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.

In Relational Frame Theory (2001), Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, Roche, et al. offer a more technical description of language's role as "the vehicle of thought": 

The kind of verbal behavior we have described [defined in terms of relational frames] cannot be kept in a nice verbal box. Once established, coherence and sense-making will serve as a continuously available reinforcer for derived relational responding. Verbal behavior will grow in strength until it is hard to find moments and situations in which it does not occur. Indeed, as soon as one begins to wonder if it is gone, it will appear by virtue of that very question....

For much the same reason, the kind of verbal repertoire that is captured by RFT is one that will always intrude into nonverbal domains. Without intervention, this process is likely to grow as experience imbues nonverbal stimuli with more and more relational and thus verbal functions. Dirt on the walls is "unhealthy;" trash on the ground is "litter" and "a sign of poor moral training of our youth;" a tree in the backyard is "biomass," "diseased," or "ancient." In other words, if the contexts that maintain literal meaning and transformations of stimulus functions are present, the world a human being lives in will become increasingly verbal and truly nonverbal functions will become more and more entangled with verbal functions.

Meaning is not an entity. It is a relation.

366. Is a sum in the head less real than a sum on paper?——Perhaps one is inclined to say some such thing; but one can get oneself to think the opposite as well as telling oneself: paper, ink, etc. are only logical constructions of our sense-data.

"I have done the multiplication . . . . . in my head"——do I perhaps not believe such a statement?——But was it really a multiplication? It was not merely 'a' multiplication, but this one——in the head. This is the point at which I go wrong. For I now want to say: it was some mental process corresponding to to the multiplication on paper. So it would make sense to say: "This process in the mind corresponds to this process on paper." And it would then make sense to talk of a method of projection according to which the image of the sign was a representation of the sign itself.

I made three different attempts to respond to this, but I'm once again forced to concede that I don't know what Wittgenstein is talking about. The difference between acts of mathematical reasoning when a given operation is performed with and without a visual aid, perhaps? Or is he concerned with the functional character of the processes themselves? Where does he asks what "doing multiplication" consists of? Is he taking into account that there is no process on paper per se (insofar as the pencil and paper aren't writing numbers on their own)?

384. You learned the concept 'pain' when you learned language.

True: verbal behavior permits us to tact pain behavior (or some aspect of it) in the absence of anyone's pain behavior.

427. "While I was speaking to him I did not know what was going on in his head." In saying this, one is not thinking of brain-processes, but thought-processes. The picture should be taken seriously. We should really like to see into his head. And yet we only mean what elsewhere we should mean by saying: we should like to know what he is thinking. I want to say: we have this vivid picture——and that use, apparently contradicting the picture, which expresses the physical.

If I understand Wittgenstein here, he's more or less acknowledging that our interest in what might be "going on" in a listener's head is, in a more immediate sense, concern with how he is responding to us, or will respond after we finish speaking, or how we might be influencing his long-term behavior by speaking to him. What we desire to know pertains to the physical more than the "mental." (Put in quote marks because what we're actually talking about are imperceptibly low-magnitude responses or latent behavior approaching the overt.)

442. I see someone pointing a gun and say "I expect a report". The shot is fired.——Well, that was what you expected; so did that report somehow already exist in your expectation? Or is it just that there is some other kind of agreement between your expectation and what occurred; that that noise was not contained in your expectation, and merely accidentally supervened when the expectation was being fulfilled?——But no, if the noise had not occurred, my expectation would not have been fulfilled; the noise fulfilled it; it was not an accompaniment of the fulfillment like a second guest accompanying the one I expected.——Was the thing about the event that was not in the expectation too an accident, an extra provided by fate?——But then what was not an extra? Did something of the shot already occur in my expectation?——Then what was extra? for wasn't I expecting the whole shot?

"The report was not so loud as I had expected."——"Then was there a louder bang in your expectation?"

First: the sound of the gunshot does not exist except during the moment the gun is fired. There is no gunshot "in the mind" any more than there is a physical archetype of a gunshot inside the brain.

