November 6, 2010


ME + me: More comments on Wittgenstein + a nice Hermans quote

I continue being not well, and otherwise also as before, so I cannot do much.
However, I did a little more comments on Wittgenstein, and I have, mostly for Dutchies, a nice quote of the Dutch writer W.F. Hermans - but I do translate the last bit of it, which is an interesting, adequate, fair though rather bitter diagnosis of mankind, for the most part.

1. More comments on Wittgenstein
2. W.F. Hermans on Harry Mulisch and human beings (Dutch, mostly)

1. More comments on Wittgenstein

There are a few more comments on Wittgenstein, namely the beginning of 3.. This needs some working over but since 3 is one of the key propositions of the Tractatus, some may be interested in my comment to it, though you won't be enlightened much by it if you are not familiar with basic set theory and logic (the explanations are in the Philosophical Dictionary)- and "3 A logical picture of facts is a thought" is Wittgenstein's thesis:

3 A logical picture of facts is a thought.

I do not see the reason for the adjective "logical". Also, one may well ask what "picture" is supposed to mean here, especially when one recalls Leibniz's chiliagon (= "thousandcorner") , which has many properties - like having more than 900 and less than 1100 corners - one knows perfectly well, but which one cannot form a picture of, or at least not one which is a picture of a chiliagon, and not of a 999-gon or 1001-gon.

But having arrived at this point, and having seen that W. did not get far in providing clarity, let me quote some from my Philosophical Dictionary, so as to get at least a little further in the direction of conceptual clarity, namely an item about what there is and two items on how we represent thoughts and ideas:

Natural Realism: A minimal metaphysics that most human beings share may be called Natural Realism and stated in terms of the following fundamental assumptions:

  • There is one reality that exists apart from what human beings think and feel about it.

  • This reality is made up of kinds of things which have properties and stand in relations.

  • Some of these things, properties and relations are invariant, at least for some time, and therefore predictable.

  • Human beings form part of that reality and have experiences and fantasies about it that originate in it.

  • All living human beings have beliefs and desires about many real and unreal entities, that are about what they think is the case in reality and should be the case in reality.

  • All living human beings have very similar or identical feelings, sensations and beliefs and desires in many ordinary similar or identical circumstances.

Some assumption like natural realism is at the basis of human social interaction, at the basis of the law, and at the basis of promises, contracts and agreements, while the last of the assumptions I used to characterize Natural Realism amounts to an assumption of a shared human nature.

We shall assume Natural Realism is also at the basis of philosophy, at least initially, firstly, because we must assume something to conclude anything; secondly, because even if we - now or eventually - disagree with Natural Realism it helps to try to state clearly what it amounts to; and thirdly, because it does seem an assumption like that of Natural Realism is involved in much human reasoning about themselves and others, and about language, meaning and reality.

Finally, since this implies not only a logical and rational approach to knowledge but also an empirical and scientific approach, we assume, to start with, and until we have found better rules, next to logic, Newton's "Rules of Reasoning" in his "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy".

This seems to have the merit to be both fairly clear and fairly commonsensical. Note that it does make various fairly strong assumptions that are often missed though they are usually made, about the kinds of things there are and about human beings and their capacities.

Next, representing - the notion that W. missed and tried to render by picturing:

Representing: Something A represents something B if and only if the properties, relations and elements of A are systematically correlated with the properties, relations and elements of B in such a way that - some of - the latter can be inferred from the former for those who know the correlation.

This seems to be a uniquely human abillity in so far as it depends on the human ability to reason with symbols. In logic and mathematics relations that represent are isomorphisms or morphisms.

The idea that something A represents something B is very fundamental and occurs in many forms.

An often useful instance of representing is a map that represents some territory.

For maps see also ... Now the following clarifies the notion of representing formally. I give both the formalities in set theory, in a fairly standard typable notation, and in natural language.

Note that this is not offered dogmatically, but as an attempt to state clearly some of the fundamental ideas that must be involved in human beings representing experiences and things by means of linguistic symbols (and other means, like diagrams):

To make this more precise and general with the help of set theory:

Suppose $ is a society, I is a set of ideas, D is a domain, and L is a language. If S is a set, S* indicates its powerset. A language is here identified with its set of terms, and it is presumed the language contains predicates and subjects.

