You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2008.

Anyone who understands Mozart or Beethoven hears consonance in their music. This is expressed primarily in tonality and rhythmical order. In tonal compositions there is an ordered progression of related tonalities (typically tertian sonorities) that finds its purpose and resolution in the home key. When the home key is reached, there is a sense of rest, of purpose attained. Consonance is the analogue of a rationally meaningful world.

My experience of living abroad in Taiwan, of living in an environment radically different from New Zealand is not like this. It is more like an atonal composition. In atonal compositions there is no home key, and therefore little sense of purpose or resolution. This is an exageration no doubt, but it illustrates a point. If you are so miserable, why bother staying? – What is ‘home’, anyway?

Whatever else it means, and I am able to offer no more than a furtive sidelong glance at it, I think it can be compared fruitfully with aesthetic appreciation. Wittgenstein discusses this in a remark published in Culture & Value, p. 58e. There he talks about art and how it is thought to convey a ‘feeling’. Wittgenstein partially agrees with this traditional characterization:

You really could call it, not exactly the expression of a feeling, but a least an expression of feeling, or a felt expression. And you could say too that insofar as people understand it, they ‘resonate’ in harmony with it, responds to it. You might say: the work of art does not aim to convey something else, just itself.

Is home a feeling? I am not referring to a single dwelling by ‘home’, which merely occupies the foreground of a much larger picture. I am attempting to capture something about the picture itself, of the whole. Wittgenstein’s term ‘felt expression’ suggests that the relation of art to the world is appreciative, art is appreciated for being important. This suggests a method of knowing through feeling, which is global rather than mundane in nature. Is there a unique kind of knowing proper to feelings?

Let’s look at Wittgenstein’s simile of ‘harmony’, or, as he says, art that resonates. The word ‘resonate’ is a verb meaning ‘to sound again’.  One who understands art ‘resonates’ in harmony with it. How? Wittgenstein says: one ‘responds to it’. This suggests that art is understood by a spontaneous act of perception, and not by diagnosis. One who responds to art may therefore convey his understanding by an answering expression or gesture as by some appropriate gesture in words (consider understanding facial expressions). I think that home is like this.

I do not ‘resonate’ in harmony with Taiwan. Is that clear enough to me? The person who lives here and ‘understands’ life in this country, is like someone whose total experience of Taiwan reverberates within him simultaneously as his own or as the music of Mozart does for millions, or as a piston fits into a cylinder, and so on. All the tonalities that sound off in a person and in the environment that exist in harmony form chordal structures, and stacked together they blend into one and sound off simultaneously, without effort or transition to something else.  

Experiences resonate within a person in sequence. Taken individually, they form melodies and play out in the course of a person’s life. The world is played out in a person just as a musical chord is played out in sequence or individual notes are played out in sequence to form melodies. A person ‘at home’ in a place anywhere in the world is like an harmonic progression, it seems to me, and one who is not, is nothing more than a dissonant interval. It is therefore up to this person to resolve the tension that wars within him.

It would be difficult to be at home in a world whose sum total musical experience consisted of Richard Clayderman, or Karlheinz Stockhausen.  Imagine what such a life would be like. Clearly, a question of balance between consonant and dissonant forces is necessary if home is to take root.


It seems to me that philosophy is properly managed when unity is given to the disparate pronouncements that pop up in discussion. An able host spins these individual fibres into a thread whose combined strength is in the expert twisting of fibre on fibre. The complexity of philosophy is the overlapping of many fibres. It is no easy thing to handle a philosophical discussion like this. On the other hand, nothing is worse than to see a discussion denegrate into a ‘battlecry’ match.

From the Atlantic Online, June 1997

Michael Nedo, the director of the Wittgenstein Archive, in Cambridge, England, is a happy man. The archive is deeply in debt, the building is in dire need of repair, and complications in Austrian politics have delayed any chance of getting further funding. But Nedo is at last on the way to accomplishing what he set out to do more than two decades ago: he has issued six volumes of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s papers, in exactly the form and sequence that Wittgenstein wrote them, and several more volumes are in preparation.

This is the first time since the philosopher’s death, in 1951, that anything he wrote has been published in unaltered, unedited form. As Nedo puts it, “Wittgenstein’s own connections, which he himself called the most important thing in his work, have been restored.” One might expect a certain amount of scholarly rejoicing. But the saga of these papers, and of Nedo’s beleaguered edition in particular, is so fraught with petty squabbling and bad blood that except for reviewers in the nonacademic press, nobody has mustered even one faint cheer.

Not that such wrangling over the papers of dead philosophers is as rare as one might expect. Ever since Elisabeth Föörster-Nietzsche edited her brother’s final manuscripts (and in some cases actually forged whole passages) to reflect her own anti-Semitic and fascist views, it has become almost a tradition in the philosophical community to suspect the editors, colleagues, or relatives of philosophers of nefarious behavior with their literary remains. Thus rumors abound concerning the manuscripts of Charles Sanders Peirce, George Santayana, and Martin Heidegger, to name just a few.