If somebody has seen and heard guns being fired on enough occasions, the sight of a person aiming a firearm will have become a conditioned stimulus. A sudden loud noise is typically aversive, eliciting reflexive and emotional responses (jumping, tensing up, anxiety, etc.). Stimuli which consistently precede such events become aversive stimuli in themselves by virtue of their temporal proximity to the unconditioned aversive stimulus. As in punishment, avoidant or mitigating behavior will be reinforced—say, putting one's fingers in his ears as he watches a gun being raised. Standing still and tensing up might be "accidentally" reinforced: if the gun is fired, lowered, and put back in its holster, the incidental withdrawal of the aversive stimulus reinforces the behavior of standing still and tensing up.

"Hearing" the shot as one tenses for it may be accounted for by a transference of control from one stimulus (the gunshot) to a concomitant stimulus (the sight of somebody nearby cocking and aiming a gun at a tin can on a fence post) conditioned by the first stimulus's typical effect on the individual. We might think of it of a recapitulation of some of the physiological responses that occur during the moment a gunshot is heard, emitted in the absence of the gunshot.²

It may also be the case that when somebody states that the gunshot was not as loud as expected, he bases the observation on the intensity of his own response to it.

An experienced shooter at the range would likely report having no "expectation" of a gunshot in the sense that Wittgenstein describes. Squeezing the trigger, experiencing the report and recoil, and watching for a hole in the target is "second nature" to him: the behavioral chain is so ingrained that no competing influences retard the process or prompt deliberation. He would only report having an expectation of a gunshot, and only after the fact, if the gun didn't fire when he pulled the trigger. (We might surmise that the sort of "expectation" Wittgenstein talks about is typically observed in oneself when the individual cannot influence an event's occurrence.)³

449. ...We fail to get away from the idea that using a sentence involves imagining something for every word.

We do not realize that we calculate, operate, with words, and in the course of time translate them sometimes into one picture, sometimes into another.——It is as if one were to believe that a written order for a cow which someone is to hand over to me always has to be accompanied by an image of a cow, if the order is not to lose its meaning.
It's easier to be frustrated with somebody who almost gets its than with somebody who spouts complete nonsense.

Wittgenstein is correct that many verbal responses are unitary, in spite of what a structuralist account would tell us about subjects, verbs, moods, etc. For instance: "how are you?" Looking at it as diagramming linguists, we might say that "how" is an interrogative referring to the condition of some object, "are" is an auxiliary verb, and "you" is the subject: the meaning of the sentence is to inquire about the health, mood, etc. of another individual.

But this obviously isn't the function of  "how are you?" in the majority of actual situations. We use it as a token of acknowledgement, not as an actual question. (A similar example would be a the person who says "shut up!" when they actually mean "keep talking, this is amazing.") Most of the short sentences that we utter with any regularity in a social context are not produced by any process of composition (as opposed to a sentence we might labor over while writing a business email)—they are singular verbal operants.

So why should I get annoyed that Wittgenstein goes on to talk about the translation of words into pictures? Because he should know that mental images are so often extraneous to the determination of what we actually write or say (and in many cases bring little to bear on how we respond in the moment to somebody else's verbal behavior). Though, to be fair: by dint of the period in which he wrote and the conceptual tools available to him then, the most expedient (or obvious) way in which to express the lability of verbal behavior necessitated the metaphor of inner images.

The act of "imagining something for every word" (though it is doubtful that anyone actually does this) might be reframed in terms of subvocal behavior and its causes and consequences: nonverbal stimuli elicit (covert) verbal behavior, which might have the effect of producing low-valence "seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/tasting/etc. object X in the absence of any object X" behavior by virtue of the frame of coordination between the verbal stimulus "X" and the physical object/event X set up by the subject's history.

