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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Wittgenstein: Is Understanding Possible?


File:India Animals.jpg

Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica), male, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, Mumbai: photo by supersujit, 2008

I.286. But isn't it absurd to say of a body that it has pain?-------And why does one feel an absurdity in that? In what sense is it true that my hand does not feel pain, but I in my hand?

What sort of issue is: Is it the body that feels pain?---How is it to be decided? What makes it possible to say that it is not the body?---Well, something like this: If someone has a pain in his hand, then the hand does not say so (unless it writes it) and one does not comfort the hand, but the sufferer: one looks into his face.

File:Just one lion.jpg

Lion (Panthera leo), West Midlands Safari Park: photo by Robek, 2006

I. 300. It is -- we should like to say -- not merely the picture of the behaviour that plays a part in the language-game with the words "he is in pain", but also the picture of the pain. Or, not merely the paradigm of the behaviour, but also that of the pain.---It is a misunderstanding to say "The picture of pain enters into the language-game with the word 'pain'." The image of pain is not a picture and this image is not replaceable in the language-game by anything that we should call a picture.---The image of pain certainly enters into the language-game in a sense; only not as a picture.

I.301. An image is not a picture, but a picture can correspond to it.

File:Lion Ngorongoro Crater.jpg

Lion (Panthera leo), Ngorongoro Crater
: photo by Rob Qld, 2007

I.303. "I can only believe that someone else is in pain, but I know it if I am."---Yes, one can make the decision to say "I believe he is in pain" instead of "he is in pain". But that is all.------What looks like an explanation here, or like a statement about a mental process, is in truth an exchange of one expression for another which, while we are doing philosophy, seems the more appropriate one.

Just try -- in a real case -- to doubt someone else's fear or pain.

File:Female Lion.JPG

Lioness (Panthera leo): photo by Mila Zinkova, 2006

I.350. "But if I suppose that someone has a pain, then I am simply supposing that he has just the same as I have so often had."...

I.351. Yet we go on wanting to say: "Pain is pain -- whether he has it, or I have it; and however I come to know whether he has a pain or not."---I might agree.---And when you ask me "Don't you know, then, what I mean when I say that the stove is in pain?---I can reply: These words lead me to have all sorts of images; but their usefulness goes no further.

File:Lion Yawning.jpg

Lion (Panthera leo), Tanzania
: photo by John Storr, 1997

II.xi. ...What is internal is hidden from us."---The future is hidden from us. But does the astronomer think like this when he calculates an eclipse of the sun?

If I see someone writhing in pain with evident cause I do not think: all the same, his feelings are hidden from me.

We also say of some people that they are transparent to us. It is, however, important as regards this observation that one human being can be a complete enigma to another. We learn this when we come into a strange country with entirely strange traditions; and, what is more, even given a mastery of the country's language, we do not understand the people. (And not because of not knowing what they are saying to themselves.) We cannot find our feet with them.

"I cannot know what goes on in him" is above all a picture. It is the convincing expression of a conviction. They are not readily accessible.

If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.

File:Sleeping lion.jpg

Lion (Panthera leo), Olomouc Zoo
: photo by SonNy cZ, 2007

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations, c. 1945-1949


TC said...

Oh my. There are so few panthera leo persica left on earth, and I've nipped off the nose of one of them. Do click on the top image to see him in all his handsome splendour.



Such beautiful BIG CATS, and what a surprise to come to W's last line here ("If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." --- but of course. " An image is not a picture, but a picture can correspond to it." "What is internal is hidden from us." And so it is, "so here we go" - - -


first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, white of moon behind branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

line, form produced by light
contrast called present

impulse, as material matters,
appears in that element

cloudless blue sky reflected in channel,
whiteness of osprey circling up from it

Ed Baker said...

I never "think" this
or that
when I astronimate and eclipse the sun...

looking so far out into the future into my

I get a real pain in my neck!

then I de:cide to de:codify and
what I imagine tends to become real

much akin to Breton's and Dali's altitude.

so I compose myself:

full moon
depends upon
her altitude

or do I prefer?

full moon
depends upon
her attitude

or do I just "drop that "full moon"
crap and just say

everything de:pends?

