PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 44 3rd November 2002
I. 'Mini-Tractatus' by Henk Tuten
II. 'Meeting with John Ralston Saul' by Colin Amery
III. Afterword to 'The Man Who Folded Himself': Two Replies
I. 'MINI-TRACTATUS' BY HENK TUTEN
In 1922, the both famous and politically rejected Ludwig Wittgenstein published his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. A brilliant piece of work as far as I can judge. My problem is that the used language is dated, that this essay is very long, and that many years after the death of this philosopher it is impossible to penetrate his thoughts without his help.
Any summary risks being called presumptuous, and therefore 80 years after the original I wrote my own much shorter version. It helped that like obviously Wittgenstein I too have a mathematically skilled mind, and his work gave me a great start. Let's consider my piece as a kind of 10 commandments for my language-religion. It is constructed around the following pair of two concepts: [mind-world, language].
I can vividly imagine the aggression of Wittgenstein against the bulk of formal philosophers, but this was useless, and in these circles only hindered his acceptance.
1. A mind-world is a logical space containing only statements or propositions. All these statements are based on independent basic statements.
2. Every mind-world can split into two or more adjacent mind-worlds around any of its statements.
3. A statement (in any language) is only meaningful for members of some mind-worlds, as a comprehensible mix of adjectives and nouns fit together by verbs.
4. Every statement can be denied.
5. The totality of statements in some mind-world is called language.
6. Humans can construct languages capable of expressing every statement.
7. A society or super-culture is a group of mind-worlds in which people agree on a set of basic statements (basic commandments or basic constitution).
8. Two adjacent societies can be joined, by agreeing upon a bargaining-language and then on changing the definition of basic words in the two basic constitutions in that language (slightly changing the meaning in order to reach consensus).
9. All real philosophy is 'critique of language', and is aiming at combining two or more closely related societies.
10. "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence" (Wittgenstein).
Ad1) To make things a lot easier, unlike Wittgenstein I don't differentiate between facts and propositions. The result is that it becomes impossible to distinguish fiction and reality, but that peculiarity doesn't bother me. So statements are either caused by facts or by other statements, and facts might be real or just something appearing in the mirror of one's mind.
Ad2) In the original mind-world this spitting statement is considered true and in the others it is denied. Everything else remains the same.
Ad3 a) Even if members of other mind-worlds 'understand' this language, they might give this statement in their own language a slightly or completely different explanation. But be careful in destroying languages, they represent cultures that may have strong sides.
Ad3 b) If I know an adjective or noun in a certain language, then I also know how to use it in millions of sentences (so this must be inherent in its definition). Mind that you almost never use really elementary words. Maybe the word 'cat' to you seems quite elementary, but in fact it refers to thousands of other propositions. It shows that language became very complex. In practice we made new propositions that act as elementary ones, but in fact are made up of many other ones.
Ad3 c) An 'elementary' proposition is saying that some statement using basic words is true or false. Any proposition is in theory a combination of 'elementary' propositions. Think of statements like: "all stones are grey".
Ad3 d) A proposition is a truth-function of 'elementary' propositions. (An 'elementary' proposition is a truth-function of itself.) A statement nobody will deny in this and related mind-worlds, like: "Most stones are grey".
Ad3 e) Statements are either true or false. Many of them are similar. Both situations always occur, so there is at least one mind-world in which this combination is called true and vice versa (in the related mind-worlds an essentially different proposition is called true. "Most stones are white" or "Most stones are black").
Ad3 f) A mental picture of a statement is a thought.
Ad4) Even this one, but better don't do if you want to prevent getting a headache.
Ad5 a) Language must be seen as mind-culture. So mind-culture1 and mind-world1 are identical. But because there are limitless mind-worlds based on the same basic language is more comfortable to distinguish both language and mind-world.
Ad5 b) A combination of statements is thinkable if there is somebody who finds that it's true (who is in a mind-world where this is considered to be true).
Ad5 c) The totality of thoughts that you consider being true forms your mind-world.
Ad7 a) As the word says any society can consists of many cultures. Mass media are for the mind what pesticides are for the physical body. They 'kill' part of mind-worlds, by not paying attention to them. It is the vast diversity in mind-worlds and physic that always was the strength of humanity.
Ad7 b) Lawyers work what basic commandments mean in daily life.