A paper by one Derek Shanman (The Relation Between Components of Naming and Conditioned Seeing, 2013) cites a study which may provide some insight on what happens when one "imagines something for a word":

Staats, Staats, and Heard (1961) demonstrated that word meaning could be conditioned through pairing with known words that elicit a sensory response. In this study, college students were presented with four different unconditioned stimuli that were 35 nonsense words. Each word was paired with a set of words that were related through specific characteristic. The target characteristics were “angular” and “round” with control characteristics being “transportation” and “building material.” Each unconditioned word was paired with a word from the pre-determined set 12 times (one time for each conditioned word in each set). After the intervention was complete, the experimenters asked the participants to rate each word on four different levels. These levels were the experimental level of “angular” or “round”, and three distractor levels of “active-passive”, “weak-strong”, and “pleasant-unpleasant.” The results demonstrated that the difference between subjects’ rating of each word along its conditioned response was significant. In this study, it was the conditioned seeing response to each of the paired words that “created” meaning for the unconditioned words. In this way, the conditioned sensory response, elicited by previously conditioned words, gave “meaning” to these novel words as concluded by the fact that the experimental level that elicited a direct conditioned seeing response in regards to the specific stimuli led to a significant result (an angle may be perceived as strong, however this is a more abstract relation).

Once again: meaning is a relation—and relation is not a thing, but exists in action.

452. I want to say: "If someone could see the mental process of expectation, he would necessarily be seeing what was being expected."——But if that is the case: if you see the expression of an expectation, you see what is being expected. And in what other way, in what other sense would it be possible to see it?

If you need a good reason to reject mind/body duality, here it is: examining "mental processes" like this at face value eventually leads to unanswerable and/or silly questions. Imagine somebody sitting at Starbucks, waiting to be interviewed for a job. For whatever reason, the email that invited him here didn't give any information about the interviewer, not even a name. He has no idea who he'll be talking to. Here he sits in a state of expectation—but has no idea whatsoever of who to expect. Even if it were possible, how could another person see what he expects when he himself cannot?

Monistic behavioral accounts can be tedious and laden with specialized jargon (and they almost always are), but—in theory, they provide principles and methods by which an interested party can articulate the behaviors associated with expectation in terms suited for hypothesizing, testing, and verifying/falsifying through empirical research.

A preference for an introspective, mentalistic approach to psychology must be weighed against a practical desire to get to the bottom of things.

472. The character of the belief in the uniformity of nature can perhaps be seen most clearly in the case in which we fear what we expect. Nothing could induce me to put my hand into a flame——although after all it is only in the past that I have burnt myself.

473. The belief that the fire will burn me is of the same kind as the fear that it will burn me.

474. I shall get burnt if I put my hand in the fire: that is certainty.

That is to say: here we see the meaning of certainty. (What it amounts to, not just the meaning of the word "certainty.")

Aha: the first sentence of 471 supports a few surmises made during our glance at 442.

Once again, I'm not sure what so say except that what Wittgenstein describes is a strong conditioned response set up by a very strong punishing stimulus and reinforcement for avoidant behavior. In the case of sticking one's hand in a fireplace and suffering a burn, the consequence is so severe and its connection to an antecedent action so immediate that any behavior that prevents the reoccurrence of that state of affairs will become powerfully ingrained. To say "I believe the fire will burn me" or "I fear the fire will burn me" is really to observe a tendency in oneself.   

481. If anyone said that information about the past could not convince him that something would happen in the future, I should not understand him. One might ask him: What do you expect to be told, then? What sort of information do you call a ground for such a belief? What do you call "conviction"? In what kind of way do you expect to be convinced?——If these are not grounds, then what are grounds?——If you say these are not grounds, then you must surely be able to state what must be the case for us to have the right to say that there are ground for our assumption.

For note: here grounds are not propositions which logically imply what is believed.

Not that one can say: less is needed for belief than for knowledge.——For the question here is not one of an approximation to logical inference.

Wittgenstein covers David Hume's hit single, but skips a few verses.

