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Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) 

From the National Post, January 14, 2008

This year marks the centenary of monosodium glutamate, drip coffee makers, the FBI and — most importantly — atonality as we know it.

In 1908, Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg led the classical tradition away from its audience, changing the world with music not in any key and of no commercial value. He put music before audiences, both literally and figuratively, and in doing so created some of Western culture’s best music while gutting classical’s contemporary significance.

Schoenberg started writing compositions as a child in the 1880s, studying Bach and Mozart passionately. And though none of his family was artistic, his music began demonstrating genius, soon blending the sounds of those romantic antipodes, Brahms and Wagner.

In the late 19th century, European opinion was primarily divided between these two composers. Brahms was a supposed reactionary who nonetheless wrote the first pieces that were completely thematic, wherein every bit of the score was related to the main melody. Wagner’s blatantly progressive, extended tonalities seemed too delicate to support Brahms’ tight melodic weaves.

Nonetheless, Schoenberg put them together in his 1899 Transfigured Night, when he was just 25. It wasn’t merely beautiful, sophisticated music; this half-hour string sextet was wise and heart-wrenching, on par with the best of Mahler or Richard Strauss.

Schoenberg didn’t just want to entertain; he was a culture warrior who said things like, “I have discovered a technique that will guarantee German music’s supremacy for the next thousand years.”

At the turn of the century, most serious artists in Vienna were confronting psychoanalysis by looking inward.

Painters were on the front lines of new ideas back then, and Schoenberg was active in this art as well. He and cutting-edge younger Viennese visual artists like Egon Shiele and Oskar Kokoschka were interested in the bald psychological stresses hinted at on the canvases of Klimt, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Bodies and landscapes could now be legitimately, hideously rendered if the artist was revealing truth, the same way clenched hands betray the lie behind a smile. This style was dubbed expressionism, pulling the romantic pose inside out.

Schoenberg’s view of musical history allowed for a similar inversion. It ran something like this: from Mozart to Mahler, classical music became more and more dissonant, with more chromatic (or “wrong”) notes in it, so that it was more indirect overall with each generation. The handling of chromatic notes was critical to a composer’s unique sound. Schoenberg concluded that since wrong notes were coming more and more into the foreground of compositions, that they were music’s progressive impetus.

But the public was uninterested in difficult music. Schoenberg barely supported his family as a conductor. Critics were childishly toxic, writing clever cruelties like “Transfigured Night sounds similar to Tristan and Isolde if the ink were smeared across Wagner’s score.” By today’s standards, these dissonances are no more offensive than one of Danny Elfman’s soundtracks.

Entire article is here.


The Four Philosophers, 1611-1612 

Reviewed by Stephen Juan in Philosophy Now, January/February 2008

Philosophers may lead us in terms of profound ideas, but their personal lives can be quite another matter entirely. As historian Nigel Rodgers and philosopher Mel Thompson write in their marvelous little book, Philosophers Behaving Badly, “a life of reason does not necessarily lead to a reasonable life.” Their portraits of eight philosophers bring home this point again and again. Although monumental in their insights, these philosophers were screwed up!

When not too self-obsessed, greedy, proud and incredibly lacking in any semblance of a conscience, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) succeeded in setting out principles of society, democracy, education and humanity’s place in nature which greatly helped to form the foundation for intellectual, social and political revolutions in at least three nations. The impact of his ideas upon our world today is enormous. Yet Rousseau treated people terribly – particularly women – even those who showed him kindness for many years, of whom there were several. He dealt with the people closest to him as if their sole reason for existence was to serve him and stroke his massive ego. If alive today, he would come perilously close to being diagnosed as a sociopath.

Rousseau’s life was a disastrous mass of contradictions and inconsistencies. Praising conjugal love, he never properly married, but displayed a callous neglect of Therese, his lifelong partner. Adoring children, he readily abandoned his own. Believing that intellectual hatreds were the worst, he engaged in endless battles of ideas. Deploring the advent of printing, he was a prolific writer. A hater of privilege and wealth, he always relied on the rich and the great for support.

