novellus dot solutions, forward slash the knowledge space. You can also join us for our organisational culture and risk intelligence workshop in London from 21st to 23rd of February, where we will take you on an experiential learning journey that we call a semiotic walk. I hope you enjoyed this session. Goodbye until we see you again. Have a good one. Bye