A Beautiful Semiological Mind

by mkleit

The human race is running towards technological evolution, apparently even more than what they have reached nowadays. Commonly known as post-modernity, informative technological breakthroughs is the main aspect of this era that led us to an age, bounded by digital criteria, creating a virtual reality, and thus a simulation. Where what we see as real is false, because it does not exist according to semioticians such as Roland Barthes. But, what is semiology? Moreover, what does a simulation mean? How would it be a part of our lives?

A Beautiful Mind

For starters, semiology is a science that studies the life of signs at the heart of our social life. It also should add a rational aspect in order to give meaning, but it does not reach an over-dosed extent so it would not become senseless, according to F. de Saussure, a semiologist. He discussed an important issue in semiology, which is the different levels of significations, or the layers of signification, which consist of:

–       First level:             Denotation

–       Second level:         Connotation

  • Function
  • Concept
  • Ideology

The latter three are deeper parts of the second level of signification, which turns to bring out the essence of communication.

To take for example, the 2001 American Oscar winning movie “A Beautiful Mind” that was directed by Ron Howard and based on the bestseller novel that holds the same name of the movie in 1998 of Sylvia Nasar. While watching the movie, the viewer would see an extraordinary mathematics genius, John Nash (Russel Crowe) that suffers later from paranoid schizophrenia due to events that take place with him and the Department of Defense. He begins to hallucinate and visualize people that seem so real yet they don’t exist, they are simple figments of his imagination, yet neither does his wife, and former student of his, nor are his colleagues able to understand what was happening with John during his paranoia. After a series of troubling even occurring to John, he relies on medication to escape the ailment though it was affecting his math skills, emotional and sexual relationship with his wife.
So secretly, he stopped the medication and the illusions attempt a return, until Nash finally realizes that a little girl he was imagining for years stayed the same age the whole time. He still refused his medication yet learned to ignore the hallucinations until he became a Nobel Prize holder in economics alongside his colleagues.

Open Yewr Mind

The previous review of the movie would be denoting the movie, but the ability to decode the movie is much more important that simply watching the crust of what the director intended to expose. According to Roland Barthes, a signification has three aspects in order to be formed, it is close to an equation where a signifier is added to a signified object using a sign to sum up the significance, and the same equation would take place when the significance turns to be a signifier, and on it goes. The latter equation is the beginning of connoting the message. In the movie, what is simply seen is the first order of signification, a denotation.

However, to read what is behind the curtains, one should look thoroughly to the message. The second order of significance would be that John Nash represents the ordinary human surrounded by illusions that control him, brainwashed by propaganda for example, to do a national service for his country and become a patriot as John Nash tries to decrypt codes that are believed to be from the Soviets when he was at the Department of Defense.

Even though, can we go even deeper? There could be a third layer here, a third order of significance. “A Beautiful Mind” could be a post-modern story made to distinguish between verity and reality through reason and intellect. One main event explaining the covered significance, when John proposes to Alicia (his wife), he was skeptical by the success of his marriage, following a cognitive route to analyze all sides of his marital relationship; until Alicia asks him how he knows that the universe is infinite. He answers:” I don’t know, I just believe” so she would reply that love is the same, assuring to John that belief is an ultimate foundation of his own reason. Later on, John becomes confused with the reality he is facing with belief and his scientifically filled thoughts.
So one of his illusions, the spy William Parcher (Ed Harris), starts telling him that he was the best code-breaker he has ever witnessed, building the satisfaction that “the real world” was not giving John since he was not recognized as a math-wiz. This created a self-heroic thought in Nash’s own fantasy world and began to reinforce it by the sayings of the other illusions, so he would reach uniqueness through recognition and originality.

The movie shows another important aspect, which is simulation. Simulation is when reality is replaced by a hyper reality, or a virtual one. As the surrealists, who believed that rationality is proven by relying on irrationality, the movie exposes a post-modern ideology where it is said the worldview relates rationality and irrationality to come from the same source that is the human mind.

Thus suspecting reason to show verity or actual reality, to become equal with unreason, reality and illusion become one, same source and same outcome/ Another part of the movie shows that a virtual reality is easier to be lived and much more eluding since it satisfies our needs. Alicia, while talking to a friend about John’s problem and the difficulty she is facing, says:” I force myself to see the man that I married. And he becomes that man. He has transformed into someone I love. And I transformed into someone that loves him.” Alicia used the power of mind to construct that reality she desired by mentally imagining it, so in a way she solved the problem she faced.





-Roland Barthes – Mythologies

-F. De Saussure – Semiotics

-Jean Baudrillard – Simulacra and Simulations

-Walter Benjamin – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction


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