Ad8 a) Let's take the hypothetical case that you want to combine two almost identical societies. They are similar except that in society1 some statement is considered true and in the other false. Then it seems that you have a problem, however this is not the case. Remember that the split originated in language. For instance something is called 'terrorism' in one way of thought and in the other 'struggle for survival'. This may result in proposition1 saying that some conduct is terrorism (conduct = terrorism is true) and in proposition2 that this conduct is 'struggle for survival (conduct = terrorism is false). Then it is clear you have to go back to the language used, to focus on the definition of the word 'terrorism'. That was cause of the split because in society1 'terrorism' is possibly seen as every brute force aimed at itself, while in society2 one makes the distinction between force necessary for defending oneself and unnecessary force. Similar exercises can be done using the words: euthanasia, abortion and so on. Such differences in thought can easily become very complex, especially if the two societies use very different languages. But it doesn't take something as difficult as time-travel to explore these adjacent super-cultures, just study of language.
Ad8 b) Criminal law decides if somebody is living mostly in his or her own mind-world (and deserves treatment) or in the dominant super-culture (and deserves punishment).
Ad9 a) I.e. proposing something as true that is called false in the present dominating society. If not then it is just making a 'shortcut' within a language. I.e. this 'philosophy' only expresses in a simpler way an existing proposition. Making things easier of course is a duty of philosophers, but not the main one.
Ad9 b) A real changing of the basic statements is a paradigm shift (Kuhn). The present pace of an accelerating evolution seems to be having 2 or 3 such mind-breakers in a century. That is what Nietzsche meant by saying that evolution until then only created 5 or 6 great minds.
(c) Henk Tuten 2002
II. 'MEETING WITH JOHN RALSTON SAUL' BY COLIN AMERY
John Ralston Saul is a globe-trotter these days. He shot to fame with his work 'The Unconscious Civilization' which challenged the values of the corporate world in which we live. He has gone a stage further in his latest offering 'On Equilibrium' -- of some 328 pages in the Penguin Edition -- where he suggests that globalisation is dead. Assuming the mantle of a twenty-first century Nietzschean prophet, he makes this bold pronouncement at a New Zealand Herald literary luncheon where I am sandwiched between two sociology professors. The dinner itself, as usual, is hard to swallow. The mellifluous words that follow are much more worth digesting. The guest author is tall and gangly and delivers his message with a skilled repertoire of punch lines. I wonder how the mainly male audience of business- suited gents will take to his opening pronouncement that the financial system they support is on the point of collapse.
He talks a little like Woody Allen, this husband of the Canadian Governor-General, and is no status quo supporter in either his political or economic viewpoint. He is somewhat of an artist, too. "Creativity is the greatest weapon of memory", he tells us with hands moving expressively. He speaks and writes in French as well as English and perhaps it is this bilingualism that contributes to his effortless oratory and his writing style. Ethics, he argues, is becoming marginalised. "We can't follow technology", he tells his captivated audience, "it has no direction in itself". Still on the topic of memory, he suggests that "our obsession with stability suggests a terror of uncertainly and the unknown". Such words uttered post 9/11 may have the advantage of hindsight but were incorporated into the text to assist our communal equilibrium some months before the momentous events involving the twin towers took place. This brings me to the question I wanted to ask since finishing his book just the night before this address. In a final chapter called appropriately 'Normal Behaviour' Saul writes:
"I was interrupted as I finished those words by the news
that a hijacked Boeing 767 had been flown into the World
Trade Centre. From what at first sounded like a bizarre
accident, a wave of explosions and accidents and deaths
spread spread the day."
When question time came around, I was able to inquire how far these events, so synchronous with Saul's text, may have influenced him to change any of the final conclusions. He replied that that day was littered with examples of the incapacity of technology and information-dominated structures to deal with the future in a balanced way. I note that we were having this discussion in June 2002, several months before the various media reports in the US showed that the FBI and other intelligence-gathering networks had failed totally to put together the clues which always pointed to the existence of such a plan.