Kant accepted cause and effect as an a priori principle on the basis of its necessity in "formatting" possible experience. The tradition of Western science (which has largely ignored Hume and Kant) is more pragmatic: if the ball falls to the ground when you let go of it in one million trials out of one million, we can be almost certain that the result in trial #1000001 will be the same. Certain enough, anyway, to take as a given in any of our practical affairs that unsupported objects will fall toward the ground.⁴

One behavioristic concern with cause and effect that might be germane to some of Wittgenstein's mediations here would be response patterns conditioned to "accidental contingencies"—for instance, those which see in superstitious behavior. Somebody injures himself moments after a black cat crosses his path, and responds to future black-cat-events as aversive stimuli, even though the black cat very probably had no causal bearing on a tree limb breaking off and falling on his head a moment later.

One of the tasks of science is to determine which of the events accompanying an "effect" are extraneous, and which are causally connected. It is an ongoing process. Hume admitted that we can never be one hundred percent certain, but also pointed out that everything we do outside of our philosophical journal or roundtable is characterized by expecting Y to follow from X on the basis that it has always followed X before, even if we deny the logic in it. Kant would appeal to the structure of the human mind as an explanation; Skinner would talk about operant conditioning.

487. "I am leaving the room because you tell me to."

"I am leaving the room, but not because you tell me to."

Does this proposition describe a connexion between my action and his order; or does it make the connexion?

Can one ask: "How do you know that you do it because of this, or not because of this?" And is the answer perhaps: "I feel it?"

488. How do I judge whether it is so? By circumstantial evidence?

489. Couldn't it describe a connection for the speaker and create one for the listener?

How accurate is the speaker's assessment of what may or may not have precipitated his behavior? 

What kind of actions accompany these words? (Think of a greeting.) In what scenes will they be used; and what for?

498. When I say that the orders "Bring me sugar" and "Bring me milk" make sense, but no the combination "Milk me sugar", that does not mean that the utterance of this combination of words has no effect. And if its effect is that the other person stares at me and gapes, I don't on that account call it the order to stare and gape, even if that was precisely the effect that I wanted to produce.

Our observations of ourselves, and inferences as to the causes of our actions, aren't always reliable.⁵ For that matter, most of our explanations for the causes of anyone's actions are speculative—educated guesses, at best. In theory, the variability of an individual's behavior corresponds to the variability of the controlling environment and his history in it. We can make better guesses about somebody's long-term behavior by analyzing their history. Somebody's response to a social cue is difficult to predict in the moment, and may be equally difficult to account for immediately afterwards. The more we know about the individuals concerned and the context of their interaction, the better. Wittgenstein gives us nothing to work with in 487.

In searching for causal connections in a social context, a good (and evolving) methodology is more reliable in the long term than than the acuity or intuition of the individual observer. But in the absence of controlled environments and detailed reports of the histories of anyone we interact with, intuition usually must suffice. (The methodology may influence the intuition.)

Regarding remark 498, one might inquire as to how making a person stare and gape at an outlandish request came to be a reinforcer to Wittgenstein.

489: Ask yourself: On what occasion, for what purpose, do we say this?

It almost sounds as though Wittgenstein is encouraging a functional examination of verbal behavior. But can't be true because he's no behaviorist. Nope. No sir.

504. But if you say: "How am I to know what he means, when I see nothing but the signs he gives?" then I say: "How is he to know what he means, when he has nothing but the signs either?"

Wittgenstein is flirting so hard with behaviorism that he's an absolute cad for not just hopping into bed with it already.

514. A philosopher says that he understands the sentence "I am here", that he means something by it, thinks something——even when he doesn't say how, on what occasions, this sentence is used. And if I say "A rose is red in the dark too" you positively see this red in the dark before you.

515. Two pictures of a rose in the dark. One is quite black; for the rose is invisible. In the other, it is painted in full detail and surrounded by black. Is one of them right, the other wrong? Don't we talk of a white rose in the dark and of a red rose in the dark? And don't we say for all that they can't be distinguished in the dark?

