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“after all, he seems to have a lot to say about what can’t be said.” Bertrand Russell.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was from a very wealthy and talented family of Vienna. Austria before WW II, a family of musicians, professors, and suicides. He went to grammar school with Adolf Hitler. His sister helped Sigmund Freud escape the Nazi’s. Ludwig fought in WWI, reading Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief while voluntarily manning point on the front. Beethoven was his hero. He was precocious in math, and was fascinated by logic. This led him to Bertrand Russell and Cambridge University.
Intensely introspective, he would obsessively scrutinize his own mental processes to find the unacknowledged assumptions that underlie our thinking, the subtle ways that logic fails, and the mysteries of intuition. He would puzzle over nuances in words and speech that are subconscious to most of us, and find the hidden patterns buried in mathematics, and in language, all to learn the limits of human reason and communication. How we know what we know is most basic to all of philosophy.
He was particularly drawn to the paradoxes in logic that arise with self reference. Is the set of all sets, itself a set? Is my thinking about myself, also my self? This was the great stumbling paradox in Bertrand Russell’s attempt, in Principia Mathematica , to derive all knowledge from first principles of logic.
With his spooky certitude, and mesmerizing stare, Wittgenstein was considered brilliant. For a time, he eclipsed Bertrand Russell and all of conventional philosophy. Yet, his philosophy was an anti-philosophy. Truth can only be known by experience, but not with thinking, and only shown, artistically, not described. The objective self is an artifact of language. He declared that philosophical questions were merely linguistic puzzles, and language and thought, with their endless confusions of perceptions and conceptions, were not rational, but were for living a social human life – something he himself couldn’t very well do.
Give up on philosophy!
“Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must remain silent”.
He lived an eccentric, solitary life, spending much time in a remote cabin in Norway. He gave away all of his very considerable wealth. He was very afraid of becoming mad, that logic was driving him ‘to insanity’, that he might commit suicide.
In Ludwig Wittgenstein are the tell-tale signs of schizophrenia, a disorder of constant and bewildering introspection and self consciousness, with a frightening tendency to confuse imagination and reality. A disorder of self reference, like the paradoxes of logic that so obsessed him.
“Sometimes my ideas come so quickly that I feel as if my pen was being guided.”
Mental illness and genius aren’t the same thing.
Schizophrenia, in his time, had no treatment. His spent his lonely life trying to think his way out of thinking too much.
“He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn’t agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking.” Bertrand Russell.