Entire review is here.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

From the Daily Times, January 26, 2008

That the outer man is a picture of the inner, and the face an expression and revelation of the whole character, is a presumption likely enough in itself, and therefore a safe one to go by; evidenced as it is by the fact that people are always anxious to see anyone who has made himself famous by good or evil, or as the author of some extraordinary work; or if they cannot get a sight of him, to hear at any rate from others what he looks like. So people go to places where they may expect to see the person who interests them; the press, especially in England, endeavours to give a minute and striking description of his appearance; painters and engravers lose no time in putting him visibly before us; and finally photography, on that very account of such high value, affords the most complete satisfaction of our curiosity. It is also a fact that in private life everyone criticises the physiognomy of those he comes across, first of all secretly trying to discern their intellectual and moral character from their features. This would be a useless proceeding if, as some foolish people fancy, the exterior of a man is a matter of no account; if, as they think, the soul is one thing and the body another, and the body related to the soul merely as the coat to the man himself.

On the contrary, every human face is a hieroglyphic, and a hieroglyphic, too, which admits of being deciphered, the alphabet of which we carry about with us already perfected. As a matter of fact, the face of a man gives us a fuller and more interesting information than his tongue; for his face is the compendium of all he will ever say, as it is the one record of all his thoughts and endeavours. And, moreover, the tongue tells the thought of one man only, whereas the face expresses a thought of nature itself: so that everyone is worth attentive observation, even though everyone may not be worth talking to. And if every individual is worth observation as a single thought of nature, how much more so is beauty, since it is a higher and more general conception of nature, is, in fact, her thought of a species. This is why beauty is so captivating: it is a fundamental thought of nature: whereas the individual is only a by-thought, a corollary.

In private, people always proceed upon the principle that a man is what he looks; and the principle is a right one, only the difficulty lies in its application. For though the art of applying the principle is partly innate and may be partly gained by experience, no one is a master of it, and even the most experienced is not infallible. But for all that, whatever Figaro may say, it is not the face which deceives; it is we who deceive ourselves in reading in it what is not there.

Entire article is here.

From ABC News, January 24, 2008

Researchers claim they have perfected a system that uses computers to accurately identify images of people’s faces, which could aid in the apprehension of criminals in public places such as airports that use surveillance cameras, according to a study released Thursday.

But some experts still doubt that facial recognition software can be used to accurately pick people out of crowded, public areas. Comparing a database of images of criminals, to a real live person in a crowd, has been very difficult, concedes Rob Jenkins, a professor in the psychology department of the University of Glasgow and co-author of the study released in the journal Science. But using a newly developed program at the university, computers were found to be 100 percent accurate when using what they call an “averaged” face image, made up of 20 photos, Jenkins and co-author Mike Burton wrote in the paper.

“The great thing about this averaging process is it just washes out all these differences of single photographs. The lighting and the pose all kind of becomes neutralized,” Jenkins told And what you’re just left with is the core of the face. The aspects of the image are consistent from one photo to the next.”

Facial recognition programs have been used for years. The most successful applications have been in the government or the private sector, mostly to help identify employees seeking access to sensitive areas. Casinos have also been using the software to help spot criminals or known card cheats sitting at gaming tables.

“I’m skeptical that it will be able to show that there is 100 percent accuracy in facial recognition technology, especially in using facial recognition technology out of a crowd,” said Melissa Ngo, director of the Identification and Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “We’ve seen any number of studies and examples when trying to use facial recognition technology itself has been completely flustered when the subject is not standing still or in the right light, looking right at the camera.”

Entire article is here.

From the Arizona Daily Star, January 23, 2008

Have you ever known someone who was “good at faces”? The kind of guy who can instantly recognize someone he barely met a year ago?

In the insect world, some paper wasp species are a lot like that guy, and a new UA study published this month in the journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution, says that the brains of wasps that can discriminate between individuals work differently from those that cannot.

The goal of the study was “to find something in their brains that was different,” said Wulfila Gronenberg, associate professor of neurobiology and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, and one of the authors of the paper. He said that much as bats use sound to navigate and have an enlarged area of the brain for processing sound, and birds have an enlarged memory portion of their brains to find the seeds they hide, wasps that can tell each other apart might have different kind of brains from those that can’t. The research has implications for how human brains function, because in some basic ways insect brains are very similar to those of more complex animals, including humans.
Entire article is here.