Also, a domain or universe of discourse consists of anything one may have ideas about, whether real or unreal, true or false, or containing much or little.

Then I define four variants of "In society $ function i helps to represent domain D by ideas I" using a language L, where the function is the above correlation. I first list them with minimal explanations, and then give some comments.

Representing domains by ideas:

r($, i, D, I) IFF i : D* |-> I* &
                     (ae$)(I inc a) &
                     (deD)(Dj inc D) (deDj iff i(d) e i(Dj))

In words:

In society $ function i helps to represent domain D by ideas I iff i maps the powerset of D onto the powerset of I and I is included in every member a of $ and for everything d in D and every subset Dj of D, d is an element of Dj iff the i of d is an element of the i of Dj.

Clearly, the fundamental point of the definition is the equivalence in the last conjunct, that relates statements about the domain with statements about ideas about the domain.

Note that here and in the later definitions set theory is used to define the notion of representing in various forms, so that in effect the notion of representing is represented set-theoretically, and that this involves an assumption to the effect that the domain D and the ideas I are fairly considered as sets or classes of things.

Also note that the notion of powerset is used to make sure that all the possible distinctions that can be made set-theoretically can be rendered in the presumed equivalence that is the kernel of representing.

Representing ideas by language:

r($, j, I, L) IFF j : I* |-> L &
                    (ae$)(L inc a & I inc a) &
                    (xeI)(Ik inc I) (xeIk iff (EPeL)(EseL)(j(x)=s & j(Ik)=P & Ps) )

The translation is similar to the one given above, and so is the main point of the definition.

The difference with the previous definition is that here ideas are correlated with the terms of a language, that is supposed to have predicates and subjects.

Representing language by ideas:

r($, m, L, I) IFF m : L |-> I* &
                      (ae$)(L inc a & I inc a) &
                      (PeL)(seL)(Ps iff (ExeI)(EIk inc I)(m(s)=x & m(P)=Ik & xeIk ) )

This is the converse of the previous definition, and may be taken to involve or explicate the notions of meaning and linguistic truth: The statement that something called s has a property called P is - linguistically - true, in effect, if whatever is meant by s belongs to the set of whatever is meant by P.  

The reason to insert "linguistically " is that even if it is, say, a linguistical and ideal truth that whales are fishes, this may be false in the domain of facts. To establish that one needs the converse of the first definition:

Representing ideas by domains:

r($, d, I, D) IFF d : I* |-> D* &
                      (ae$)(I inc a) &
                      (xeI)(Ik inc I) ( xeIk iff d(x) e d(Ik))

As I remarked, this is the converse of the first definition and may be taken to involve or explicate the notions of denotation and factual truth: The idea that something x is an Ik is true if and only if whatever x stands for belongs to the set of whatever Ik stands for.

Before extending these definitions by including the notion of probability, it may be well to make a few remarks on the terms I introduced.

  • Every human being (rare exceptions excluded, who tend not to acquire a language at all) is educated in some human society in which he or she learns some language, and
  • every human being may be credited with having quite a few ideas that are much like those of other human beings.

This accounts for the references to a society $ and a language L, about which I will say a little more below.

  • In each definition, the language L and the ideas I are, where appropriate, asserted to be a subset of every member of the society $ - which means that all of these definitions are somewhat idealizing.
  • The four functions introduced - i, j, m, and d - refer to correlations one learns when learning a language L and what its terms are used to refer to. It is much harder to explicate precisely what this must be like than to assume it exists and has the property claimed by the equivalences.

Finally, one part of the reason to explicitly refer to a society is that learning a human language happens in a human society, and another part of the reason to do so is that then one can make a number of distinctions, assumptions and definitions that cannot be made without it.

All of the above can be taken probabilistically which then generalizes the above. To do so it is convenient to introduce the notion of approximate equality as in "(p(xeXi) ≈ p(f(x)ef(Xi))" where "≈" is taken as "differs no more than e from" i.e. "0 <= | p(xeXi) - p(f(x)ef(Xi)) | <= e", and where e is some convenient small number.

