PRINT March 1990


An Unspeakable Future

WITTGENSTEIN’S TRACTATUS LOGICO-PHILOSOPHICUS concludes with the statement, “Whatever cannot be spoken about must be silenced.“ A few paragraphs earlier Wittgenstein writes, ”It is true that some matters are unspeakable. These show, they are what is mystical." (I have translated these statements from the German to suit my purpose.) I want to suggest that these ideas are wrong, and that we have to show them to be wrong if we are to understand what is going on right now. For an increasing body of thought that cannot be put into words may now be expressed in other ways, without anything mystical attached: we are simply learning to use a new type of image to express the thoughts we have that fall into those regions where words fail us.

An early example of this is the nuclear physicist’s use of signs that mean atom particles. These signs can be considered images of concepts—“ideograms.” We may

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