Yet the Wittgenstein wars seem especially unfortunate, if only because Wittgenstein himself was a moral purist of the highest order: a man who abandoned all the worldly honors — and worldly goods — that had been bestowed on him in order to lead what he called a “decent” life. After serving as a volunteer soldier in the armies of his native Austria during the First World War, he gave away the vast fortune he had inherited and spent years teaching peasant children in the poorest of alpine villages. Having tried and failed to get work as an ambulance driver at the front during the Second World War, he left his professorship at Trinity College, Cambridge, to serve as a porter in a London hospital. If his genius inspired reverence in the likes of Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, his personal history has made him a hero even to some who hardly know his work.

The fate of his manuscripts is also distressing because of the ratio of what he published to what he left behind. Such was his perfectionism that during his lifetime he published only a single book, of seventy-four pages. This was the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), which altered the practice of philosophy, perhaps forever, by calling into question the ability of language to talk about ethical and metaphysical questions in any meaningful way. Wittgenstein maintained that language could only show; it could not say anything that went beyond description: “Most propositions and questions, that have been written about philosophical matters, are not false, but senseless. . . . Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” To establish the limits of what could be spoken of, he stripped language down to its logical structure, which he saw as mirroring that of reality.

Believing that the Tractatus had cleared up all the confusions that “tormented” philosophy, Wittgenstein decided it would never be necessary for him to write anything further. After his six-year stint as a schoolteacher, he worked for a time as an undergardener in a monastery, and seriously considered becoming a monk. But in 1929 some of his Cambridge admirers — chief among them Keynes, who occasionally referred to Wittgenstein as “God” — persuaded him to return to the university to teach, and he began to rethink the problems he thought he had solved. Though he was adamantly opposed to their being widely circulated, a set of notes he dictated to his students during the thirties once again spawned whole new lines of philosophical inquiry.

In those notes — designated the Blue and Brown Books, after the colors of the notebooks in which they were first taken down — Wittgenstein abandoned his earlier quest for a logically perfect language to consider how language acquires meaning through use, the multiple ways it functions “in the stream of life.” When the Blue and Brown Books were passed around, in crudely stenciled form, the general view was that he had revolutionized philosophy for the second time, although some claimed that he had killed it for the second time — by rendering permanently suspect any writing about the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Apart from his work on language, he also wrote about the foundations of mathematics, about color, and about the idea of certainty. When he died of cancer, at the age of sixty-two, he bequeathed nearly 30,000 pages of manuscript — many of them handwritten, almost all in German — to three of his former students, with instructions to publish “as many of my unpublished writings as they think fit.” It was, on the face of it, a simple enough request. But as soon as his trustees began issuing posthumous volumes, the accusations started flying.

Entire article here.

From the Daily Herald, April 17, 2008

We are drawn to a baby face, whether or not we claim to like children. Our brain can’t help itself. Our neurons reflexively respond to an infant’s big eyes, broad forehead, button nose and tiny chin, University of Oxford researchers recently reported in the online journal PLoS One.

Using a technique called magneto-encephalography that measures brain signals, the Oxford researchers found that a baby’s face can seize our attention in milliseconds, activating an unusual mental organ called the fusiform gyrus that responds to human faces. Moreover, these distinctive infant features, unlike the mature features of an adult, trigger a sense of reward and good feeling in a seventh of a second. Picture Bambi’s saucer-size eyes or those of Mickey Mouse.

The researchers concluded that the parental instinct is present in all of us. “It suggests we are probably all hard-wired to respond and care for babies, to help us perpetuate the species,” said Oxford child psychiatrist Alan Stein, who helped conduct the experiment. “The response to an infant face is too fast to be under conscious control.”

If so, where did brain cells and synapses learn anything about a face? The question goes deeper than surface appearances. Our ability to distinguish faces deftly is central to a debate about the anatomy of knowledge.

“Why do we have special regions of the brain for some higher-level abilities but not for others?” asked neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher, who studies visual perception and cognition at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “Are they innate? Are they learned?”

Entire article here.

84. We all have ‘baggage’, as they say. And it can be loosed away and shaken off for good through our own efforts, which is certainly a liberating experience make no mistake, but the problem is that the emotional gloom within us is not entirely expelled – actually, never expelled – and now what remains of it rattles all the more obnoxiously against the cage of our understanding, vying for our undivided attention. Oh, great joy! And, what more can a person do in this situation? He simply sighs to the fact that his inner life is replete with an endless gallery of portraits of faces and eyes that leer, stare and provoke, and while these millions clamour within unceaslessly, there is almost nothing he can do about any of it, except to struggle against the temptation to give in.


From Science Daily, April 24, 2008

In making a public appeal for the safe return of his missing wife, Michael White broke down in tears and sobbed.

‘My wife is a good person, never hurts anybody. If she’s out there and you see me or you see this, just stay out there and we’ll find you,’ said the tearful husband, sitting on the sofa in his living room in Edmonton after his pregnant wife Liana White disappeared in July 2005. Canadians watching his plea couldn’t help but be moved by the plight of the distressed man.

