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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Wittgenstein: On the Myth of the Time Goddess


File:World line.svg

Now if it is not the causal connections which we are concerned with, then the activities of the mind lie open before us. And when we are worried about the nature of thinking, the puzzlement which we wrongly interpret to be one about the nature of a medium is a puzzlement caused by the mystifying use of our language. This kind of mistake recurs again and again in philosophy; e.g. when we are puzzled about the nature of time, when time seems to us a queer thing. We are most strongly tempted to think that here are things hidden, something we can see from the outside but which we can't look into. And yet nothing of the sort is the case. It is not new facts about time which we want to know. All the facts that concern us lie open before us. But it is the use of the substantive "time" which mystifies us. If we look into the grammar of that word, we shall feel that it is no less astounding that man should have conceived of a deity of time than it would be to conceive of a deity of negation or disjunction.


Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death.

If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.

Our life has no end in just the way our visual field has no limits.

File:Kali, Hammer u. Sichel.jpg

Ludwig Wittgenstein: from The Blue Book (1930s Cambridge lecture notes as circulated by students), 1958
Ludwig Witgenstein: from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921

Visualization of the past light cone, the present and the future light cone, in 2D space: image by K. Aainsqatsi, 2007

Inside construction of typical HC49 case quartz crystal: photo by Altzone, 2006

Hindu Time Goddess Kali with inscription (invitation for kalipuja -- festival), near Kolkata (to left, election mural of the Indian Communist Party of India): photo by Christine Kundu, 2005.




And so this moment, which would have been the last had not this next one just arrived, and then this one, "beginning again and again" as Stein said. I didn't get to leave this 'note on things' yesterday, which seems again (in these parallel universes of ours) to 'connect' --


grey whiteness of cloud against invisible
ridge, motion of wind in green of leaves
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

in various ways, written to
describe the pictured

passage before, after a new,
begins a course “here”

silver circle of sun reflected in channel,
white clouds in pale blue sky above point

TC said...


Yes, definitely at last,

beginning again,

in various ways,


Peggy Aylsworth Levine said...

Hi Tom...

I've just discovered land, water, sky...Your blogsite!
This Wittgenstein quote could last me until the end of my days...but hey! there is so much more! Shall I set up camp here? Not a bad idea!

I walk into the word...
if time, I am carried.
There is sound, a blue
never encountered.
It shifts without notice as light through glass. This could be nothing or everything that is.

Curtis Roberts said...

Both the Johnson and Wittgenstein pieces, which I’m reading as a single Beyond The Pale publication, affected me very directly and strongly. In pure cliché terms (for which I apologize), I immediately felt them as light as air (in terms of the form and clarity of expression) and heavy as lead (in terms of their moral and intellectual import).

“In every life there are certain pauses and interruptions, which force consideration upon the careless, and seriousness upon the light; points of time where one course of action ends and another begins; and by vicissitude of fortune, or alteration of employment, by change of place, or loss of friendship, we are forced to say of something……..” is essentially my home address.

The force of “consideration upon the careless” has both darkened my view of human character (the effects of the current economic recession on the behavior of many people I encounter reminds me constantly of what you see on the Discovery Channel in terms of the savagery, but with none of the actual survival issues and none of the beauty) and provided occasional, unexpected happy surprises, thank heaven. (Friends, including BTP, family, the great outdoors, the great indoors, the surprising kindness of strangers.)

The weirdest thing to me about yesterday’s Goldman Sachs hearings (apart from seeing the father of a former classmate of my daughter’s testify) was the repeated use of the phrase “get closer to home”. I’m not a financier, but I think they were referring to the even-value position of the X axis set at 0, a flat-line. It clearly wasn’t meant to sound sinister, but I found it untoward. I mean home is where the heart is, where home plate is, not a flat-line.

By the way, what you’ve done with the images today and the color relations is really superb.

Curtis Faville said...

I'm not sure I understand the light cone illustration.

We know there are the "three dimenions" (of space), and time is considered the "fourth dimension." But the diagram shows Time as, visually a third dimension. I don't think time can be graphically shown in this way.

Why would the light of the past and the light of the future intersect at a focal point--the eye of the observer? But we don't "see" time--it's an illusion. Nor can we "see" things in the past or the future. Except, perhaps, in the astronomical sense--where light traveling from distant galaxies reaches us millions of years after it was "sent" -- and, hence, we can only see the universe "as it was" before we--or anything else in our Solar System--even existed. It's a weird notion. The whole distant universe may have changed, but we will never know, since we, and all of our eventual descendants--will be long gone by that time.


Lucy in the Sky said...

The present is all we have.

Curtis Roberts said...

