Monday, April 26, 2010

The fluency of reality

Wittgenstein’s books consist of long series of aphorisms and when I took his Über Gewißheit (On Certainty) from my bookcase last Monday, my eye fell immediately on aphorism 215, which I had underlined: “Here we see that the idea of ‘correspondence to reality’ has no clear application” (my translation). It followed an aphorism in which Wittgenstein had said: “What will prevent me to suppose that this table, when nobody looks at it, either disappears or changes its colour or shape and that it turns back to its old state, now when somebody watches it again? …” (214; my translation)
For many readers of this blog these sentences may be obscure. For me they aren’t. Immediately they made me think of a reaction to my blog “The bucket of our mind” (April 5, 2010) and of the so-called correspondence theory of truth. There are several theories in philosophy that formulate what “truth” is and this theory is the one accepted by most philosophers. However, I do not.
This theory looks so simple. On a winter day I sit in my study and I am thinking about snow. “Snow is white”, I think. I look out of my window into the garden and see that the snow there is white, indeed. So, it seems that my little theory about the colour of snow has been confirmed, for there is a correspondence between what I thought and what I see in the garden: That snow is white. However, already as a student I wasn’t convinced, and from my blogs it must be clear that I am still not convinced. I explained here, for instance, that you can compare my eyes and brain with a photo camera and that it depends on the properties of the camera and everything that belongs to it what we see: the lens, the film, the way the film is developed, or today the software in your camera, and so on. In other words: what we see is not a reality as such but an interpretation of reality by the properties of the camera in our head. There is no one-to-one relation between what we think to see in our brain and what there is over there in the world around us. For the colour of snow in our garden this may be difficult to grasp, but when we try to classify a bird in our garden it can be quite difficult to know what we see: is it a marsh tit or a willow tit? Until not so long ago even ornithologists thought that it was one species. If we talk about things still to be discovered as in science, there simply can be no correspondence between what we think to see and what there is in the world: what we see in the world is partially dependent on how we have classified it or how we will classify it with our scientific theory that is still in development (compare the discussion whether Pluto is a planet or a dwarf planet). In short: there are no facts, there are only interpretations. For me, what exists is only the way I “see” it in my head.
And now, when I read these sentences by Wittgenstein, even this may not be true. For what Wittgenstein says is simply this: What guarantees me that what I “see” in my head still exists the way I thought to see it at the moment that I do not look at it? Everything might be fluent and even that might not be so.

P.S. The pictures show a marsh tit (to the left) and a willow tit. Note that the difference in colour between the birds right and left are an artefact of the light circumstances and what the cameras made of it, which just substantiates my thesis. In my garden, I cannot see a difference. (Photos from Wikipedia)


r347hp said...

Can you imagine it without your own mind being part of the equation? For instance in some other dimension, or perspective the birds could be very easily told apart. If everything were abled to be magnified to an incredible degree that owuld be the true idea of the world, and the true wonderous nature of it. Just because my eye has faults does not mean that I don't see a true world. A blind person still lives in our universe even without being able to comprehend the imagery and visuals.. so are they living in our same world? I think your idea while I respect it involves too much turmoil in your own mind.

HbdW said...

I have bird catalogues that still classify both species of birds as one species, so it is not as simple as that. But take a sunset. I know a bit of astronomy but I still see the sun go down and not the earth go up. And how would a couple in a romantic mood see the sunset? Seeing and knowing is a matter of interpretation as I have tried to explain in my blogs and as many philosophers and scientists from Popper till Metzinger (and before and after them) have tried to explain. And that’s also what I try to show here. But maybe I have to write a blog about the turmoil in my mind. Thanks anyway for your reaction.

HbdW said...

P.S. See also my blog 21 June 2010.