This leads me back to an earlier phrase in the book "The swirling uncertainty of our imagination" where Saul seems to be almost trespassing into that strange, almost lunar landscape, explored in Michael Frayn's play 'Copenhagen', where Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is explored and then turned on its head. He picks this theme up again much later at page 325 when he notes that there is a certain eroticism in the idea of a permanent state of uncertainty. He envisages people moving away more and more from the control of their own reality and becoming angrier as a result. Common sense, in chapter two, is defined as shared knowledge and from then on, each chapter has its own topic: ethics, imagination, intuition, memory and reason. All of these are analysed with mathematical precision. In the final chapter he catches up with the tail of the past in confronting normal behaviour. Then 9/ll erupts into his and all our lives, even as he writes, so that nothing will ever be quite the same again
After the banquet is over and the guest of honour has delivered his last bon mot we retire to the nearby Somerset Hotel where the Auckland District Court once stood. John Ralston Saul is impatient for some decent food -- he apparently didn't score a lunch in the literary melee what with signing books and giving speeches. He orders some cheese and biscuits, insisting the cheese be fresh and from our own New Zealand brands. A waiter is dispatched to supply the victuals. We exchange pleasantries. Both of us seem to have been to King's College London about the same time -- I, to study the Law of Contract and he to complete a doctorate. The cheese arrives and he tucks in, not too keen on formalities.
I ask him if he considers himself a philosopher and he agrees that Nietzsche may have had some unconscious influence on his impressive opening. This iconoclastic figure of the postmodern era, tall in stature and some fifty-five years which he carries well is not short of ideas. "The key to it all" he tells me, "is the individual's personal dynamic equilibrium -- a state of being we might call responsible individualism".
Harsh reality obtrudes, as Sally from Penguin Books waves to indicate time's stretch for this exchange has ended. We shake hands, e-mails are scribbled down and a promise made to communicate some more. I wonder about a title for John Saul's next book perhaps -- The Certainty of Uncertainty.
(c) Colin Amery 2002
Web site: http:---
III. AFTERWORD TO 'THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF': TWO REPLIES
Here are two replies, by Daniel Pech and Matthew Del Nevo, to my essay commissioned for the new edition of David Gerrold's science fiction novel 'The Man Who Folded Himself'. The essay is from Issue 41 of 'Philosophy Pathways', 22nd September.
'The Man Who Folded Himself', published by BenBella Books, is due to appear in June 2003.
'The Man Who Folded Himself: Afterword' ends by saying:
"Each of us, when we say 'I' and point to ourselves,
realize that all our physical and mental qualities put
together are not enough to make me "I". An exact copy of
me, thought for thought, molecule for molecule, would not
be "I". Then what is sufficient to make me "I"? What is the
extra ingredient for individuality? I don't know any thinker
who has given a satisfactory answer to that question."
In this essay I am going to argue that I don't think that the above thought is the complete background by which to understand the "I" problem. I think it strains the "I" a little to say that since individual uniqueness is not what determines the concept of the "I", then the "I" shall, in all reality, be inherently unable see anything but an illusion of itself. That the "I"...is...an illusion of itself.
Uniqueness, in my mind, is not the issue (as if that were not a rather uncommon thought in itself). Whether or not you and I experience the same exact things all the time, you and I are not the same "I", because there are two of us; because neither of us are both of us. Although there would be no way for a third person to distinguish between us short of meeting us as we stand side-by-side in a perfectly symmetrical alternate universe (requiring that this third person be perfectly symmetrical in order to meet us in that universe without changing our sameness into un-sameness), the fact that defining either one of us automatically defines the other does in no way remove the fact that we each are one "I". Neither of us are both of us.
Neither of us would feel to be the two of us, even though we would each have every last detail of thought and action in common. Neither of us has a double scoop of our individual experience -- like a frog, in a lab, looking to either side and seeing two identical holographs of a single fly on an identical featureless background. However, the one thing that we cannot have, while maintaining our perfect "sameness", is a relationship between us that consists of taking turns. If you say something to me, I must say the same exact thing, with the same exact speech pattern, at the same exact time, to you. Why either of us, then, would need each other as a person is a problem that I will leave off here to further inquiry; but, there is no question that together we could lift a perfectly symmetrical third person onto a perfectly symmetrical stretcher into a perfectly symmetrical ambulance (with a perfectly symmetrical engine) better than could either of us alone.
In order to maintain our perfectly identical "I"s, every blade of grass on either side of any line that spatially divides us would have to be symmetrically positioned, colored and shaped with the corresponding blade on the other side of the line. But, no matter what you or I would think of ourselves in the first person, neither of us would be the first person to the other person. You would be another person, just as you are now. Another center of self. This even holds for the "split-consciousness" phenomenon experienced by some people with brain injury, because the split experience is still the same "I" even though each "i" (small i) may not (yet) recall the other "i". This uncommon assertion is justified by the nature of our own memories as they already stand.
