Epistle touching on Wittgenstein's Preface!

TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 2020

Not a good book, he said:
As we explained in our first epistle, we're writing to today's 9-year-old kids with messages to be read later.

It will fall to these 9-year-olds to rebuild our failing culture. We've suggested that a meditation developed in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations might help direct us to a day when we'll receive our daily bread, but also our daily logic.

Let's review some of the relevant history:

In the decades which led us to our own Trump, our logicians had walked away from their posts. They addressed highly esoteric concerns, hidden away in their aeries.

In the realm of daily logic, we badly needed assistance. We needed help with the logic of sensible paraphrase. We very badly needed help with the logic of generalization.

We needed help with the logic of "race." We needed help with the logic of same and different.

Did any logician step forward to help? We can't think of any such effort, and our journalists were utterly helpless.

When we started The Daily Howler, several years had just passed in which we were repeatedly told only two parts of a three-number story.

Our journalists couldn't figure it out. Our logicians were off in the ether.

Philosophical Investigations was published in 1953, two years after Wittgenstein's death (at age 62). Is it possible that this very jumbled book could contain a relatively simple diagnosis explaining where a great deal of reasoning goes astray?

Is it possible that this puzzling book could suggest a relatively simple way to recognize and address incoherence, even including incoherence on the highest academic levels?

Eventually, we expect to say yes! But first, we offer some good sound advice:

Do not read this book!

The woods were lovely, dark and deep, but Wittgenstein's book was impenetrable. If you try to read it, you'll fail.

Wittgenstein almost said as much in his preface to the book, a preface he wrote all the way back in 1945. The preface ended like this:
I make [my remarks] public with misgivings. It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another—but, of course, it is not likely.

I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.

I should have liked to produce a good book. It has not turned out that way, but the time is past in which I could improve it.

Cambridge, January 1945
In our next epistle, we'll review the preface in a bit more detail. We'll even give you a look at what you would encounter if you were ever foolish enough to try to read the actual book.

You shouldn't try to read Wittgenstein's book. But a river runs through it.

14 comments:

  1. "Is it possible that this puzzling book could suggest a relatively simple way to recognize and address incoherence, even including incoherence on the highest academic levels?"

    How is it possible for something that is itself incoherent to add coherence to anything else?

    ReplyDelete
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  2. You cannot make something logical by adding the word "logic" in front of it (e.g., the "logic" of race).

    There are some laws that govern human behavior. For example, Weber's Law, or the mathematical models emerging from learning theory, which led to computational modeling and mathematical psychology. Somerby's idea that the logic used by philosophers can be directly applied to language and human behavior is wrong. He would know that if he had the slightest acquaintance with psychology (the SCIENCE of human behavior). He is looking to the wrong field for clarity.

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  3. If a book is incoherent, then it most likely permits different readers to interpret it in whatever way they prefer. That will make it very satisfying to the reader, who may not realize that they are superimposing their own ideas onto an ambiguous text.

    It does seem to me that Somerby has also picked his own reviewer, the one who says the things he prefers to hear about the importance of Wittgenstein's work.

    This is an exercise in nonsense and a huge waste of everyone's time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think Corby needs to get out of college.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wittgenstein's insight seems to be that all new knowledge is just reheated cabbage of old knowledge. That's really not true. We know that now from biology. There are new pathways that form when you learn new things. Axons grow and are pared down. Taxi drivers get better spatial memory. Musicians become more creative.

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  8. "Foundations of mathematics 'whatever that might mean'". Sigh. During the time Bob was at Harvard, the school had some pretty good mathematicians, including logicians, a branch of math. It's a pity Bob either didn't take enough math to get to that specialization or take an introductory course in mathematical foundations in the philosophy department. Or else he forgot what he learned there.

    First off, Russell's Paradox did play an important role in the development of the foundations of math. The god weren't laughing, except perhaps Loki and/or the trickster coyote.

    I don't know how Goldstein phrased it in her book, but a sentence in mathematics has a very specific meaning and, yes, one is either true or false in a particular model. Model is another technical term, but think of the arithmetic of non-negative integers with addition and multiplication as an example.

    Truth and provability are different concepts and it was Hilbert's dream that they'd be the same for arithmetic, i.e., every true sentence would be provable. But it turns out if indeed arithmetic (as above) is consistent, there are sentences in it that are true and not provable and Godel showed this. His Incompleteness Theorem, one of the gems of mathematics, proved you can encode in arithmetic essentially the sentence "I am not provable".

    The Liar Paradox may sound silly to Bob's ears but can be viewed as an attempt to get at this distinction without the logical foundations developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to clarify the distinction between true and provable. The technique, called a diagonal argument, was used by Russell a few places; by Cantor in proving there are more real numbers than rational ones; and by Godel in proving his incompleteness result. Dr. Google has references, some in Wikipedia, that explain in more detail.

    A manager of mine once agreed with my claim to having been a second rate mathematician, claiming a first rate one would go further than merely pointing out errors, which was my penchant, and figure out how to correct what their author was trying to say.

    In that spirit, I've tried above to help put Bob on the right path. But by my manager's metric, Bob's not even second rate when it comes to these matters. He should stick to critiques of the media and politicians where he frequently makes sense.

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