You may not know that Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin wrote short stories back into the early 70s, and one of them, "A Song for Lya," won the Hugo award for Best Novella in 1975. I see it online here or get a Kindle version for a couple of bucks.
The story has to do with our essential, existential isolation as referred to in the Wittgenstein episode. It's about a husband-wife couple who are psychics of various sorts and so can overcome (for brief periods, at least) some of the isolation that they pityingly describe the rest of us as stuck in. They're put on assignment to investigate an alien race where every one of them allows a parasite to kill and eat them when they hit age 40. Well, it turns out that this parasite enables a sort of group mind, allowing an everlasting unity and bliss much more profound than even the psychics can have with each other, such that turning oneself over to the parasite may be rational: it may fulfill the goal of all human religious endeavor, which is to get rid of this existential aloneness.
So, it's a pretty thought-provoking, interestingly written story, though on the depressing side (and, as I experienced the audio version,hearing the male narrator gush on and on in the female psychic Lyanna's voice about love and oneness was a bit much for me). It raises one of the usual kinds of objections to utilitarianism and other theories of value: "Look! Here's what your value system should applaud! Yet letting your brain get eaten by alien fungus is gross! You'd better rethink things!"
Specifically, it challenges those that characterize us as fundamentally oriented to need God or seek after oneness out of existential angst; Martin opines that for humans, yes, that's an urge, but we also have this opposing urge in favor of self-assertion and pushing others away. Maybe, as Freud thought, our innate desires are really contradictory such that happiness of the sort we'd dream about simply isn't an option; the best we can hope for is some degree of satisfaction and sublimation of the rest.
It did occur to me that Martin's model of the psyche, where we all have these uncounted layers such that even a psychic couldn't penetrate all of them, maybe be faulty. I think one of Wittgenstein's points is that we're just not in a position to say whether there are such parts of ourselves that are in principle not available to anyone else. It's not like all this stuff is going on that a psychic (if there were such a thing) could then open up and look at, but rather that it's the exposure and potential exposure to the public (i.e. I could say something I'm thinking) that makes something a thought in the way we understand it. I'm still not sure how I feel about that.
not sure if Wittgenstein is making a kind of psychological point about what a thought is (part of the linguistic turn?), or more a point about the limits of what is a warranted assertion, maybe both?
certainly the questions of privacy and having an “inner” life are timely in our socially-networked-world.
article looking at mind “reading”, simulation, and the show Mad Men:
Kallan Greybe says
Mark, I think you’re pretty much right about the implications of the Private Language Argument, though DMF is right that is also an argument against using subjective experience as the starting point for knowledge. Wittgenstein’s goal was clearly to move towards the pragmatic analysis of language, language as use. A good way to cash this out will be to look at implied meanings, asking someone up for coffee after a date, someone telling the party they’re tired, all of which are instances where we understand what a person means, but there’s no obvious way we could do that through a strict analytical deconstruction of the sentences. Instead we have to do something like appeal to their goals and their general beliefs about the world. One suggested way we can understand this in practice is that we literally have to “read their minds” in order to explain what they’re saying.
I think his point is that the mundane is the mystical and the mystical is the mundane. We get into trouble when we start to interpret our subjective experience as a special snowflake that no one can understand.
Chop wood, carry water and all that.
where do you find this first part about the mystical/mundane?
At the risk of sounding like a giant dbag:
That question makes me feel like you’re more interested in discussing the rules of chess than actually playing the game. Make sense?
Let me try to be more clear. When I think of “mysticism” I think of something that may be accused of saying that on the other side of language, we fall into a bottomless pit of exotic confusion. These experiences, it says, are so powerful that they can only be grasped indirectly through myths or deep meditation.
I think that LW says that this is fiddle faddle. On the other side of language is something very ordinary. The “leap of faith” is just a step down off the sidewalk. While our “form of life” may be hidden from others, lets not get freaked out about it. Just because it’s hidden, doesn’t mean it isn’t mundane.
“So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?” — It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life. – LW
not sure what your first reply was trying to say as part of the “game” here is discussing the actual works of authors but I see in your second reply that by mysticism you meant something like mysterianism.
The zenish part of your #5 comment seemed to leave out Wittgenstein’s abiding interest in actual mysticism, in the classic religious sense as deeply important to human ways of ethical living, tho outside of the realm of logical reason-giving.
Hm, that was not my intention in #5 at all. Quite the opposite. My point was that the mundane can be deeply important.