For example, you do not always recall things when prompted by language to recall something that someone else knows that you were there to experience. (Picture the Three Stooges being interrogated by the prosecutor concerning where they were on some odd day back in January 1935). You don't even recall "being there" when you were born, but you can be sure that you were there, and that you were experiencing something (time does not stand still, though, so the best that you can ever do is to recall it; you can't go back and repeat it). You don't recall most of the dreams that you have had during all the nights that you have slept in your life, but, had you been awakened during any one of them, and had had your brain been sufficiently "in gear", you would have recalled it then. Memory is not the (entire) "I", because you cannot be sure that you were not experiencing something just because you don't recall it at the moment. Like me, you may not recall at a given moment what you ate on any randomly chosen day, but you know quite well that this in no way precludes the fact that you were there tasting it. In fact, if you had no memory in any sense of the word, then you would not be able to say that the "I" is illusory: you would be...well...not "there" even now--even down to the shortest moment.
I think this gets into the nature of time, and of the question of how short we can suppose a moment to be. How many sub-moments are in a moment, and do we experience something only after so many of these sub-moments have elapsed? Is our present moment of experience like a motion picture that is made up frames flashed in quick succession on a screen? In "normal" circumstances, the (human) eye cannot detect that a motion picture is made up of individual frames flashed on a screen if the frames are flashed at 24 frames per second or faster. But, blink rapidly and you can see it. I'm not sure this analogy holds, because we can see an individual frame for what it is, just like we can have a complete thought in an instant and carry it around afterward. It is certain that we change, and that we accumulate experiences, but most of us will also immediately recognize that we can have, more than once, what seems to us to be an identical experience. But, like the motion picture, we are in the picture having the experience; we do not create the film, or the light, or the screen. We are in time (and space), we are not the makers of it. The same goes for experience-of-something (as opposed to nothing). Try to imagine how we could have created our own experience, our own first-person-hood, from non-experience. (And to think that some people think that bending time is a mind-bender.)
But, getting back to the two exact replicants in our shared, and thus symmetrical, universe. Imagine that, at some point into our symmetrical mutuality within a common universe, we begin to deviate. Of course, which one of us would be doing the deviating would be entirely up to each of us to decide for ourselves, but, the fact that we used to be identical (and not only as far as anyone else could tell, but truly "carbon copies" in every last detail that could ever exist between us) has no bearing on the fact that we were not the same unit to begin with. We were only two identical units. Before we had begun to deviate, I could not, by way of this essay, have proved to anyone which one of us was which. As if it could had mattered to do so (at the time anyway). But, because I have defined here that each of us was absolutely indistinguishable from the outside, the fact that the idea-picture that I'm painting here has now changed (so that we are now deviating from each other) means one thing if it means anything: something was imputed into our shared and symmetrical universe that made it asymmetrical.
But, there is asymmetry in the real universe anyway, so it is impossible for us to be the same anyway. And, that means that we can be told apart anyway. Thus, I am I; not only because I am my own first-person, but because I am unique in my collections of experiences, thoughts and beliefs. Even in this essay.
(c) Daniel Pech 2002
MATTHEW DEL NEVO
Upon enjoying your mischievous afterword I thought I had better tell write and tell you who you are.
True, philosophy in terms of Cartesian ontology cannot tell you, nor can any modern philosophies. You have to go back.
You are Geoffrey. Geoffrey is distinct from his humanity, just as the whole is distinct from its essential part, and he is all the more distinct from his existence, which is in him not an essential part, but a contingent attribute.
Aristotle noted ('Metaphysic's V. 8) that the so-called primary substance is the primary subject of attribution, as against the so-called secondary substance, which is the nature of the subject.
Thomas Aquinas clarified this (IIIa. q.2; q.4, a.2; q.17, a.1f) by showing that the personality is in every reasonable being that by which he is a primary subject of attribution of individuated nature, of existence and operations.
Catejan (In IIIam, q.4, a.2, no.8) in explanation asks, why,when we seek the real definition of the person, do we turn away from the notion of common sense, or the nominal definition commonly received by all of us, which is the starting point that we all wish to safeguard?
Common sense says you are Geoffrey. It is the personality in every reasonable being by which he is the primary subject of the personal pronouns.
Thus, Pere Garrigou-Lagrange comments ('Le Sauveur', p.113) that what formally constitutes personality cannot be either the individuated nature or existence or consciousness or freedom. It is what constitutes the primary subject of attribution as subject (suppositum). In Latin it is called 'subsistentia', and with respect to beings -- such as yourself -- endowed with reason, 'personalitas'.
Hope this is some comfort.
(c) Matthew Del Nevo 2002