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Wittgenstein and Gestalt Switches

Notes for Critiquing The Mystique of Simplicity in Science, Art, and Life, Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society, Saturday, January 9, 2021. Originally on Facebook.

My thoughts:

(LW = Ludwig Wittgenstein, RBF = Bucky Fuller, EJA = Ed)

LW’s Philo Version 1, the Tractatus, works hard to simplify language to a picture theory of meaning (KISS), which Version 2, the Investigations, sees was way too simple, per your analysis above (about the allure of the “too simple” — gotta watch that!).

Version 2 is more like RBF’s approach to Universe: there’s no one summarizing glance that gives you its meaning e.g. play Big Bang animated GIFs over and over, that doesn’t include the mockingbird on your shoulder. The meaning of “brain” is not magically encapsulated either by its dictionary definition or a glance at some anatomical brain thing. You need to get into how “the brain” does or does not weave together with “consciousness” (another tool) in whatever namespace (grammar, language game) is currently in focus (i.e. you’ve gotta do “brain surgery” on language to appreciate its delicate and quirky associations — all nonsense on closer scrutiny but that’s just a gestalt switch).

Meaning is not from a set of objects, sitting out there like cows in the field, waiting to be pointed out (too simple) i.e. “named” (St. Augustine). Meaning is from the interweave, the game, the operations (RBF: operational mathematics), in which all objects, thoughts, images, experiences, play a role, at the same level (all is language, language is all — back to Universe in some ways, as eternally aconceptual, un-imageable).

But… once we’re free of the idea of “the meaning” of something just sitting there, staring us in the face (like a “horse”), we have to remember gestalt shifts, revelations, sudden alterations in perception we call “meaningful”. Those context switches are part of what we mean by “meaning” and LW is investigating “meaning” after all.

A Horse (of course)

So Part 2 of the Investigations is all about restoring balance and reminding us what a huge difference gestalts make, but without using that word.

I think he’d be wholly receptive to Zwicky. Given his focus on music, he’d be especially into creating music that induced gestalt shifts in various ways, using synths and computer programs. Always fun to argue “hypothesis contrary to fact” i.e. invent a science fiction universe for all my peeps, wherein they get to pursue their interests.

Related Reading:
Wittgenstein Explained (September 20 2019, by me here on Medium)

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