On the first sentence of 514—that's behaviorist talk. When we strip all structuralist notions of meaning from "I am here" and consider it as a verbal operant, there is no understanding what it "means" without an examination of the speaker (or author) and the circumstances. In a functional account, asking the meaning of "I am here" differs little from asking what the meaning is of a dog digging in the dirt, a snake darting through the grass, or a crow grasping an object in its beak—if we want to know what these events mean, we must examine the actors and the contexts.

With regard to the rest: to bastardize Magritte, ce n'est pas une rose.

521. Compare 'logically possible' with 'chemically possible'. One might perhaps call a combination chemically possible if a formula with the right valencies existed (e.g. H-O-O-O-H). Or course such a combination need not exist; but even the formula HO₂ cannot have less than no combination corresponding to it in reality.

Hmm. My penciled note in the margin reads: I would have loved for Wittgenstein to meet Hartshorne

535. What happens when we learn to feel the ending of a church mode as an ending?

What happened is conditioning.

A possible interpretation: when a hymn or organ piece concludes, we (as churchgoers) are typically made to act: we sit back down; we wait for the priest to speak; we shuffle out of the pews, etc. Conditioned social reinforcers account for why we follow the program. If the next step in a liturgical timetable typically comes immediately after the discriminative stimulus of a concluding hymn (a long organ note or prolonged hallelujah sung by the choir), hearing those notes in a church setting elicits subtle behavior which is preliminary to the overt behavior mentioned above: sitting back down, orienting oneself toward the celebrant, etc. The private, incipient behavior is what Wittgenstein calls feeling the ending of a church mode.

"Feeling as endings" the last notes/moments of any or all songs may depend on the consistency of the sonic properties of songs' endings (stimulus generalization; and this is not irrelevant to the special case of a church hymn or organ piece heard in a church context), and also on one's history concerning individual songs. Possibly we'd find some generalized form of behavior preliminary to a change in the audio environment—whatever that looks like. It would be exceedingly subtle.

1. In a 2011 article, William Baum quotes Benjamin Whorf (of Sapir-Whorf fame) at some length to make a point about a facet of behaviorism's "two-vocabularies" problem.

Eliminating dualism from a science of behavior, however, presents a formidable problem. English and other Western languages incorporate mind–body dualism so intimately that it is difficult to talk about behavior without using terms that sound dualistic. Skinner (1974) complained of this and warned his readers to resist being misled by phrases such as "I have in mind" and words such as "choose" and "aware." The linguist Benjamin Whorf (1956) wrote eloquently about the inner–outer dualism inherent in what he called the "habitual thought and behavior" of Western culture:

Now, when WE think of a certain actual rosebush, we do not suppose that our thought goes to that actual bush, and engages with it, like a searchlight turned upon it. What then do we suppose our consciousness is dealing with when we are thinking of that rosebush? Probably we think it is dealing with a "mental image" which is not the rosebush but a mental surrogate of it. But why should it be NATURAL to think that our thought deals with a surrogate and not with the real rosebush? Quite possibly because we are dimly aware that we carry about with us a whole imaginary space, full of mental surrogates. To us, mental surrogates are old familiar fare. Along with the images of imaginary space, which we perhaps secretly know to be only imaginary, we tuck the thought-of actually existing rosebush, which may be quite another story, perhaps just because we have that very convenient "place" for it. (Whorf, 1956, pp. 149–150)

Anticipating behaviorists’ objections to mental representations, Whorf notes that "mental surrogates" are hard to escape because they are built into the English language and other aspects of Western culture. Scientific views that run counter to the "habitual thought and behavior" of the culture, such as relativity theory, encounter difficulty getting accepted, Whorf argued, because they must speak "in what amounts to a new language."

2.  It's not that different, in principle, than the experience of a faint gustatory sensation while you're unwrapping your Big Mac, or (as we've already noted) seeming to hear the music from a video game's title screen kick in when the volume is muted.

