Objective backing


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This raises the question, whether the word 'ratification' has any clear meaning in the theory of necessary truth which Wittgenstein seems to be offering. But it was always obvious that this would come into question. For the kind of solvent which he applies to necessary truths which are being used as rules of inference in suggested proofs can obviously be applied to all necessary truths, including those which have just been directly ratified. So it seems that, if Wittgenstein's theory were right, all communication would break down.

[...] it is important to remember that he, at least, did not think that he was denying anything that could be given a clear meaning. He was trying to demonstrate not that logic and mathematics do not rest on a Realistic basis, but only that that basis cannot provide any independent support for them.

[...] the sources of the necessities of logic and mathematics lie within those areas of discourse, in actual linguistic practices, and, when those necessities seem to point to some backing outside the practices, the pointing is deceptive, and the idea that the backing is independent is an illusion.

[...] Wittgenstein was not offering a theory designed to show that logic and mathematics, which everyone felt to be safe, in fact the safest things of all, are really in a precarious position. The question is, granted that they are safe, what makes them safe [...]

[Wittgenstein's] point is only that it is a contingent fact that human beings agree in their ratifications, however hopeless the situation would be if they did not agree, and that this agreement is the foundation of logic and mathematics. 

[...] when we judge deviant systems of non-ratification by our standards of correctness, and reach the inevitable verdict that they are mistaken, we must realize that this judgement can be reciprocated, and that it does nothing to show that our system has any independent backing [...] it is only a contingent fact that there is as much agreement in these ratifications as there is, and it is on this fact alone that logic and mathematics depend.

[Wittgenstein] wants to show that there is only one possible theory here, and that is the anthropocentric theory, and that there is no way of formulating Realism as a genuinely different theory about an independent objective backing.

It is Wittgenstein's later doctrine that outside human thought and speech there are no independent, objective points of support, and meaning and necessity are preserved only in the linguistic practices which embody them.

They are safe only because the practices gain a certain stability from rules. But even the rules do not provide a fixed point of reference, because they always allow divergent interpretations.

What really gives the practices their stability is that we agree in our interpretations of the rules.

[David Pears]
Wittgenstein, p. 138-40, 168


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Ultimate components


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[Wittgenstein] believed that language disguises thought, and that the real forms of our thoughts would become apparent only when the language in which they are expressed had been analysed and broken down into its ultimate components, which, according to him, are elementary propositions.

His idea was that the assertion of ordinary factual propositions is a gross move, which contains within itself a large number of minute moves. The grossness of ordinary factual propositions is a blessing [but] an exact account of what they mean could be given only if they were analysed into their ultimate components [...]

Wittgenstein did not claim to be able to give any examples of elementary propositions, because he thought that neither he nor any other philosopher had yet got down to the ultimate components of factual propositions.

In default of examples we have to rely entirely on Wittgenstein's specification of elementary propositions. He specifies them as a class of factual propositions which are logically independent of one another: the truth or falsity of one elementary proposition never implies the truth or falsity of any other elementary proposition.

To have a sense is to have a precise sense, and a factual proposition gets its precise sense only because its words represent things, just as a diagram says something only if its parts represent things [...] a factual proposition gets its precise sense only because its words either themselves represent existing things or are analysable into other words which represent existing things.

[...] to say that a proposition must have a precise sense is to say that it must be possible to draw a sharp line around everything that is necessarily the case if [the proposition] is true. [However] some factual propositions might be inherently vague. Wittgenstein himself makes this point [...] in Philosophical Investigations, and raises the interesting general question, whether logic idealizes the structure of language and, if so, to what extent.

A country, whose frontier was always a little further out than at any moment it was deemed to be, would not really have a frontier, and so would not be a territorial unit at all. Similarly, the aggrandizement of the sense of a proposition must come to a halt. There must be a definite limit to what is being asserted, and so there must be a definite limit to the view into reality which is presented by a picture or a factual proposition. Both may have a very fine grain, but in each case there must be a definite limit to the fineness of the grain.

