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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

John Dewey’s Pragmatic Technology

I had to give a presentation in class this week about John Dewey, pragmatism, and technology. It’s one of those cases where finding the topic interesting enough to be critical about it is less than automatic. Nonetheless, I managed to fill three hours and to complete the related paper. But I’ve been trying to rethink my place in academia of late, and it has not been easy. The main problem is that my capability is directly proportional to my interest level. I excel at problems which interest me. I fail at those which don’t. And there won’t ever be an academic field in which everything interests me; therefore there won’t ever be one at which I’ll be more than marginally successful. Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life, or not?

Making Sense of Science Making Sense of the World

I am finished with my second semester of graduate school. I’ve completed my final paper for my Wittgenstein class, and have completed grading my students’ final exams, and I am now officially on vacation. Not sure yet what my winter plans will be, but they probably involve lots of scotch and drumming. Quite possibly in conjunction with one another.
Playing: The Misfits – TV Casualty

Re-Populating Scientific Explanation

Yet another final paper complete. This one is my take on the frustratingly fruitless discussion in the philosophy of scientific explanation. It is the culmination of an entire semester of wondering why philosophy so consistently fails to solve problems that it completely fabricated in the first place.

Incommensurable Or Merely Incompatible?

I’ve finished the first of my final papers for the semester. It’s about comparative statistics and scientific inference, and is surprisingly long considering that I’ve nothing to actually say on the subject. Proving once again the sad axiom that eloquence can frequently substitute for lack of competence.

Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations

The following is my final reaction paper for my class on Ludwig Wittgenstein:
duck-rabbit.gif
By the end of the Philosophical Investigations, I find it nearly impossible to find Wittgenstein’s work either reproachable or praiseworthy. He has succeeded in stirring the waters of language so much as to make any distinction impossible (which, to be fair, is quite possibly exactly what he set out to do). Part II of the Investigations centers loosely around psychology, but intersects with each of the other themes set out in the book, as well. It reiterates (or perhaps “reiteration” isn’t exactly the right word, given the non-chronological authorship of the book) all of the things that we can’t say about language and thought. Wittgenstein again attempts to demonstrate that we can make no differentiation between thinking of something and believing that we are thinking of it, and again points out the absurdity in “claiming” to believe something. Belief is not something that we can claim to have, or something that we think we have — we either have a belief (or a thought) or we don’t.
Wittgenstein also writes at length in Part II of Jastrow’s duck-rabbit. He ponders what it could me for us to say that we now “see” the duck, and now the rabbit. Has the image changed? Or has our attitude toward the image changed? Or has only our description of the image changed? Wittgenstein attempts to demonstrate that we have no basis by which to suppose that these are actually three different questions. He seems to believe that we cannot have an attitude toward the image without having the image itself, and we can only express our perception of the image descriptively. As such, it makes no sense to wonder what exactly has changed when we see the duck, and then the rabbit. All that we can do is to offer our description of what we see — a description which presupposes a certain linguistic understanding in our audience. To wonder if they “see” the same thing as us is futile; we can only offer our respective descriptions, and compare the compatibility of the the two. To wonder if we have the same thoughts or same mental pictures when we offer identical descriptions is a senseless question.
I do find myself somewhat disappointed with Wittgenstein’s dogged persistence in relating thought to verbal or written language. It seems to me that only a very small portion of conscious (or unconscious) thought relies upon words. I think that the vast majority of thought is non-verbal, but experiential. We often daydream ourselves in certain situations; the daydreams have components of sight, sound, physical sensation, etc. True — when we describe the daydream to someone else, we typically do so verbally. But it need not be so. Children frequently enact their experiential daydreams through experiential play; they pretend to be in certain situations, and behave as if they were actually in those situations. I don’t think that they say to themselves, “Now this pile of sand shall be treated as a city.” They simply treat it as such. I don’t think that such types of thought are incompatible with what Wittgenstein has to say about other (more traditionally “linguistic”) thoughts. The same principles can be applied with similar effect. And it seems to me that it would enhance Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language explore non-linguistic thought more thoroughly.