Friday, February 26, 2021

Six Rounds with Wittgenstein (Part 4)

Mardsen Hartley, E (1915)

Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations (1953). Jibberjab. Back to it.

329. When I think in language, there aren't 'meanings' going through my mind in addition to the verbal expressions: the language is itself the vehicle of thought.

I don't have much to say about this, except that a recurring problem with traditional mentalistic treatments of behavior (verbal or otherwise) assume "thought" needs no definition nor explanation. Nor does "mind" or "meaning." The promiscuity and lability with which these terms are used accounts for much of the inconsistencies, quandaries, and errors Wittgenstein observes throughout the Philosophical Investigations—some of which he might have examined more effectively if he'd made more of an effort to interrogate some of the fundamental terms in his universe of discourse (and refine their definitions where necessary). A categorical prohibition on hypotheses in philosophy nips a lot of potential gibberish in the bud, true—but Wittgenstein's policy of not straying beyond "what we have always known" leaves him stuck with the reductionist descriptions of language and cognition that perpetuate a large portion of the mischief he describes. 

Not that traditional terms of language, intention, meaning, etc. aren't perfectly adequate for casual speech—we have to work with the language we're given, and take the assumptions and conventions baked into it.¹  But Wittgenstein is clearly interested in what's happening in the unexamined margins and interstices of common experience, and those assumptions and conventions hinder his examination.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Six Rounds with Wittgenstein (Part 3)

Arthur Dove, The Critic (1925)

Before we pull more commentary on Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (1953) from the oven, I've got some notes and mea culpas.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Six rounds with Wittgenstein (part 2)

Arthur Dove, Nature Symbolized (1911)

Picking up from where we left off...

 101. We want to say that there can't be any vagueness in logic. The idea now absorbs us, that the ideal 'must' be found in reality. Meanwhile we do not as yet see how it occurs there, nor do we understand the nature of this "must". We think it must be in reality; for we think we already see it there.

102. The strict and clear rules of the logical structure of propositions appear to us as something in the background——hidden in the medium of the understanding. I already see them (even though through a medium): for I understand the propositional sign, I use it to say something. 

105. When we believe that that we must find that order, must find the ideal, in our actual language, we become dissatisfied with what are ordinarily called "propositions", "words", "signs".

The proposition and the word that logic deals with are supposed to be something pure and clear-cut. And we rack our brains over the nature of the real sign.——Is it perhaps the idea of the sign? or the idea of the present moment?

All right. I'm going to level with you here.

I wrote four or five paragraphs about the reification of concepts, and then stopped because I wasn't sure how any of it answered what Wittgenstein seemed to be saying.

Then I started over. I composed seven paragraphs (and transcribed a two-paragraph block quote from Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, and Roche's Relational Frame Theory: A Post-Skinnerian Account of Human Language and Cognition (2001) and then scratched it again. Not only was I unsure how any of it addressed Wittgenstein's points, I realized I have no idea what Wittgenstein is trying to get across—and I'm increasingly confident that he wasn't really sure, either. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Six rounds with Wittgenstein (part 1)

Charles Sheeler, Flower Forms (1917)*

Not long ago, the incomparable Taras T. showed me a couple of critical essays he wrote about Scott McCloud, which drew from the Philosophical Investigations (1953) of Ludwig Wittgenstein.¹ The very day after he recommended I read the book for myself, a coworker happened to mention Wittgenstein in conversation, and I asked him if he had a copy of Philosophical Investigations he'd be willing to lend me for a while.

And so now here we are.

Until now I've known next to nothing about Wittgenstein or his work. I seem to recall Apostolos Doxiadis portraying him as a temperamental clown in his graphic novel Logicomix (2008), and the impression I got from any number of times Wittgenstein's name fizzed up out of the ether is of a polarizing figure. Depending on who you ask, he's either the most important philosopher of the twentieth century or a pompous hack.

Come to think of it, these propositions are not mutually exclusive.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Notes: the Jersey Pine Barrens

I don't manage to get out of Philadelphia often, but when I do I like to visit the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Here are some (elaborated) notes taken during and after my most recent visit.

Unique, but seldom photogenic.