From the Nevada Appeal, January 22, 2008 

Miracles happen every day. So they say. But what if you’re a family in need of multiple miracles? Such is the case with the Harris clan in Carson City. Their problem was simple – and yet seemingly unsolvable. Their daughter Ashlee, 7, a first-grader at Mark Twain Elementary, was born without a smile. That’s right. She couldn’t smile.You see, Ashlee came into this world without the nerves and muscles in her face to crack a smile. It’s called Mobius Syndrome, a rare birth defect caused by the absence or underdevelopment of cranial nerves that control eye movement and facial expression. No matter how much mother Amy tickled and cooed and cajoled; no matter what little multi-colored sprites danced on the mobile that hung above her infant head, Ashlee wasn’t physically able to grin, smirk or even scowl.“When you have a child – as a parent – all you do is hope that they’re healthy, and happy,” Amy said. “You want everything in the world for your children, and you’ll do anything.

“Having a little girl that has so much life and energy, and can’t smile, well -it just breaks your heart.”

Local doctors were perplexed, and it wasn’t until the Harris family visited University of California, San Francisco Medical Center that Ashlee was diagnosed. But even they didn’t have an answer for the Harris family – not right away at least.“They said there’s nothing they could really do,” Amy said.She was inconsolable.

“It’s exhausting,” she said. “Here you have this problem that you think is fixable. And it’s not something you can really talk about with other people … ‘my child can’t smile’ – and you know what kids are like. It’s so hard when your child comes home with questions, every day – it was just a very sad experience for a parent.”

Finally, they found a solution.

Last June, Ashlee underwent an eight-hour surgery at UCSF performed by Dr. William Hoffman, chief of the school’s division of plastic and reconstructive surgery. The procedure was called a “cranial re-animation.” Surgeons removed nerves and muscles from Ashlee’s thigh and transplanted them to her face through an incision behind her ear.

The surgery was a success, but Ashlee’s story is not over. She still has “smile exercises” to practice daily, which help strengthen the nerves in her face.Even so, her condition afflicts her eyes as well, as she’s never been able to move them back and forth.“As much as we’re overjoyed that our little girl can smile, we still haven’t found a (surgeon) that says they can help with her eyes,” said Amy, a medical receptionist.Stepfather Tim Harris, a salesman for the Kirby Company, stayed at home with Ashlee’s brother, Kyle, 14, while the surgery and recovery took place.

“It was a family effort,” Tim said. “It’s just something we knew we had to do and we were lucky enough to live in a (region) where we could find someone that could help.

“But it’s taken a lot.”

The Harris family has insurance, and because Ashlee’s condition was congenital, Tim and Amy anticipate some of the surgery and recovery costs will be covered – but not all. The couple anticipates a six-figure tab.

And so, this Saturday, along with the help of local hypnotist/comedian Dan Kimm and the Galaxy Fandango 10 Cinema, the family will host a benefit fundraiser for Ashlee.

“They’re such a giving family,” Kimm said. “And, as a performer, you always have to remember to give back to the community. Some people give money, some give time – if I can volunteer a little bit and get families to come out, enjoy themselves and laugh – well, that’s basically the best I can do.”Ashlee, on a recent weekday night, was playing with a Barbie car she’d just gotten for her birthday and noshing on a Dorito.While she said the surgery went “good”, she was reluctant to share many details.Until, of course, she was asked what her relationship was like with her doctors.“Go ahead, tell them Ashlee,” Amy said.

“Well,” Ashlee said, as a grin spread across her face. “I made them laugh. I made them smile.”

‘the eyes have it’

The following, excerpted from the New York Times, February 13, 2007, is a typical report of pareidolia:

More than a decade ago, Diana Duyser of Hollywood, Fla., received a religious message through an unlikely medium: a grilled cheese sandwich she had made herself. As she gazed at the brown skillet marks on the surface of the bread, a familiar visage snapped into focus.

“I saw a face looking up at me; it was the Virgin Mary staring back,” she told reporters in 2004. “I was in total shock.”

Are reports of pareidolia avowals or expressions (Ausdruck)? I look at a face in a picture and am asked: ‘What do you see?’ I reply: ‘The Virgin Mary’. I look at an object; suddenly a face is in it. I exclaim ‘The Virgin Mary!’ The first is a report, the second an exclamation. Both are expressions of visual experience and perception. But the exclamation is forced from us, so it is an expression of perception in a different sense from the report.