This is an abstract argument, based on a general theory of meaning, and Wittgenstein did not claim to be able to produce any examples of complete analyses which might reinforce its conclusion, or even illustrate it. He merely specified elementary propositions as a class of logically independent factual propositions, and he left the precise nature of their elements, which he called 'names', shrouded in mystery.

Now these names were pure names, which, unlike the name 'Dartmouth', had no concealed factual content. So their meanings could only be the simple objects, or, as he puts it, leaving the qualification to be understood, the 'objects', which they represented. But what sort of thing is an object?

Elementary propositions lie at the centre of the system of factual discourse, and constitute its inner limit. The first stage of Wittgenstein's demarcation of the system was to fix this inner limit, because it was the point of origin from which he was to work outwards and calculate its outer limit, the maximum expansion of the bubble.

[David Pears]
Wittgenstein, p. 58-62, 66-7


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Inner life


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As Wordsworth walked, filled with his strange inner joy, responsive thus to the secret life of nature round about him, his rural neighbors, tightly and narrowly intent upon their own affairs, their crops and lambs and fences, must have thought him a very insignificant and foolish personage.

It surely never occurred to any one of them to wonder what was going on inside of him or what it might be worth. And yet that inner life of his carried the burden of a significance that has fed the souls of others, and fills them to this day with inner joy.

[...] so blind and dead does the clamor of our own practical interests make us to all other things, that it seems almost as if it were necessary to become worthless as a practical being, if one is to hope to attain to any breadth of insight into the impersonal world of worths as such, to have any perception of life's meaning on a large objective scale.

Only your mystic, your dreamer, or your insolvent tramp or loafer, can afford so sympathetic an occupation, an occupation which will change the usual standards of human value in the twinkling of an eye, giving to foolishness a place ahead of power, and laying low in a minute the distinctions which it takes a hard-working conventional man a lifetime to build up.

You may be a prophet, at this rate; but you cannot be a worldly success.

[William James]
Pragmatism and Other Writings, p. 275


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Semi-transparent

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A painting is not a thing in the world: nor is it just a representation of the world. 

In a marvellous phrase of Merleau-Ponty's, we do not see paintings, as much as see according to them.

They are, like people, and the forms of the natural world, neither just objective things, nor mere representations of things: they permit us to see through, and according to, themselves. They have a semi-opaque (or semi-transparent) quality, not disappearing altogether, in which case some reality or other would be seen in their place, a reality which they would no more than represent.

No, they have reality of their own. But equally they are not mere things, existing ‘out there’ independent of us or whatever else it is that exists. We are aware of them but see through them, see the world according to them.

To take the example of the Claude painting: we neither allow our eye simply to rest on the pure thing in front of us, a canvas measuring such and such, with so and so patches of blue, green and brown on it, nor do we see straight through it, as though ignorant that we are looking at a painting, and imagining we look through a window.

Equally with poetry: language does often function as if it were transparent, when we are reading a piece of prose, and unaware of its facticity. But in poetry the language itself is present to us – semi-transparent, semi-opaque; not a thing, but a living something that allows us to move through it and beyond, though never allowing the language to disappear as though it played no part in the whatever it is beyond language that it yields to us.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 183-4


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Separation / Connection


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Left hemisphere                 -                      Right hemisphere
Separate                             -                      Connected
Centrifugal                         -                      Centripetal


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I suggest that there are two opposing ways of dealing with the world that are both vital but are fundamentally incompatible, and that therefore, even before humans came on the scene, required separate treatment, even neurological sequestration from one another. 

One tendency, important for being able to get things from the world for one's own purposes, involves isolation of one thing from the next, and isolation of the living being, perceived as subjective, from the world, perceived as objective.

The drive here is towards manipulation, and its ruling value is utility.

It began in my view by colonising the left hemisphere, and with the increasing capacity for distance from the world mediated by the expansion of the frontal lobes as one ascends the evolutionary tree, resulted in a physical expansion of the area designed to facilitate manipulation of the environment, symbolically and physically, in the higher monkeys and apes. Eventually that expansion became the natural seat of referential language in humans.

The other tendency was centripetal, rather than centrifugal: towards the sense of the connectedness of things, before reflection isolates them, and therefore towards engagement with the world, towards a relationship of ‘betweenness’ with whatever lies outside the self.