3. It warrants mentioning that the anxiety produced by the context of an immanent gunshot might be reduced or negated if what follows the gunshot has reinforcing consequences, or if the gunshot is the occasion for some other pattern of behavior. For somebody on a track team, the sight of, for instance, a coach raising a starting pistol above his head might become a discriminative stimulus to which he responds by tensing for a sprint. A boy on a hunting trip with his father watches to see if his old man hits the rabbit he's aiming at, which has usually led to their having rabbit stew for dinner.

4. In this scenario, the way in which science ignores Hume is by leaving the infinitesimal probability of the opposite result (the ball not falling) altogether unstated.

5. William Baum again: "another person’s actions are easier to observe than one’s own; people pay money to psychotherapists for exactly this reason."


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    1. (sorry struggling with character limits lol)

      In 481 I believe that Wittgenstein does not have "cause and effect" as such in mind, in the sense that it's understood scientifically. He's interested in how we justify ourselves in ordinary non-laboratory situations, and what criteria we use to decide if the justification is sufficient. This has nothing to do with the truth of our justification in a scientific sense, he is only pointing out that there are certain things that we call grounds for our beliefs, and that some of these things (e.g. experience of things occurring in the past) cannot be doubted as grounds. In "On Certainty" Wittgenstein elaborates on this, using the metaphor of a riverbed through which flows the river of our way of life. The river represents our ordinary changeable ideas, and the riverbed represents the set of interlocking beliefs which we cannot doubt (though he says there is not a strict distinction here,) because to doubt them would mean to doubt the foundation on which we base all other doubts and beliefs. To doubt something would require a basis of things assumed to be true on which we could base our doubt. As an example he takes phrases which Moore uses in his paper "A Defense of Common Sense" (though Wittgenstein thinks Moore is mistaken in his conclusions about them, he believes that in these phrases he has hit upon something interesting,) such as "Here is one hand, and here is another." Wittgenstein asks what would truly happen if you doubted this statement; wouldn't you lose the grounds on which to base ANY doubts? After all, doubt is a language-game like any other, and if you lose all connection with the context in which this language-game is played then how can you hope to keep playing it? He does not conclude from this that skeptics are wrong, only that we cannot verify skepticism (and he says similar things about ethics and aesthetics.) And of course likewise this means we cannot disprove the skeptics either, neither group can penetrate beyond the confines of our way of life, because only within it can we make judgements, no matter what new methodologies we invent; we can only invent them on top of the same shared basis that we already have.

      Interestingly, elsewhere Wittgenstein specifically expresses contempt for cause and effect: "Belief in the causal nexus is superstition." This thought is related, I believe, to his views of "natural laws," summarized here by Norman Malcolm:
      "Wittgenstein said that it was an absurd mistake to suppose that natural laws compel things to happen the way they happen. If the law of gravitation holds, that just means that a body moves according to the law of gravitation. ‘What on earth would it mean that the natural law compels a thing to go as it goes?’ A natural law is only a description of a regularity in nature. The idea that natural laws compel events comes in part from the use of the world ‘law’; for this word suggests more than an observed regularity which we expect to continue. The words ‘natural law’ also seem to be linked in people’s minds with ‘a certain kind of fatalism. What will happen is laid down somewhere.’ ‘The notion of compulsion is there if you think of the regularity as compelled; as produced by rails. If, besides the notion of regularity, you bring in the notion of “It must move like this because the rails are laid like this”.’"

    2. You certainly could call this a cover of Hume's greatest hit, but I think there's a distinction here. Hume calls our attention to the problems of causality, saying our evidence is scanty and we can never truly know if one thing will happen after another the way we expect; we have an imperfect view of causality at best. Wittgenstein says, there is nothing TO have a view of, you are looking for some object which is represented by the word "grounds" and other related words--in the case of cause and effect you are looking for something like a physical link in a chain--because you assume that "grounds" must refer to something in the way that "chair" refers to something. To Wittgenstein the grounds we use in ordinary language ARE grounds, while philosophical and scientific grounds are phantoms conjured through a misunderstanding of language. Science can only describe natural phenomena in certain unique ways that help us in certain situations, while philosophy can only describe language in other unique ways. Neither is in the business of explaining or giving grounds for anything. They certainly require grounds themselves, but they cannot invent them. That would be like the left hand giving the right hand money.