Here e is clearly itself between 0 and 1, and if it is 1 the asserted approximate identity is useless since it conveys no information (as the difference between two probabilities is never larger than 1). However, an advantage of introducing probabilities is that probabilified propositions admit of more subtle analyses and distinctions.

The above four definitions using probability on the plan just sketched are as follows: 

r($, i, D, I,) IFF i : D* |-> I* &
                      (ae$)(I inc a) &
                      (deD)(Dj inc D) (p(deDj) ≈ p(i(d) e i(Dj)) )

r($, j, I, L) IFF j : I* |-> L &
                    (ae$)(L inc a & I inc a) &
                    (xeI)(Ik inc I)(EPeL)(EseL) (p(xeIk) ≈ p(Ps) & j(x)=s & j(Ik)=P)

r($, m, L, I) IFF m : L |-> I* &
                     (ae$)(L inc a & I inc a) &
                     (PeL)(seL)(ExeI)(EIk inc I) (p(Ps) ≈ p(xeIk) & m(s)=x & m(P)=Ik))   

r($, d, I, D) IFF d : I* |-> D* &
                      (ae$)(I inc a) &
                      (xeI)(Ik inc I) ( p(xeIk) ≈ p(d(x) e d(Ik)) )

Most of what needs to be said about these definitions has been said when presenting their non-probabilistic form, and one can see that even if e is rather large, say 1/2 or 1/4, one may have ideas about the real probabilities of facts and things that are adequate enough to help one guide one's decisions.

We can now also use LPA and express and consider:

(*) (ae$) aB (be$) bB (Ei)(Ej)(Em)(Ed)(EI)(ED)(EL)
                              (r($, i, D, I) & r($, j, I, L) & r($, m, L, I) & r($, d, I, D))

that is:

All members of society believe that all members of society somehow share ideas about the representation of domains, ideas and language, and about the meanings and denotations of terms.

Here the "somehow" refers to the fact that most members of society would find it hard to specify by what functions they relate ideas, domains and expressions, even if they know quite well how to do it - and indeed (*) claims no more than that the required functions exist.

Also, it may be observed that in fact these functions are stipulative and symbolic and what matters are the defining properties that insist on certain kinds of equivalences (or approximate identities when probabilities are used).

Furthermore, it should be noted that (*) expresses - even while it attributes to all members of society $ a belief about all members of society $ - a minimalistic idea, in that (*) does not imply any agreement on the ideas, language, domain and functions used to correlate their items between a and b or any other members of $.

What in fact seems to be attributed by members of a society, which may be taken as small as a family in which a toddler is learning a language and trying to reach some general assumptions about doing so, is the following rather stronger assumption:

(**) (ae$) aB (Ei)(Ej)(Em)(Ed)(EI)(ED)(EL) (be$) bB
                              (r($, i, D, I) & r($, j, I, L) & r($, m, L, I) & r($, d, I, D))

that is - and here it may help to think of the society as a family:

All members of society believe that there is a language, a domain, and a set of ideas with appropriate functions such that all members of society somehow share ideas about the representation of the domain, the ideas and the language, and about the meanings and denotations of terms.

For at least to those who learn the language, it will thus be represented, and indeed in any society there are many ideas and experiences that are - it would naturally seem - shared by all members of the society.

Also, if one takes the society $ small enough - say, one's family and friends - both (*) and (**) will be true, and indeed there will be quite a lot of shared beliefs that count as presumptive knowledge.

If one takes the society larger, what one shares with all others in it in terms of beliefs will be less, but even so all speakers of the same language share many ideas about that language and what its terms mean, while all humans that know some language may be taken also to share quite a few ideas, namely at least about language in general, and about human beings in general, and the things all humans must do and know in order to survive and function as a member of some society.                                                   

2. W.F. Hermans on Harry Mulisch and human beings (Dutch, mostly)

For Dutchies, seeing the recent demise of Harry Mulisch, here is a nice quote from an interview with Willem Frederik Hermans from ... on a nice Hermans-site, with much material about Hermans - and if you don't read Dutch, alas

- In De laatste roker staat een verhaal, De schoorsteen, waarin u een jeugdherinnering vertelt over een socialistische buurman die geloofde in een betere wereld. Maar hem beschrijft u wel positief.