With the growth of the frontal lobes, this tendency was enhanced by the possibility of empathy, the seat of which is the right frontal expansion in social primates, including humans.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 127-8


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Related posts:
Life and Death (and everything in-between)
The Colour Wheel 
Centre / Periphery 
Abstract / Concrete
Balance
The Principle of Polarity
Status Quo 
You ought to be more like me
Concentrate
Making Connections
Connection
Separation
The Devil is in the Details (and God is in the Generalities)

Right hemisphere / Left hemisphere


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Left hemisphere                 -                      Right hemisphere
Centre                                -                      Periphery
Narrow                               -                      Broad
Short term                          -                      Long term
Abstract                              -                      Concrete
Certain                                -                      Uncertain
Closed                                 -                      Open
Quick                                  -                      Slow
Known                                -                      Unknown


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Centre / Periphery


If it is the right hemisphere that is vigilant for whatever it is that exists 'out there', it alone can bring us something other than what we already know.

The left hemisphere deals with what it knows, and therefore prioritises the expected - its process is predictive. It positively prefers what it knows. This makes it more efficient where things are predictable, but less efficient than the right wherever the initial assumptions have to be revised [...]

[...] the right hemisphere presents an array of possible solutions, which remain live while alternatives are explored. The left hemisphere, by contrast, takes the single solution that seems best to fit what it already knows and latches onto it.

[There is] a tendency for the left hemisphere to deny discrepancies that do not fit its already generated schema of things. The right hemisphere, by contrast, is actively watching for discrepancies, more like a devil's advocate.

[...] the right hemisphere alone attends to the peripheral field of vision from which new experience tends to come [...] 

The more flexible style of the right hemisphere is evidenced not just in its own preferences, but also at the 'meta' level, in the fact that it can also use the left hemisphere's preferred style, whereas the left hemisphere cannot use the right hemisphere's.

The range of the right hemisphere is further increased by the fact that it has a longer working memory, and so is able both to access more information and hold it together at any one time for longer [...]

This broader field of attention, open to whatever may be, and coupled with greater integration over time and space, is what makes possible the recognition of broad or complex patterns, the perception of the 'thing as a whole', seeing the wood for the trees.

In short the left hemisphere takes a local short-term view, whereas the right hemisphere sees the bigger picture.


Abstract / concrete


The left hemisphere is the hemisphere of abstraction, which, as the word itself tells us, is the process of wresting things from their context.

Abstraction is necessary if the left hemisphere is to re-present the world [...] The right hemisphere presents individual, unique instances of things and individual, familiar, objects, whereas the left hemisphere re-presents categories of things, and generic, non-specific objects.

It is with the right hemisphere that we distinguish individuals of all kinds, places as well as faces. In fact it is precisely its capacity for holistic processing that enables the right hemisphere to recognise individuals. Individuals are, after all, Gestalt wholes: that face, that voice, that gait, that sheer 'quiddity' of the person or thing, defying analysis into parts.

The right hemisphere deals preferentially with actually existing things, as they are encountered in the real world. Because its language roots things in the context of the world, it is concerned with the relations between things.


Solid / liquid


If one had to encapsulate the principal difference in the experience mediated by the two hemispheres, their two modes of being, one could put it like this.

The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotive language and abstraction yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, disembodied, general in nature but ultimately lifeless.

The right hemisphere, by contrast, yelled a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known — and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.

The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. 

It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness, of self-reference. It can mediate knowledge only in terms of a mechanical rearrangement of other things already known. It can never really ‘break out’ to know anything new, because its knowledge is of its own re-presentations only.

Where the thing itself is ‘present’ to the right hemisphere, it is only ‘re-presented’ by the left hemisphere, now become an idea of a thing. Where the right hemisphere is conscious of the Other, whatever it may be, the left hemisphere's consciousness is of itself.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 40-1, 43, 50-1, 174-5


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Our propensity to impose meaning and concepts blocks our awareness of the details making up the concept.

However, if you zap people’s left hemispheres, they become more realistic - they can draw better and with more verisimilitude. Their minds become better at seeing the objects themselves, cleared of theories, narratives, and prejudice.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 66


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