I just don't know.

TC said...


I suppose it's infinitely reactionary to expect that a post that took some time and thought to build should actually be addressed on its own terms before the commentary veers 180 degrees off-topic into the open mike talent show... but the thing with this post is, I've been mulling it over for eight days, ever since finding myself lying in the street bleeding while being gaped at as a public spectacle by a lot of passersby without an infinitesimal hint of compassion... and the question in my mind was, are humans capable of experiencing and/or conveying empathy for another's pain?

So that was the point of the post.

Anyway, I know it's a cardinal sin to take anything in blogging seriously, much less one's own geezer posts, but... just saying.

Ed Baker said...

went of into "la-la" land on this one.

escaping from a pit bull about
when I was 52... got me.

the two cops that showed up didn't seem as concerned about me as "where's the dog?"

the 5 or six people in the park just stood there.

I limped home with an hyper extended knee and a compound fractured/dislocated right arm

sorry I 'blew' off your post
with my dumb Wittgenstein-ish drivel.

billymills said...

"I've been mulling it over for eight days, ever since finding myself lying in the street bleeding while being gaped at as a public spectacle by a lot of passersby without an infinitesimal hint of compassion... "

And can we hope that you're OK now?

I have very mixed feelings about LW, or rather the way he's been misread/misrepresented by lowercase "language" poets, as if saying that language was an inadequate tool for doing logic was the same as saying language is inadequate. Of course, his own writings demonstrate that language is perfectly adequate.

TC said...

Thanks, fellows.

Know what you mean about the uses to which LW's work has been put, Billy.

I must confess that I thought perhaps the lions might "put him in perspective". Saying this, I have the image of Ludwig tearing madly across the savannah, that scarlet-mouthed lion in hot pursuit.

About the dogbite, I'm a slow healer (connective tissue disorder), so... anyway I have nothing against the dog, it was the owners who were negligent. You don't blame the gun when somebody shoots you.

Anonymous said...

I realize I’m reading these sections from the Philosophical Investigations in translation, but it’s interesting to me to feel such heat in what I tend to regard as a cool subject. Still, any non-medical disquisition about the true nature of pain (whatever the conclusion that inquiry might reach) makes me to think that the writer is writing (in the present or past tense) principally about their own pain and I react with sympathy and empathy.

I can see that I’m likely to “get stuck” on the Philosophical Investigations for a long time (previously I’ve only read some Wittgenstein correspondence, the Ray Monk biography) and the things you’ve published here, and also why it’s possible, as you said that: “ Girlfriends seldom survive Ulysses…….wives only survive Wittgenstein due to greater wisdom”.

The pictures of the yawning lions summon up clear images of my Siamese cat Santa yawning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such expressions of what appear to be pleasure.

Anyway, this all brings one back to thinking about what it means to be alive. Walking on the beach this morning, we found a large conch the tide had washed ashore. The big sea snail was living (he was huge and, for a snall, really lively) and the inside of the shell was a vibrant, pulsing orange-coral color – so different from the pale, desiccated, but beautiful, empty conch shells you mostly see. We showed another family with young kids walking by the creature and placed him back in the ocean. It felt like a blessed event and a lucky day – his and ours. Oddly, the same thing happened a few years ago in almost the same spot. Caroline and I were forced to leave what we were anticipating to be a really pleasant dinner at a restaurant we like (diamond-like Vodka Gibsons had just arrived) when Jane, who was about 3 or 4 at the time, began acting up and couldn’t be quieted. Walking along the beach in very bad moods in front of a beautiful sunset we found a similarly straitened conch, who we also rescued. Again, right place, right time, a lucky break for all of us.

Elmo St. Rose said...

a discussion like this
might could use a learned

suspect LW hadn't seen enough
physical pain
and hadn't done much about it
though I understand
he had been a nurse

I'm not sure I get
panthera leo persica
in the LW context
but astrologically
as we used to say
in the 60's
Leo is departing

Unknown said...

It isn't the head of leo persica that completes the picture, but the position of the front legs and the paws. That makes leo complete. Leo looks ever on alert but so relaxed and complete. His gloves are on. And in any kill, the paws strike first.

