Relative Value

by Milo Clark

August 26, 2002


[Note, suggestion, hint from the author: this essay is more auditory than visual. It hears differently than it reads. This essay was prompted by a little book which delights me: Wittgenstein's Poker, The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers, David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Harper Collins, NY, 2002, ISBN 0-06-621244-8.]

More than twenty years ago I wrote a paper on relative value. In it I attempted to show that Wittgenstein's concerns with language straddled Popper's perspectives on the propensities dispersed within probabilities. The first question is whether this sentence makes sense.

Popper's general ideas about the cut and try nature of actualities are significant. Observation generally confirms that we approach situations with less plan or design than most consider or will report in retrospect. Similarly, the statistical aspects of probability assume a universe of situations when the actualities are quite different. We do not normally live within a universe of situations, only within the one or ones with which we are presently presented. Under that constraint, probabilities inhabit propensities, just as propensities inhabit probabilities.

While it is probable that the sun viewed from earth will rise in the East tomorrow, there is a propensity of that patterning to present itself dependably. While casting a die will probably present all faces equally over time, there may be a propensity for a six, for example, to have a run. Probability in the abstract is calculable. Propensity may not be, yet propensity has a degree of actuality which enters into the cut and try patternings of human behavior.

Both Wittgenstein and Popper grew up in pre-WW II Vienna. While not exactly from the other side of the tracks, Popper was a pauper compared to Wittgenstein. They rarely, if ever, met in Vienna days. Popper carried a big chip on his shoulder, a lifelong obsession with Wittgenstein. Both were vehement in their passions. Both, as a matter of course, overpowered opponents or lesser beings, meaning virtually everyone, with brilliance and disdain.

Wittgenstein wrote a lot and published little. Popper wrote profusely and published prolifically. I carry them around as links in my chains of thought. And, lest purists of either camp want to pick a fight, my interpretations are not necessarily founded in relevant dogma. I hear them whispering.

Wittgenstein propounded conundrums, "How do you teach a blind man red?" which established the limitations not only of language, per se, but of our individual and collective limitations, inabilities, to conceptualize actualities and then to live within them, inside and outside the box as it is now said.

Popper would sneer and rage at the cages created thereby insisting, if you will, that while the probabilities make it unlikely that a blind man could be taught red, it was not impossible. [Use a device, spectrometer, which can register the wave lengths of light. Assign color names to each wave length. Provide audible readout reporting wave length both as digits and as named. Then when a blind person electronically reads a color sample and that sample reports the wave length recorded as red, the blind person will interpret the sound as red. Thereby having been taught red.]

Teaching the sighted to see not-red is of the same logical class. Skinner, et al., will rise to that challenge.

Red, to the Popper-minded, the scientifically inclined, probably has qualities, that is, values, other than the purely visual, that is, confined within the narrow band of spectra we see. We may, if we will, given an openness to broader ranges of possibilities, indeed probabilities, develop or actualize senses and sensitivities otherwise contained by our self-imposed collective limitations, our assumptions of limits in actuality unlimited.

In short, there are more ways to see red than most will suppose without some stimulation.

Red, upon open investigation, that is outside the scientific models and within them, probably has myriad values not either available or captured by the patternings of the visual. People who can see, don't see. There are those who can see yet will not. Notice "will not." Cognitive dissonance. More simply, the physical ability to see, in critical ways, blinds seers.

Wittgenstein's language conundrums are not, then, in opposition to Popper's pronouncements. Instead, they suggest the obvious. Namely, there is more involved, more to be learned, more available than ordinarily, than specifically, seen by the nominally or physically sighted.

A critical assumption, unexamined for the most part, is that a blind person is blind, sightless or sight-limited. Thereby, to our sighted actualities, blind to those we name "red." How arrogant! How blind! How blinding! There are many anecdotes available which suggest, if not confirm, that a deprivation in one area of sense may lead to increased acuities in others. A deaf person may see better. A blind person may hear better, feel better, taste better.

