Sunday, August 26, 2012

Two observations on logical atomism and paranoia that I happened to come across today

From Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia:

"With scientific explanation of particular facts, the usual practice is to consider some conjunctions of explained facts as not requiring separate explanation, but as being explained by the conjunctions of the explanations of the conjuncts. (If E1 explains e1 and E2 explains e2 then E1E2 explains e1e2.) If we required that any two conjuncts and any n-place conjunction had to be explained in some unified fashion, and not merely by the conjunction of separate and disparate explanations, then we would be driven to reject most of the usual explanations and to search for an underlying pattern to explain what appear to be separate facts. (Scientists, of course, often do offer a unified explanation of apparently separate facts.) It would be well worth exploring the interesting consequences of refusing to treat, even in the first instance, any two facts as legitimately separable, as having separate explanations whose conjunction is all there is to the explanation of them. What would our theories of the world look like if we required unified explanations of all conjunctions? Perhaps an extrapolation of how the world looks to paranoid persons. Or, to put it undisparagingly, the way it appears to persons having certain sorts of dope experiences. (For example, the way it sometimes appears to me after smoking marijuana.) Such a vision of the world differs fundamentally from the way we normally look at it; it is surprising at first that a simple condition on the adequacy of explanations of conjunctions leads to it, until we realize that such a condition of adequacy must lead to a view of the world as deeply and wholly patterned."

From David Foster Wallace's review of David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress:

"Now, technically, the Russellian logic that comprises language's Big Picture consists all & only of 3 things: simple logical connectives like 'and,' 'or' & 'not'; propositions or 'statements': & a view of these statements as 'atomic,' meaning that the truth or falsity of a complex statement like 'Ludwig is affable and Bertrand is well-dressed' depends entirely on the truth value of its constituent atomic propositions— the prenominate molecular proposition is true if & only if it is true that Ludwig is friendly and it is true that Bertrand is dapper. The atomic propositions that are language's building blocks are, for both Russell and Wittgenstein, 'logically independent' of one another: they do not affect one another's truth values, only the values of those logical molecules in which they're conjoined— eg, 'L is cheerful or B is well-heeled,' 'It is not the case that if B is wealthy then L is cheerful,' etc. Except here's the kicker: since language is the world's 'mirror,' the world is metaphysically composed only & entirely of those 'facts' that statements in the language stand for. In other words— the words of the Tractatus's first & foremost line— the world is everything that is the case; the world is nothing but a huge mass of data, of logically discrete facts that have no intrinsic connection to one another. Cf the Tractatus 1.2: 'The world falls apart into facts . . .' 1.2.1 'Any one [fact] can either be the case, or not be the case, and everything else remains the same.'

"T. Pynchon, who has done in literature for paranoia what Sächer-Masoch did for whips, argues in his Gravity's Rainbow for why the paranoid delusion of complete & malevolent connection, whacko & unpleasant though it be, is preferable at least to its opposite — the conviction that nothing is connected to anything else & that nothing has anything intrinsically to do with you. Please see that this Pynchonian contraparanoia would be the appropriate metaphysic for any resident of the sort of world the Tractatus describes. And Markson's Kate lives in just such a world, while her objectless epistle 'mirrors' it perfectly, manages to capture the psychic flavor both of solipsism and of Wittgenstein in the simple & affectless but surreal prose & short aphoristic paragraphs that are also so distinctive of the Tractatus. Kate's textual obsession is simply to find connections between things, any strands that bind the historical facts & empirical data that are all her world comprises."

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