Diana Duyser reports she was shocked when she saw the face of the Virgin Mary in her sandwich. This makes her statement of pareidolia  – “I saw a face looking up at me; it was the Virgin Mary staring back” – similar to exclamations and interjections. Reports of pareidolia are spontaneous reactions to what we see, and they are on the same level as reports of aspect-perception (PI II 194).

Wittgenstein asks: ‘What am I believing in when I believe that men have souls?’ (PI II 178) Do I believe that somewhere within the body there is an intangible object called ‘the soul’? Suppose I do not believe that people have souls. Do I nonetheless understand it? Certainly, I understand this teaching, and I can imagine plenty in connection with it (e.g., people have souls, plants do not). But the overall role of the expression ‘belief in the soul’ in the life of he who believes in the soul escapes me. Similarly, I can readily understand a report of pareidolia. But I can only guess at its function in the life of the person who spontaneously avows it.

A picture of a West African lion in a zoological handbook is a picture by similarity. Its function or role is largely preparatory: it enables us to identify the West African lion; it tells us what the lion looks like. The application of this picture is straightforward because it involves a familiar means of comparison. Now, compare this to the face of the Virgin Mary in Duyser’s sandwich. Does the sandwich tell us what Mary looks like? Duyser does not say: ‘Naturally, I cannot show you the real thing, only the face in the sandwich’. At issue is not what is seen, but that it is seen. That is what part of makes reports of pareidolia avowals. We may agree that reports of pareidolia are avowals, but the role of Duyser’s statement is not clear, and much harder to survey than in the case of the West African lion.

Of course, for Duyser the story of the Virgin Mary in her sandwich didn’t end with her sincere avowal of it. She held onto the sacred bread for the next 10 years, and recently put it up for sale on eBay. The auction generated so much excitement that the sandwich eventually sold for US$28,000! Comedy aside, this nonetheless highlights the role Duyser and others associate with the experience.

Goethe said: ‘Because everyone uses language to talk, everyone thinks he can talk about language.’ What is difficult to convey in pareidolia is not that a person perceives a face in an object and from it derives a whole system, but that a whole system is, as it were, avowed in the face simpliciter. “I saw a face looking up at me; it was the Virgin Mary staring back” is embedded in a system – form of life – and is founded like emotion personified in the facial features.

65. We are all atheists with regard to Zeus. Why not God? The culture and civilization which lent belief to Zeus and which, as it were, gave life to him no longer exists, and we do not believe in him. But, the regular ways of acting which found belief in God in today’s society seem to me yet quite steady and firm.


HyperWittgenstein is a project and a website providing open access to substantial and important parts of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass, with the objective to build a virtual scholarly community for collaborative Wittgenstein research and learning on the Internet. The project is carried out in cooperation with the international Groupement de Recherche Européen plus “Hyper-Learning” (GDRE+ Hyper-Learning) and in the frame of COST action A32 “Open Scholarly Communities on the Web” (COST Action A32) and the “Digital Semantic Corpora for Virtual Research in Philosophy” project (DISCOVERY).

The parts of the Wittgenstein Nachlass planned for publication on HyperWittgenstein comprise in total approximately 5000 pages and include selections from:

  • Notes on Logic complex (1913-14): TS 201a1, TS 201a2
  • Lecture on Ethics complex (1929): MS 139a, MS 139b, TS 207
  • Big Typescript complex (1929-34): MSS 153a-156a, MSS 145-152, MSS 105-115, MS 140, TS 212, TS 213
  • Brown Book complex (1934-36): Second part of MS 115, last page of MS 140, MS 141, Ms152, Ts310

These Nachlass materials shall be made available both as facsimile and edited text versions. In addition, HyperWittgenstein will include secondary sources, such as commentaries, translations, articles, etc. While primary materials will for the most part be prepared by WAB, it is hoped that external users will contribute substantially with secondary materials.

To read the entire article, go here.

New site – currently under construction – where Wittgenstein scholars and others can share information about conferences, new books, useful websites, or other information and materials relevant for the Wittgenstein research community. In order to post information, visitors must first register as a user.

For questions or comments write to Alois Pichler <> at WAB.

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