Three days later, flashes of anger broke through his sadness when talking with reporters. He said he was so frustrated with the police investigation that he was going to go and find his wife himself. He led volunteer searchers directly to her body in a ditch on the outskirts of the city, and was immediately arrested by police.

He’d been lying all along. Michael White was charged and convicted with second-degree murder and committing an indignity to a dead body.

How can we tell who’s lying, who’s not? New research out of Stephen Porter’s Forensic Psychology Lab at Dalhousie University determines the face will betray the deceiver’s true emotion, but not in the stereotypical ways we think. It’s not the shifty eyes or sweaty brow or an elongated nose (à la Pinocchio) the lie detector should look for. Instead, other elements of a liar’s face will give them away – “cracking” briefly and allowing displays of true emotion to leak on to the face. In fact, when Porter and his team analyzed White’s plea frame by frame, they found hints of anger and disgust in his face, not noticed by most of the supportive public.

Entire article here.

From The New Republic, April 7, 2008

Philosophers often try to write about Shakespeare. Most of the time they are ill-equipped to do so. There is something irresistibly tempting in the depth and the complexity of the plays, and it lures people who respond to that complexity with abstract thought, even if for the most part they are utterly unprepared, emotionally or stylistically, to write about literary experience. Such philosophers see profound thought in Shakespeare, not wrongly. But armed with their standard analytic equipment, they frequently produce accounts that are laughably reductive, contributing little or nothing to philosophy or to the understanding of Shakespeare.

To make any contribution worth caring about, a philosopher’s study of Shakespeare should do three things. First and most centrally, it should really do philosophy, and not just allude to familiar philosophical ideas and positions. It should pursue tough questions and come up with something interesting and subtle–rather than just connecting Shakespeare to this or that idea from Philosophy 101. A philosopher reading Shakespeare should wonder, and ponder, in a genuinely philosophical way. Second, it should illuminate the world of the plays, attending closely enough to language and to texture that the interpretation changes the way we see the work, rather than just uses the work as grist for some argumentative mill. And finally, such a study should offer some account of why philosophical thinking needs to turn to Shakespeare’s plays, or to works like them. Why must the philosopher care about these plays? Do they supply to thought something that a straightforward piece of philosophical prose cannot supply, and if so, what?

Entire article here.

From the Tartan Online, April 21, 2008

Cruising a familiar neighborhood, you probably expect greetings from the people you encounter on a regular basis – or you might be upset if someone you know passes you by. Still, before gaping at an offender’s rudeness, make yourself familiar with a severe recognition disorder that could be to blame.

Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, is a medical condition that prevents otherwise normal people from recognizing even commonly seen faces. While recent studies have suggested that the condition can be congenital – developed during the fetal stages of a person’s life – face blindness is usually a result of severe brain damage.

The region of the brain that houses the root of face blindness has yet to be discovered. However, scientists assert with some certainty that the target region is the cognition area, which helps humans learn about, remember, and recognize objects and people.

Major cases of face blindness may involve damage to the occipital and temporal lobes, which are responsible for visual perception and helping the brain acknowledge sounds, respectively.

Entire article here.

From the Canada Free Press, April 17, 2008

The concept of language as a kind of lens or filter, or even straitjacket, cannot be over-stated. Wittgenstein said that the limits of language are the limits of one’s world.

By that token, bilingual or multilingual people have broader vision. It is not what we look at, the poverty, the injustice, the overpopulation, the environmental degradation, that is paramount. But the linguistic construction built in to filter that reality, to bring it into sharp focus, or make us blind to it.
The question becomes then, whose lens are we wearing? What filter are we looking through? How do we remove it?
In 1984 George Orwell revealed that the purpose of Newspeak, the language of his fictional totalitarian regime, was to rid old English (Oldspeak) of all adjectives and unnecessary words so that people would be not be able to feel or think. If one could not describe sadness, one could not feel it, and if there was no word for democracy or justice  one couldn’t complain about the government. By eliminating words, Newspeak would eliminate the range of thoughts..

Entire article here.

From Mental Health Update by John Gale

Theory of mind comprises thought processes that enable the behaviour and experiences of others to be recognized, understood, predicted and communicated. People with autism have great problems with theory of mind and can often find it hard to recognise people’s emotions from their faces. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also find it hard to match facial expressions to emotions. Autism can be accompanied by increased inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity and genetic, neuropsychological and brain-imaging studies suggest links between autism and ADHD. A German study of 99 children between the ages of 6 and 18 found that 52% of the autistic children also met the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD. The children with ADHD were worse at recognising facial expressions than a healthy control group and both the children with pure ADHD and pure autism were worse than average at recognising emotions.

Sinzig, Judith, Morsch, Dagmar and Lehmkuhl, Gerd – Do hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention have an impact on the ability of facial affect recognition in children with autism and ADHD? European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2008, 17, 63-72.


April 2008
« Mar   May »

Blog Stats

  • 332,686 hits