This area of speculation and these areas of inquiry may be seen, by which I mean both intuited and grokked, as occulted, hidden, by both thought and language. In terms of the philosophers noted, then both puzzle and problem are invoked, both/and, therefore.

Sorry, Karl, both you and Luki, can be and probably are damned and blessed by your propensities to be blinded by your own brilliance within the dimensional perspectives of your gigantic and overbearing egos.

When I acknowledge the limitations, relative values, imposed by my blinders, I have options. I open options, perhaps previously unseen.

To those locked within one dimension, there is nothing other than my point. (Listen for the pun).

To those locked into two dimensions, there is nothing other than my line (another pun possible).

To those locked into three dimensions, there is nothing other than my space, my space.

And the probability is that I define my space by time. That is, I define myself, my space, my world, my universe, my cosmos by very limiting concepts taken as realities which I name "past," "present" and "future" without awareness that I have accepted if not created for myself a totally linear perceptual acuity within the ranges of actualities available -- if only I will look.

I suggest, therefore, that if we, individually and/or collectively, will look with open awareness, open senses, we may, question remains however, if we will, see other than as we do. I can see other than I do see, will I?

These seemingly complex sentences are, given perspective, perhaps within expanding perceptions, quite simple in actuality.

The paradox or, perhaps, conundrum remains that in my actualities and in my expressions of them, I remain quite beyond yours. Which is not to imply advanced, better, more than yours. Rather, quite simply, otherwise bounded. We are trapped, although not necessarily condemned, by our imprecisions of expression. And dug thereby into Wittgenstein's language obsessions.

Who can or will desert the linear for the nonlinear? Who will drop the dimensional for the multidimensional? How may we, I, surrender either/or for both/and? And simultaneously acknowledge and know that both and and are also limited, limiting, dimensionally?

Wisdom exists. Denial persists. Actuality is and remains multidimensional, multifaceted, multivariate, moving in all directions all at once, at all times while vociferously interacting and operative in all dimensions which extend far beyond the three assumed as binding and blinding.

It is commonly asserted that absolutes are unknowable. We need not, however, settle for so little. We apparently will not know the knowable nor acknowledge the limitations of dropping our self-imposed limits.

One perspective available thereby if that we, perversely perhaps, dive headlong in epistemologies, the boundless questions of knowing what is knowledge while also attempting to drape it, to clothe it, within costumes totally of our own, personal, creation. Should you doubt, ask.

Arrogant given that knowing the unknowable is unknown. Evident given the relevant and relative actualities that my actualities are not and cannot ever be yours.

We dance about each other, to the extent we connect at all, in a blind man's bluff of pretense and illusion that my red is your red. We can give red long lists of names much as Inuit name snows far beyond the ken of tropically defined actualities. We can assign to our various reds, precise appearing wave length definitions which in no way guarantee that such a designated wave length definition will be perceived identically.

I can no more understand George W. Bush than he can conceive of me. I am, to some degree, forced to try. He gives all appearances of quite blissful, quite total ignorance of my existence, much less being, and quite complete disdain for what I may deem to have value. I have difficulties accepting him as a being on, from and grounded within other actualities, other dimensions. We are quite dramatically the simple proof of relative value, of relative valuing.

Perhaps then, philosophically it is neither Karl Popper nor Ludwig, Luki, Wittgenstein. It is also far beyond both Popper and Wittgenstein. To be limited by either perspectives, to define perception either way, is to fail to see, to grok, the myriad of possible and probable reds and thereby to deny them. By defining ourselves thus, we are condemned to our propensities. We choose to be blind. We overlook sightedness.

Those who have usurped leadership doom us to being acquiescent sheep? Or is it lemmings?

My moment of life cries out.

The mantra of the Heart Sutra, known through Buddhisms, "Om, gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate. Bodhi. Svaha!" directs us to seek beyond the beyonds of beyond to realize the actuality of this moment as the expanses of all. Simple?

Who is this Wittgenstein? This Popper? These Wittgenstein/Poppers?

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David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Wittgenstein's Poker, The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers, Harper Collins, NY, 2002, ISBN 0-06-621244-8.


Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine.

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Published August 26, 2002
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