WFH: Ik vond hem ook wel een aardige man. Hij geloofde in een betere wereld maar op een eenvoudige manier kon hij ook wat. Als Harry Mulisch mooie meubelen uit eikenhout kon snijden, zou ik zeggen: hij heeft ongelijk, maar hij kan toch wat. Maar aan iemand die niets fatsoenlijks kan, en alleen ouwehoert en leuterkoek verkoopt, heb ik geen boodschap.


- U zou kunnen zeggen: Mulisch verdedigt verkeerde politieke ideeŽn, maar hij schrijft toch mooie boeken?

WFH: Maar ik vind zijn boeken niťt mooi, die zijn helemaal verpest door dat domme gezeur van die jongen. Harry Mulisch is een echte apparatsjik. Hij geneert zich nergens voor. Heeft hij het mis dan houdt hij een maand zijn mond en gaat hij weer wat anders vertellen. Ik vergis me ook wel eens, maar waarom vergis ik me eigenlijk nooit serieus? Omdat als ik me vergis, geef ik toe dat ik het mis heb. Dit soort mensen niet.


- Hoe komt het eigenlijk dat u nooit idealistische of revolutionaire gedachten hebt gehad?

WFH: Dat zit natuurlijk verankerd in je jeugd. Toen ik een klein jongetje was, woonden we aan de rand van een proletariŽrsbuurt. Mijn ouders waren erg bang dat me een ongeluk zou overkomen als ik ver uit de buurt op school ging, dus ik moest heel dicht bij huis op school gaan. Daar zat ik met jongens die veel proletarischer waren dan ik. Die hadden de pest aan mij, want ik had een beetje mooiere kleren en zo. Dus daar heb ik al de notie opgedaan van: die mensen zijn niet te redden. Het mensdom bestaat uit krengen, uit sadisten die iemand pesten voor niets. Toen kwam ik op de middelbare school en daar was de situatie een beetje omgekeerd, want daar zat ik in de klas met jongens van ouders die veel rijker waren dan de mijne en die in een veel rijkere buurt van Amsterdam woonden. Die keken me ook aan, of die keken me helemaal niet aan, maar ze lieten me met rust, ze pestten me niet. Dat vond ik al heel erg goed. Dat was dus het liberalisme. Het is onverschillig, het laat je verrekken maar het pest je niet, terwijl de communisten die pesten de mensen. Dat is het verschil. Zo is het ontstaan.

I translate most of the last bit - and it should be noted that the late Harry Mulisch, also a Dutch writer, had a pronounced sympathy for dictatorial types, for decades especially communist ones:

WFH: (..) When I was a small boy, we lived at the border of a proletarian neighbourhood [I was born in and grew up in - MM]. My parents were very much afraid I might have some accident if I went to school far from the neighbourhood, so I had to go to school very close to home. There I was in school with boys who were much more proletarian than I was. They hated me for I had nicer clothes and such things. So there I acquired the notion: these people are beyond saving. Humanity consists of bastards, of sadists who pester someone for nothing at all. Then I went to grammar school and there the situation was rather the other way around, for I was in a class with boys whose parents were much richer than mine and who also lived in a much richer neighbourhood of Amsterdam. They looked at me, or they did not look at me, but they did not bother me, they did not pester me. That I thought already very good. So that was liberalism. It was indifferent, it let you die, but it didn't pester you, while the communists pestered the people. That is the difference. (..)

As I said, it seems to me an interesting, adequate, fair though rather bitter diagnosis of mankind, for the most part.

P.S. Note the Tractatus + comments are now in a new set of directors called Tractatus. It's this that I hope to continue, and eventually to delete the old one.

-- Nov 10, 2010: Corrected the counterfactuals in my translation of W.F. Hermans on advice of a native English speaker, and supplied two links in my concluding lines.

P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

Maarten Maartensz

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