It’s funny, but I was just taking virtual pen to virtual paper and considering Curtis Faville’s observation when I saw Lucy In The Sky’s comment (which I was preparing, in advance of seeing it, to echo, which I guess isn’t temporally possible), and thinking: “Now if it is not the causal connections which we are concerned with, then the activities of the mind lie open before us.”

Logically/poetically, the light/cone illustration makes sense to me.

TC said...

Curtis F.,

That blip point of the visualized two dimensional intersection, postulated for the convenience of the schematic mind, seemed to me an example of the sort of reduction of dimension of the experience of duration which Wittgenstein would have regarded as (in the immortal paraphrase of the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt) "bullshit".

It was one of two whoopee cushions some joker in the design department seems to have placed under any assumption one can really know or say anything about time or even say it exists, much less make a neat accurate computer graphic diagram of it.

(Not by the way to criticize the diagram, I found it strangely poetic, and a bit humorous as well; just as, I must confess, I always find L.W., even, or especially, at his most "severe".)

The other, no doubt obvious intended irony in the post involved the lower image of the formidable Devourer Goddess Kali, who "represents" Time, having her visual field (which according to Wittgenstein has, like our lives, no limits) -- or shall I say our visual field, including her now as merely one panel in a diptych -- extended beyond the designed limits.

Oh, well.

Peggy, welcome!

Curtis R.,

Know what you mean about that light/heavy clarity. The diptych is complicated for me (happily so, actually) by the fact each panel possesses certain of the motifs of the other.

The connection for me is that these are sentences, that is those of both writers, so constructed as to make the experience of them, for the mind, no less interesting, no less worth wanting to be in the middle of, for a moment, than the larger experience of a world.

When Wittgenstein with apparent serene assurance asserts we have left causality behind and now stand at the brink of an activity of the mind which is open and has no limits, I hear a Germanic poetry which veils its weight within a wonderful lightness.

Reading him sometimes a hear in my inner ear an odd tune, I imagine a brilliant schoolboy whistling the austere lyric of a perfectly constructed lieder as he proceeds through the dark woods of the Black Forest to the home of the local postman who was once his student, to ask forgiveness.

TC said...

"(Not by the way to criticize the diagram, I found it strangely poetic, and a bit humorous as well.. .)"

Should probably add in explanation, lest the "humorous" in regard to the diagram seem a COMPLETE nonsequitur, that I can't keep from imagining the Future Light Cone and the Past Light Cone as matching protective devices designed to keep similarly afflicted twin dogs from overmuch obsessive worrying of bothersome, perhaps phantom itches.

Curtis Roberts said...

That's very funny.

TC said...


Well, there is a pleasant fellow in the neighborhood who has two large dogs whom he dearly loves, and, as one notices when he is out walking them, it is not uncommon for at least one of them, if not both, to be wearing one of those cones.

Not turquoise light cones, but still.

In any case I take it everyone sees this all the time, though perhaps not always with such pleasant dogs or walkers.

And by the way, as to that OTHER nonsequitur: I seem to recall that I am not imagining things, LW actually did make that trek after absolution to which I vaguely allude, perhaps not with a lied on his lips nor in his heart -- as he was then dying, and at the end of a terminal quest to seek forgiveness from everyone he thought he had ever wronged, no matter how infinitesimally.

Most of those sought out along the way had been old friends and Cambridge associates who had, naturally, familiar with LW's weird removed saintliness, helped out with various versions of "I don't remember any of that, my dear sir, nor should you".

But, as the tale goes, on this last stop, at the home of someone whom many years before, in his days as a teacher, he had physically struck, the only such violent act of his life, things did not go quite so smoothly.

He knocked at the fellow's door. You probably won't remember me, he began. Not remember you? exclaimed the man. I shall never forget you. What you did to me ruined my life! Slam!

Curtis Faville said...

East Bay Hills

Imagine what this aspect must have looked like before the white man came. Pale yellow grassland punctuated with scrub oak, and higher up, stands of 200 year redwood. Herds of deer, foxes, ground-hogs, snakes. Flocks of birds filled the tidelands. The bay teeming with fish.

The clear air and the morning fogs.

In twenty centuries, if it still persists, will it be as charming and quaint as we now like to think the Tuscan cities are?

TC said...


Interesting question.

My sense of the thing would be that what is found charming and quaint in Tuscany is the preserved and in some cases restored residuum of an earlier art and architecture reflecting a civilization of a high cultural level.

Of course we'll never know, but something tells me the residuum of what has been created here will probably not be quite up to that level.

gwern said...

"If at the end of our journey
There is no final
Resting place
We need not fear
Losing our way."

TC said...

"If at the end of our journey
There is no final
Resting place
Then let's get lost
Along the way."