Category Archives: Wittgenstein

Itsy & The Infinite Web 6: You’re In & You’re Out

As the three reached the end of the road, they passed underneath a large sign that said: ESTABLISHMENT LABORATORIES – Distilling Life to Fortify our World!

Beyond the gate the tower was towering, wide with many sides and tall with many stories.  The three approached two huge doors covered in golden symbols. Prudence examined the door while Itsy watched Joy sail her boat through the air and make motor noises.

“Ah, here we are!” said Prudence as she pushed a large X that produced a small chime.  “The bell tolls for these.”

The doors swung open outwards and with them came two guards, both large bears, covered with badges and medals, as if highly decorated after countless past battles.  The guard on the right had a hat that said “Out Warden”, and the guard on the left had a hat that said ‘“In Warden”. The two stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway, glaring at the three inquirers.

“Alright, stop right there, all of you!” demanded the Out Warden.  “You’re clearly all outside, and thus are not to be trusted!”

“Yes!” agreed the In Warden, “Stop right here, and come inside immediately!

YES,” shouted Out, “Stop and… Wait, what?  NO!  We were told to keep everyone OUT who was out, and by someone up high inside!”

“No we weren’t!” IN ‘sisted.  “I spoke to several superiors and THEY want everyone IN!

WHO HIRED YOU?!?” exclaimed OUT.  “They can’t have clearance!  What kind of guard keeps everyone in?”

Prison guards?” suggested Prudence, trying to keep Joy from climbing between them, using their ribbons for grips and footing.  “JOY!  These people are not toys.  They are serious tools.”

“And what if one of them has a knife, HUH?” thrusted OUT, as oblivious as IN to the upwardly mobile duckling.  “Should we give everyone a group hug to check for weapons, you long-haired anarchist?  Remember, I’m the old guard here.”

“Anarchy?  ME?!?” IN ‘quisitioned with surprise.  “You’re the one who lets dangerous strangers run around without supervision!  If any of them is armed, we should make sure to look in on them, not leave them out here without any oversight!”

“Between the two of you,” Itsy intervened, “you must let some in and some out some of the time.  Otherwise, seal the door shut and there’s no need for guards.”

The two stared at Itsy and then at each other, while Prudence tried to stop Joy from cramming as many medals as she could into her mouth.

“How about we compromise,” thought OUT out loud.  “She can get in, or her or her!

“Finally we’re getting somewhere,” IN vented with frustration, and pointed to Prudence and Itsy with two claws.  “You and you, get IN here!”

“No,” said OUT.  “I said her OR her, OR her!”

“Right!” said IN.  “So her AND her, NOT her!”

“No, no, NO!” screamed OUT.  “What part of OR don’t you understand!”

“If the choice is mine to make, you silly screaming person, then I could choose her, her or her, or her and her, her and her, or her and her.  I could choose her and her AND THE SPIDER, but I’m trying to compromise!” said IN, completely exhausted.

Prudence pried the slimy ball of ribbons from Joy’s mouth, tossed them safely aside, and pulled a sandwich out of her coat.  “Perhaps you could share this?” she suggested.

Both bears eyed the sandwich.

“I say one of us eats it or nobody eats it,” said the Out Warden.

“And I say both of us eats it or nobody eats it,” said the In Warden.

“So you both agree that nobody eats it,” concluded Prudence.

NOT NECESSARILY!” the two passionately objected together.

They turned to and on each other, both hungry but both stubborn, arguing over the standing practices of when and how sandwiches are shared that lasted far longer than it would have taken for either or both to simply eat the sandwich.

Itsy, interested in neither side and now bored, slid beneath their disagreement, and the other two followed her through the door and down a long reflective hall.  Prudence left the sandwich on the doorstep between the arguing guards, though this clearly bothered her.

“See that!  Three more got in!  That’s YOUR FAULT!” said OUT as an echo down the hall.

My fault?  First of all, I win!” said IN, another echo.  “Second to none, you were distracting us!”

“They barely listen,” sighed Prudence, “either to us or to each other.”

“I’m not really sure what we’re getting into exactly,” said Itsy, glancing back towards the doors, “It certainly looks like we’re in for a long haul, but thanks for getting us in the door, Prudence.”

“Not a problem,” replied the swan calmly.  “Everyone fights over truth as if it’s the last sandwich on earth, or on wheat, on Dutch crunch… JOY! Don’t lick the walls!  You don’t know where they’ve been!

Ponderous Walrus Ponders: What does it all mean?

What does it all mean?

Can everything mean something in particular?  What do walruses mean? 

What does this pondering walrus mean to you right now?   What will this walrus mean to you in twenty years?  If your children’s children discover this secret meaning a century from now, would they approve?

Do walruses typically need approval?  Why do you?  Does it have anything to do with asking about what things mean?

What does it all mean?

The Chair in the Other Room: Description & Prescription, Philosophy & Action

 

Suppose that I tell you, “There is a chair in the other room.”  Is this a description of what already is, or a prescription for what should be done?

I could be telling you to bring the chair here, or to go sit in the other room, or to bring the chair here and sit in it, or to bring the chair here so I can sit in it, or to bring the chair here and leave it empty for someone important, or clean it in the other room to keep an important person happy.  Depending on our understandings, it could be a simple prescription for any of these things without either of us speaking any other words out loud or silently to ourselves in thought.

However, it doesn’t have to be a prescription for immediate action.  I could simply be describing the other room, though it would be odd for me to do this for no understandable purpose, without intending anything be done in the future.  Wittgenstein said that if someone said, “That is certainly a tree,” we could say to a stranger overhearing this, “This person is not insane, but merely engaged in philosophy!”  If you asked me what there is to do right now, and I tell you there’s a chair in the other room, it would be odd for you to say, “Things do temporarily exist, as the Buddha told us thousands of years ago, but philosophically speaking…”  We don’t talk philosophically to do particular things as we’ve already done them, but to think about all the possible ways we could do or change things before or after we’ve done them, including call particular things trees and chairs for particular purposes in particular situations.

Suppose I open a blog post saying “Suppose that I tell you, ‘There’s a chair in the other room.’”  You would hopefully understand that I’m talking philosophically, abstractly in ways about truth and meaning that do apply to life but not in particular immediate ways, but if I told you this as a complete stranger on the bus you would think I’m a strange narcissistic exhibitionist who is wasting your time and everyone else’s showing off, which you may or may not think at this point in the blog post.  Similarly, if I said “There’s a chair in the other room,” to a complete stranger on the bus, it would not be clear at all what I meant.  It wouldn’t even be clear that it was a trustworthy description but without purpose.

We can describe things without prescribing immediate action, much as I could tell you about the chair and mean we could always sit in it next week, but we don’t describe things without any understandable intentions, saying “That is a chair, that is a chair, and that is a table’ to ourselves or anyone else.  We would if truth were more important than meaning.  Truth is centrally important to everything, but without meaning it isn’t important.  We can prescribe things without describing things much at all, as I do when I simply tell you of the chair’s existence and expect you to act, but we can’t prescribe things without informing others about our situation.  If I inarticulately cry out, this informs you in some way about your circumstances even if I’m not intending to describe anything or prescribe action for you.

We can speak more or less descriptively or prescriptively in the same way that we can speak more or less philosophically, more or less abstractly about what to do over all compared to particular commands intertwined with immediate actions.  Reading philosophy online or sitting in a classroom talking about trees, chairs, buses and strangers, none of which concretely exist but rather are entirely imaginary, is an action, but it isn’t much action which allows for much thinking to go on relatively undisturbed by attention to many of the things that surround us.