      I think this also relates to a running theme of this blog series. You characterize Wittgenstein as either too bashful to make the leap to Behaviorism, or not insightful enough to see that next great step beyond his own ideas. I find this to be a really strange view of Wittgenstein and his ideas. It might be true that Skinner was right and Wittgenstein wrong (or more right and more wrong) or that Skinner's ideas are more valuable for particular purposes (I don't think I doubt this at all, actually.) What's strange to me is the implication that Behaviorism is where Wittgenstein's ideas WANT to go, or SHOULD go. I don't think that's true, and I think his view of grounds and causation show that his ideas were never traveling in that direction at all. Above all, he's profoundly skeptical of the ability of science to ever answer any of the questions we're concerned with. You deride him for not defining terms like "thought" and "mind," but to Wittgenstein this sort of definition is a cheat. Science can tell us something about the thing it calls "mind," but before it can it has to redefine it in order to fit into the confines of things it can say something about. Wittgenstein would say that that is not what WE call mind, chiefly because what we call mind is not one particular thing. It's as if a potter's assistant was asked by his master to make one hundred unique pots by the end of the day, but the potter's assistant only made one pot and stuck a name tag on it that said "Hi, I'm one hundred unique pots!" And then it’s as if the village patted the potter's assistant on the back for discovering a way of increasing productivity a hundredfold.

    3. I'm not sure Hume and Wittgenstein are as far apart as you suppose. Read this passage from the Enquiry (after the bump) and tell me what you think:

      But to hasten to a conclusion of this argument, which is already drawn out to too great a length: We have sought in vain for an idea of power or necessary connexion in all the sources from which we could suppose it to be derived. It appears that, in single instances of the operation of bodies, we never can, by our utmost scrutiny, discover any thing but one event following another, without being able to comprehend any force or power by which the cause operates, or any connexion between it and its supposed effect. The same difficulty occurs in contemplating the operations of mind on body—where we observe the motion of the latter to follow upon the volition of the former, but are not able to observe or conceive the tie which binds together the motion and volition, or the energy by which the mind produces this effect. The authority of the will over its own faculties and ideas is not a whit more comprehensible: So that, upon the whole, there appears not, throughout all nature, any one instance of connexion which is conceivable by us. All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected. And as we can have no idea of any thing which never appeared to our outward sense or inward sentiment, the necessary conclusion seems to be that we have no idea of connexion or power at all, and that these words are absolutely without any meaning, when employed either in philosophical reasonings or common life.

      But there still remains one method of avoiding this conclusion, and one source which we have not yet examined. When any natural object or event is presented, it is impossible for us, by any sagacity or penetration, to discover, or even conjecture, without experience, what event will result from it, or to carry our foresight beyond that object which is immediately present to the memory and senses. Even after one instance or experiment where we have observed a particular event to follow upon another, we are not entitled to form a general rule, or foretell what will happen in like cases; it being justly esteemed an unpardonable temerity to judge of the whole course of nature from one single experiment, however accurate or certain. But when one particular species of event has always, in all instances, been conjoined with another, we make no longer any scruple of foretelling one upon the appearance of the other, and of employing that reasoning, which can alone assure us of any matter of fact or existence. We then call the one object, Cause; the other, Effect. We suppose that there is some connexion between them; some power in the one, by which it infallibly produces the other, and operates with the greatest certainty and strongest necessity.

    4. The spooky ligature which connects events causally is invisible to us; all we can really do is assert the consistency of coincidence as grounding for this or that "belief" in the relation between events on any particular occasion.

