Guide Wittgenstein at the Movies: Cinematic Investigations

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Ludwig Wittgenstein loved movies, and based on his remarks on watching them, there is a strong connection between his experience of watching films and his.
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The correspondence between phenomenal qualities and physical properties allows us to claim that pictures are visual propositions about light — better to say, about spatio-temporal distributions of light energy.

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But our visual perceptions are in their turn visual propositions about light, and of a more fundamental kind, so that pictures can be also conceived of — like we have done so far and we are going to do in what follows — as propositions about the contents of our visual perceptions. In order to better understand how pictures can count as propositions of this sort, let us come back to the Tractatus.

First of all, a picture is a fact, that is, an aggregate of atomic visual complexes atomic facts in our visual field. In other words, a picture is a surface perceived in our environment. Yet this surface has something special: it is composed by atomic facts constituted by elements.

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These atomic facts are pixels, that is, elementary propositions. The picture is more than a mere fact i. An atomic fact is something absolutely singular and concrete: a phenomenal color at a given visual-field place and at a given time. We can see the same picture in different moments of our life and even at different places; nevertheless, it still presents the same visual structure, since its pixels still present the same combinations of color, space and time. Hence there is a new fact. In other words, if we look closely at a pixel on the screen, then, according to Gaut, we can see a small colored square that has colored parts denoting in their turn.

But what we truly see in looking closely at a pixel on the screen is not the pixel itself, but the token that instantiates it! Such a token is a small colored area having colored parts, but the pixel instantiated by this token is an elementary proposition having no parts at all. The picture, as conjunction of pixels, can be conceived in its turn as an abstract type instantiated by factual tokens.

Hence a picture is an abstract design that presents a visual state of affairs, and that can be instantiated by a series of surface-facts. The design, so defined, is a visual array that mediates between a visual fact the picture's surface, by which the design is instantiated a visual state of affairs the picture's subject, the depicted scene presented by the design.

The surface is in our actual spatio-temporal environment, the scene is in another spatio-temporal environment, whereas the design, qua abstract type , does not belong to any spatio-temporal environment: it is just a structure of colored points. Although a picture is made of pixels, we do not normally notice pixels while looking at pictures. But we can grasp such a meaning just because the picture is composed by pixels.

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The underlying level of pixels, which makes the meaning of a picture noticeable, normally is not noticeable itself. But it can be noticed when the viewer wants to extract as much information as possible from the picture, and it can also be noticed when the maker wants to control its picture at the most detailed level, as it often happens in computer graphics practices. A similar issue is discussed by Goodman in his account of the visual field as composed by visual complexes constituted by spatial, temporal and chromatic qualia.

On the other hand, Goodman []: suggests that the qualia ground the possibility of every experience:. Whatever may be the original givens of experience, qualia may still be the elements into which we ordinarily tend to dissect the content of experience in order to comprehend it according to a structural scheme that will be applicable to further experience. This would make it easy to explain, for instance, the ready apprehension of shapes; for while the combination of qualia in a certain presentation might be novel, the qualia themselves and their relations within their several fixed arrays would be familiar.

If new content is analyzed as a new combination of familiar and already ordered qualia, its whole structure becomes immediately comprehensible; and this is quite consistent with our earlier observation that the pattern of qualia in a presentation is often noticed before the several qualia themselves.

Wittgenstein at the Movies: Cinematic Investigations by Bela Szabados, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®

In this sense even a painting can be considered as composed by pixels to the extent that there is a microscopic level at which we have no more painted areas but rather individual grains of paint. This, jointly with the fact that autography is not necessary for pictures, suggests that by using the same principles [ Standard of Correctness. Why are some visual facts pictures while others are not? What makes a visual fact a picture?

In principle, every fact, that is, every phenomenal complex in the visual field, could be interpreted as a picture representing a given state of affairs.


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For example, the white wall in front of me could be interpreted not only as a mere fact constituted by the combination of temporal and spatial qualia and white qualia, but also as a pictorial fact presenting a given state of affairs the combination of other temporal and spatial qualia with the same white qualia, composing for instance a blanket of snow.

