Wednesday, May 28, 2003

This is Plain Ridiculous

Over the weekend I decided it was time to take a break from reading the sort of crappy books that others insist that you must read before your opinions on current issues are worth considering and refresh my memory of an old favourite On Certainty by that Wittgenstein bloke. It seemed like a good idea at the time: I was less likely to have one of those waspish fits of bad temper that end with the book cringing in the corner of the room, fearful that you're going to fling it at the wall again. Also, as it's my copy of On Certainty, it's free of those irritatingly cryptic marginalia like "!!", "??" "How true!" and pointless random underlinings that some idiots feel compelled to add to the text of library books for the edification of later readers. I was having a good time, till I got to this bit:

102. Might I not believe that once, without knowing it, perhaps in a state of unconsciousness, I was taken far away from the earth - that other people know this, but do not mention it to me? But this would not fit into the rest of my convictions at all. Not that I could describe the system of these convictions. Yet my convictions do form a system, a structure.

A couple of pages later, Ludwig is musing on whether anyone has ever been on the moon. Now, while Wittgenstein is, or at least used to be, my favourite philosopher there are limits to how much slack I'm prepared to cut even a favourite philosopher in the interests of a so-called fair-minded reading. While he might be on the money on the subject of the impossibility of anyone ever being on the moon it's difficult to read the remarks I've cited above without calling to mind all the solid anecdotal evidence that sometimes unconscious people really do find themselves far away from the earth, suffering painful and humiliatingly intrusive physical examinations. So while Ludwig's scenario might have appeared ludicrous in the 1950s, to be skeptical that one might be taken away from the earth while unconscious makes as much sense in the modern world as clinging to the belief that crop circles are the work of human beings.

It's disappointing, because I was hoping that reading Wittgenstein might give me the opportunity to produce one of those more cerebral posts which I'm apparently capable of. Or at least occasionally. I might even, so I mistakenly thought, have a chance to say something favourable about a book for a change. Instead I'm left with the conclusion that as a philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein would have made a very good hospital porter. Perhaps I have an attitude problem or something.

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