      In this respect, Wittgenstein is not incorrect in his characterization of how physical "law" is hypostatized. (Cf. remark 109.) Gravity is really an excellent example because, to the best of my knowledge, we still can't FIND the damn thing. Scientific refinement of the relations between variables doesn't necessarily shed light on the "power" (to use Hume's word) mediating their interactions, it's true. Nevertheless, all bodies in the universe are consistently observed to attract all other bodies with a force proportional to the mass of each and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. To say this is "caused" by gravity is indeed circular—but how much do we a trust a third-grader to understand "the planets revolve around the sun in a manner consistent with the law of universal gravitation" as opposed to "the planets revolve around the sun because of gravity?" (Actually, we probably COULD teach third-graders to grasp the difference, but I doubt there's much interest in trying. We've got four-and-a half forty-five minute classes to teach them about the solar system and then it's on to minerals, and god knows the parents will bitch at us if we ask any involvement from them more intensive than signing permission slips.)

      "Cause" is a superstition insofar as it might be something of a Kantian a priori. I'm not sure it's an abstraction we're capable of escaping or dispensing with as creatures with a corporeally immanent relation to contingency. It's impossible to say for certain, but I can't imagine the development of any primitive language that never formulates some version of "because" with respect to communicating information about dependent and independent variables controlling events in both the natural world and in the behavior of group members. My guess is that causal connection was/is reified in language pretty early on. (But I'm not linguist or anthropologist; this is something I'd be interested in learning more about.)

      Precisely speaking, science doesn't explain anything, but builds a continuously self-correcting language and methodology for parsing relations in the nonarbitrary environment. I think it's a bit limiting to say it's "only" good for "certain" things in "certain" situations, since what it strives to do is identify and articulate general relations within the physical world-process, ultimately for practical purposes. (I suppose somebody like me, who doesn't put this stuff to any practical use, is primarily interested in coherence for its own sake.) Maxwell's equations are an increment in a social process (an evolving language game?) which was instrumental in domesticating electricity for human use. Whether scientific abstraction is a phantom or not, the unspecialized vernacular language used for the business of workaday life could not have specified the nonarbitrary physical relations exploited by the technology we're both using to communicate at this instant.

      This is to say that scientific methods and the abstractions employed by its practitioners don't MAKE grounds that didn't already exist—but they can REVEAL grounds of which we were previously unaware. (Contra remark 109.) [cont]

    5. I won't dispute your/Wittgenstein's characterization of philosophy, except to say that I hesitate to make any sweeping statements about philosophy and its purpose, since it has always been an ambiguously heteronomous discipline. Possibly language games are what it's left with now that cosmology, psychology, natural science, sociology, ethics, logic, etc. have all fissioned off into their own fields.

      I appreciate your generosity in saying my reading of Wittgenstein wrt Skinner is "strange" when "bitchy" would have been perfectly appropriate. I wouldn't be such a tool about it if Wittgenstein hadn't made so many observations and taken up so many concerns shared by Skinner and his ilk. Wittgenstein is brilliant—at this point it's impossible for me to deny that—but what I see him offering is a comportment, not a program or framework. For my own purposes as a coherence-seeker, the latter is more valuable to me. It might come down to just that. (Although Wittgenstein's advised comportment, if I understand his meaning, can be assumed as a guard against asking the wrong questions or misunderstanding relations.)

      (Possibly I wouldn't have been so eager to respond to Wittgenstein with concepts from behaviorism if he didn't phrase so many of his remarks as questions.)

      Remark #338: "An unsuitable type of expression is a sure means of remaining in a state of confusion. It as it were bars the way out." This is why I'm so bitchy about "mind," "mental processes," etc. A monistic accounting of behavior and cognition (i.e, cutting out the "mind" as an active agent) furnishes us with a more apt and coherent language for describing (not necessarily explaining) verbal/mental events and situating them in relation to the world. The language of mentalism, taken beyond its everyday usage, is a source of those "bewitchments of the intelligence" that Wittgenstein would have us exorcise.

    6. Postscript thought: I might be repeating myself, but I wanted a framework from Wittgenstein because I'm not sure what an "unbewitched intelligence" would look like. Maybe I'm being obtuse, but treating perplexities and problems on a case-by-case basis still assumes criteria for when a solution has been reached, and I would have been interested in Wittgenstein's specification of them.