Hope you are on the mend. The lack of compassion comes from an intense human fear to recognize and realize anothers suffering. We have become numbed. Perhaps because there is so much pain and intolerance. To accept and acknowledge your suffering, they would have had to "pull" themselves out of who and what they are and cross over and into your life. Many are not willing and/or able to do that.

Julia said...

Hope you're better by now, Tom.
Wonderful topic, wisely treated. Empathy is such an important though elusive issue...

¿Me permites escribir en español?

Quiero decir que voy buscando siempre tener empatía con los sentimientos de los demás, pero al mismo tiempo descubro qué imposible es lograrlo. Uno cree que el otro siente algo, porque piensa en su propia experiencia, pero muchas veces se equivoca, porque al fin y al cabo las experiencias son intransferibles. Pero lo importante parece ser intentar acercarse al sentimiento ajeno, sabiendo que tal vez la comprensión absoluta es imposible.

TC said...

Beautiful seashore day, Curtis.

About Wittgenstein and pain, sometimes his close attention to language perhaps sets off an effect I suppose many of us experienced as children, when you think about a word too long and it loses meaning.

About LW, though, it's undeniable there was some mental if not physical pain in his immediate environment, from early on. There were the suicides of his siblings. His war experiences seemed to have caused him considerable distress, in the revelation of evil. Again, mental pain.

But who can finally know or say anything about another's pain...

Yes, Leo is departing. At last count there were something like 177 Asiatic Lion individuals left in the wild.

The idea I had was this: LW says if a lion could talk, we could not understand him. But I had the impression there is a double sense: judging by what one concludes from repeated readings of Philosophical Investigations, if a human could talk, we could not understand him/her either.

The lions in the images actually do "speak", but as Curtis has noticed, at least one of them (the Tanzanian) is not expressing pain, but yawning. I suspect the same may also be true of the West Midland Safari Park fellow.

Richard, I very much appreciated this:

'The lack of compassion comes from an intense human fear to recognize and realize anothers suffering. We have become numbed. Perhaps because there is so much pain and intolerance. To accept and acknowledge your suffering, they would have had to "pull" themselves out of who and what they are and cross over and into your life. Many are not willing and/or able to do that.'

The numbness is a kind of cold pain. I think it's societal. A sea of strangers gaping at a person lying helpless in the street. I know for sure that the owners of the dog had one interest, to escape without being sued.

Yes, Julia, empathy is so elusive. These days one can walk through the streets and see people talking on cell phones but not with each other. Interpersonal emanations are so easily interpreted as threat. I'm sure the dog that attacked me had been trained to the task of aggressively "defending" its owners. That stands for me as a symbol.

Julia, es triste decirlo, me temo que es imposible no estar de acuerdo que "al cabo las experiencias intransferibles hijo ..."

Final Farewell

Pero también creo junto con usted en que hay que hacer el intento

"Pero lo importante parece intentar acercarse al servicio sentimiento ajeno, sabiendo que tal vez la comprensión absoluta es imposible."

Es muy desalentador en estos días. Pero hay momentos, incluso en este caso ...

Anonymous said...

The conversations here about empathy (and lack of it) and how apparent signs of increased “connectedness" among people seem actually to point in the opposite direction could go on forever in terms of citing examples. Because Facebook has apparently become so commercially important, it's one that I would cite as being particularly egregious. People simply speak "at" each other indirectly and without the possibility (and probably fear) of engaging in real dialogue. I used to think of my own Facebook page (I set up an account so that I could monitor, from time to time, what my daughter was up to) as a kind of seashore where driftwood would slowly gather (I had fewer Facebook "friends" in those days and the page was a relatively benign and peaceful place), which I might get around to considering at my leisure. Now, with more "friends" (it's difficult to refuse a request to be a Facebook friend), the page is more like a battlefield filled with opposing armies (it’s all political sloganeering stuff) who profess the desire to go to war, but never get around to it because they're too busy agreeing "at" (rather than "with") members of their cohort on Facebook. I think Facebook is the loneliest place I’ve ever seen.