That is to say that the mere phenomenology of an experience does not allow us to distinguish in principle between mere visual facts and pictures. We need to refer to intentions, concepts, histories of production, standards of correctness, norms, practices, agreements. In other words, we need to temporary leave the Tractatus and to address the Philosophical Investigations. Yet temporary leaving does not mean definitively giving up. In the Wittgensteinian account of depiction I am proposing, the Philosophical Investigations does not work as a confutation of the Tractatus but rather as its completion.

One of the rare remarks in the Philosophical Investigations explicitly about the proposition as a picture takes up this point.


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  • All these passages seem to suggest that the picture theory needs supplementing, rather than that it is false; that the theory of meaning as use is a complement rather than a rival to the picture theory. They stress the point, so often made since the s, that the signs by themselves are dead and need the use to give them life. We can try to answer this question by combining Tractatus ' picture theory with Philosophical Investigations ' meaning-as-use theory. I Signaling that a given visual fact is not a simple fact but a special pictorial fact that has been intentionally realized in order to instantiate a design presenting a visual state of affairs.

    In our culture the picture frame is a ordinary pragmatic device allowing us to distinguish pictorial facts from mere visual facts, but often it is simply the coupling between the picture's content and the context in which it is exposed that allows the viewer to recognize the picture as a picture. At least, the maker has to indicate whether the presented state of affairs is claimed to subsist in the actual world or in a certain fictional world.

    In principle, the picture's content does not allow the viewer to establish whether the former or the latter is the case. Yet this is the basic requirement in order to make a move in the depiction game. Without this indication, there are only two options, both unsatisfying.

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    III Sharing a conceptual framework allowing the viewer to recognize the things intended by the maker in the visual state of affairs presented by the picture. The picture's title is the typical pragmatic device used in order to perform this move, though often the mere sharing of the same socio-historical context allows the viewer to rightly recognize the depictive intentions of the maker by simply looking at the picture.

    These three kinds of move give us a standard of correctness providing a minimal amount of normativity that according to the later Wittgenstein is the basic requirement for something to have meaning. De Gruyter, Joshi, Greenwood Press, Westport and London, pp.

    Wittgenstein: Philosophical discussion in Cambridge - Part 1

    Phillips and Kai Nielsen, Wittgensteinian Fideism? Lifewriting Oxford University Press , Martin ed. DeGruyter April , Volume 3. Kai Nielsen on Wittgenstein on Religion', Dialogue , May, Lead Paper, Venant Cauchy Montreal, Klagge, Wittgenstein in Exile. Instead, he proposed, we make sense of what words mean by understanding what we do with them. The joke is in the fact that giving a gift involves more than just the right words uttered in the right order—it also involves the speaker being in a position to give the property and its recipient being able to do things with their newly acquired goods.

    Likewise, it takes more than just money changing hands, and even a deed of gift and a receipt, to make an exchange of money a gift. Among other things, the hands have to belong to two different people. And speaking nonsense can be funny. Sense shades into nonsense in gradual and imperceptible ways. That is, we might suppose that Wittgenstein is telling us about a scenario that we can readily imagine—a dog simulating pain—and then assuring us that, as it turns out, that scenario never comes to pass.

    Wittgenstein needs to jolt us out of the well-worn tracks our thought is inclined to follow and reorient us so that we can see our confusion more clearly. Jokes provide this jolt, prompting a shift not in belief but in perspective. Our train of thought gets derailed, but nobody gets hurt. In effect, philosophers exhibit the same sorts of derangements as the protagonists of jokes, manifesting more patently the contorted self-understanding we are all subject to. Like the protagonists of jokes, philosophers earnestly go about business that we on the outside can see is absurd.

    Clowns and caricatures do us the service of wearing on their sleeves the daftness we struggle to conceal. Wittgenstein wants us to see philosophers as providing a similar service.