in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

'It's a Good Job we are Both Honest Men...' Wittgenstein and the Lavender Hill Mob!

I am just finishing a talk to give at Heythrop College Research Seminar next Wednesday 25th February (4.30pm) entitled:

Saying and Showing: the Choreography of Psychology and Religious Understanding
Some of which I include below.
As I was working on it I happened to watch 'The Lavender Hill Mob' again, that great Ealing comedy (incidentally made the year Wittgenstein died, 1951). There is an extraordinary scene in the film where Alec Guinness persuades Stanley Holloway to commit a robbery but doesn't say so at all... the dialogue in itself is rather humdrum, all the work is done through the 'showing' (and brilliant acting of the two). It is a wonderful example of the Wittgensteinian choreography of saying and showing and I hope to show it at the seminar next week... do come along!
You can find a link to the film here:
If you cant come along I hope you enjoy this great film!
best wishes

1. A Change of Aspect

Wittgenstein’s later thought on the process of what he would call ‘aspect-seeing’ was particularly stimulated by his prolonged reflection on Jastrow’s famous ‘Duck-Rabbit’ diagram:


As he lived in virtual isolation at a farmhouse in Rosro near Connemara, Ireland (having resigned his professorship in Cambridge and more or less withdrawn from academic life) there are amusing stories of the great philosopher drawing the diagram in the sand of the sea-shore and then standing there for hours staring at it - much to the bemusement of his fellow villagers. In the final remarks on ‘the philosophy of psychology’ he returns continually to the figure and how an aspect is changed in our thought and life. What fascinated him was how ‘nothing and yet everything’ is changed with the change of aspect As he wrote in 1948 at Rosro:


What is incomprehensible is that nothing, and yet everything, has changed, after all. That is the only way to put it. Surely this way is wrong: It has not changed in one respect, but has in another. There would be nothing strange about that. But ‘Nothing has changed’ means: Although I have no right to change my report about what I saw, since I see the same things now as before – still, I am incomprehensibly compelled to report completely different things, one after the other. (RPP2: 474)


As we look at the duck-rabbit, or indeed other parts of our perception of the world, ‘a new aspect’ dawns - everything has changed while nothing has changed. In his prolonged reflection on this phenomenon Wittgenstein is at pains to discount two lines of explanation. The first is what he calls ‘the psychological’, my second aspect of a Wittgensteinian psychology that would like psychology to move away from thinking itself as ‘pseudo-science’:


2. Not a Pseudo Science

Such a view, he explains, would be to ‘seek causes’ for the change – I would interpret this as perhaps a neurological or reductionist search for the physical causes of the change - either in the firings of neurons or some other aspect of brain structure:


Indeed, I confess, nothing seems more possible to me than that people some day will come to the definite opinion that there is no picture/representation in either the physiological or nervous systems which corresponds to a particular thought, a particular idea or memory. (LWP1: 504, I have adjusted the translation slightly)


True to his later growing disillusion with the universalist claims of such ‘scientism’ he declares that such searching for causes is of no interest to him (LWP 1:434)[1]. For as he says himself in the Philosophical Investigations, by ‘giving all these examples I am not aiming at some kind of completeness, some classification of psychological concepts’ (PI: 206e).


3. Not Interior

Having resisted the siren voices of neo-empirical psychology, Wittgenstein then proceeds to turn his guns on what he sees as the other chief distraction in formulating his response to the change of aspect – the lure of inwardness. As he warns: ‘Do not try to analyse the experience in your self’ (PI: 204e/ LWP 1.548)[2]. ‘Inner pictures’/ Inneren Bilden are ‘misleading, for this concept uses the ‘outer picture’ as a model’ for ‘the use of the words for these concepts are no more like one another than the uses of ‘numeral’ and ‘number’. (And if one chose to call numbers ‘ideal numerals’, one might produce a similar confusion)’ (PI 196e/PU 523).[3] As I have argued elsewhere (Tyler 2011), I see one of the characteristics of Wittgenstein’s style is the use of ‘shock tactics’ to force his reader to think for themselves. As I wrote in The Return to the Mystical (Tyler 2011), Wittgenstein ‘prods and pokes’ his reader to allow each of us trapped flies to escape our own personal ‘fly-bottles’. Typical of these tactics (common with, I have argued, the great writers of mystical theology such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross) are the use of irony (in Wittgenstein’s case inherited from his master SΓΈren Kierkegaard), exaggeration, paradox and humour. Wittgenstein’s later writings are peppered with many examples of all of these and one of his most startling assertions makes its appearance in his critique of the inner:


I can know what someone else is thinking, not what I am thinking.

It is correct to say ‘I know what you are thinking’, and wrong to say ‘I know what I am thinking’

(A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar).

(PI 222e/ PU565)

[1] Interestingly this final part is deleted in the published version of the Investigations: ‘Its causes are of interest to psychologists, not to me’ in LWP becomes ‘Its causes are of interest to psychologists’ in the final version of PI. Was one of his editors worried about Wittgenstein’s perceived anti-psychologism here – or that his method somehow transcends psychology? As no editorial guidance was given for this decision in 1953 we cannot know.
[2] The official translation here is ‘Do not try to analyse your own inner experience’.
[3] See also LWP 2.13e: ‘The aspect seems to belong to the structure of the inner materialization’.

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