🞄 The Pine Barrens have fascinated me ever since my first visit some fifteen years ago. Having spent most of my hiking-and-rambling time in deciduous temperate forests of some variety or other, I found in the Pine Barrens a veritably alien landscape. But until fairly recently, I wasn't aware of how unusual an ecosystem it is. As a matter of fact, the Pine Barrens are unique.

The native range of its defining flora (Pinus rigida, the pitch pine) extends longitudinally from central Kentucky to the Atlantic, and latitudinally from northern Georgia to southeastern Ontario. Pitch pine forests don't occur anywhere else. Their reliance on poor and/or depleted soil makes their distribution spotty, and human activity has winnowed them down and boxed them in even further. Encompassing 1.1 million acres, the New Jersey Pine Barrens are by far the world's largest extant pitch pine forest.

Understanding the Pine Barrens as an ecosystem requires getting acquainted with the pitch pine and some of its special properties.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Spiritual cramps

Orion; photo (cropped) by Adam Block, via Apod

In late December, I sent individual season's greetings-type texts to some friends during a lull at work. James replied with a message alluding to the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. He knows me well, and assumed I'd been watching for it.

I'm sorry to say that I missed it.

The benefits of my situation in Philadelphia are manifold (though most of them boil down to being able to bike and walk almost everywhere I need to be), but the costs sometimes prompt me to browse housing and job listings from towns out in the sticks, or in smaller cities famously protective of their green belts. Not being able to see many stars was one of the many privations and inconveniences I complained about when I lived on the fringes of Washington, DC (2014). Having relocated to Silver Spring after living my entire life in some suburb or other, a practically empty night sky affected me acutely. If we wanted to dredge up posts from Beyond Easy's first few years (big if, there), we'd find no small abundance of entries about stargazing and astronomy. The places I lived then weren't altogether devoid of light pollution, true, but you could still make out the Milky Way on clear, moonless summer nights. It was easy to notice the stars, especially if, say, you'd fallen into the habit of taking midnight walks with friends to get high in the woods. Once I started noticing the stars, paying attention to them and taking a deepening interest in them followed naturally.

After a couple of years, objects in the night sky took on a significance beyond their interest as mere aesthetic and intellectual wonders as I came to associate them with terrestrial events. When I think of craning my neck to look directly up Vega, I seem to feel the air of a warm summer evening on my skin. Conversely, thinking about Orion gives me a mnemonic chill.¹ Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Pegasus torquing up over the eastern horizon means summer is on its way out; glimpsing Arcturus in the early evening indicates it's finally on its way. And of course there are all the other stellar objects that keep a more precise time or are simply a pleasure to gaze at: Corona Berenices, Draco, Gemini, Lacerta, the Pleiades, Delphinus, Hercules, Scorpius, and so on. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

New novel, etc.


Postscript Jan 2: Well, it's out. Fun fact: I was lying awake last night and realized I'd overlooked a minor plot point. So if you already ordered a copy, there are now 45–50 added words that aren't included in your version. Trust me, you probably won't notice—but it literally kept me up at night. It's never over. (If you finish the book and are curious, drop me a line and I'll tell you what the change was.) Incidentally, I noticed a typo while I was interpolating the new content. It will never be over.


Well, I wrote a sequel to The Zeroes.¹ It was published (read: made available for purchase on Amazon) on December 28.

I haven't placed a link on the sidebar yet because I'm not done futzing with it. Over the last 36 hours I've repeatedly pulled up and skimmed the document, invariably finding something to correct—a phrase that suddenly embarrasses me (even though my eye passed over it unoffended four or five or six times already) or a random typo I never noticed. Just now I found a line of text that really ought to have been italicized, so I've fixed it and have to wait for the change to set on whatever monstrous database governs the Phyrexian print-to-order facility Amazon set up in Middletown, Delaware. I think tomorrow night I'll drink a few beers, scroll the thing for four consecutive hours, make whatever piddling changes seem necessary, and then force myself to close out of Word and get on with my life.

If you're motivated to find the book on Amazon yourself, it's probably not hard. Somebody already has, and I've sent an email apologizing for the unitalicized text and an unwieldy description on page 666(!) he'll have to suffer through. If you're interested in reading it, I'd ask that you wait a couple of days. Once I'm "finished" with the document, you'll see a purchase link appear on the right of the page.