about journeys

In the preface to his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein writes: "For this [set of investigations] compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction.— The philosophical remarks in this book are, as it were, a number of sketches of landscapes which were made in the course of these long and involved journeyings. The same or almost the same points were always being approached afresh from different directions, and new sketches made."

The idea of a journey is a fundamental metaphor for us.
It engages much of our animal existence in the physical world, the temporal and the spatial.
It is also a metaphor for our lives.

It is a metaphor that comes to minds too easily, as metaphors do—unbidden and unexamined.
But there are journeys and there are journeys
and there at times, no journeys.

The author | philosopher can be said to take you on a journey, where the author is like a tour guide, talking | explaining as we, the tourists, look at a number of pre-arranged things.

Much is wonderful and appealing about the journey metaphor:

  • a journey is an experience
  • a journey takes us on places we have never been before, and shows us new things we have not seen
  • and shows us things we did not know existed
  • a journey is an experience to talk about, and at times, to share
  • a journey takes time
  • on a journey we can only be in one place at a time a journey takes our attention
  • we are going together
  • a journey with a guidebook is different, and often more interesting, that a journey without one
  • we may learn some important things on a journey.
  • a journey is an achievement
  • a journey is exciting; it is travail, adventure (though sometimes it is not)
  • a journey is an appealing, and familiar, metaphor
  • and a journey shows us things that cannot be said in words.

Note that the journey metaphor also takes seeing as a basic form of knowledge.

The journey metaphor is comforting. But it is equally important to see that of course this book is also NOT a journey:

  • We are not going anywhere. Even to a "field" of study. We are not going to a "place".
  • There is no "there" there. There are no simple and correct|incorrect descriptions.
  • You are not leaving your armchair. You are sitting down and your chair is not traveling either.
  • There are none of the accouterments of an actual journey: no transportation, hills, weather, hotels, streets, people, cafés...
  • We are not even looking at anything, except metaphorically.
    I am not showing you anything, (except metaphorically).
    and it is more than that.
  • I am just presenting you with a number of words.
    Or better, I am just telling you a number of things.
  • We are not even "we." We don't know who we are.

Still, a book is more of a journey than not a journey, though it is not a journey.

It should be surprising how tenacious such metaphors can be. Perhaps their deep familiarity, the harmonizing of basic activities and processes, soothes us as we do whatever we do.

All this shows us some important things about the nature of language.

  • Language recycles old concepts effortlessly, even as it extends their meanings into new activities.
  • The language user is only dimly aware of this. Language is seductive.
  • Each metaphorical extension of language has multiple meanings, most of which are subconscious. The application of the metaphor is not dependent on being able to list the ways in which they work.
  • We speak, as we understand, for a large and largely unknown number of reasons.
    But we do not speak randomly.
  • And after everything has been pointed out to you, you are still drawn to the metaphor.
  • It is not like we first see the similarities and dissimilarities between an actual journey and a philosophical journey and then we consciously choose the word "journey" as the best fit. We simply use the word. And we feel that it is pretty good.

As your guide on this journey, I may worry too much about exactly what and when I will show you. As in an actual journey, this is not supremely important. I expect to lose my bearing every now and then since every time I begin our journey I get lost.

Can we even|ever experience these aspects of life in an unmetaphorical manner? Only if we do not describe.

And, like an actual journey,
after we finish talking about going somewhere,
we are going somewhere.

Can it be said that we are

  • having a satisfying meal?
  • opening a present?
  • experiencing an orgasm?
  • putting on new clothes?
  • petting the dog?
  • going fishing?

Yes. All these and more. And this shows the metaphorical nature of our assertions. They are not simply true or false, but more and less apt.

Since I still don't know exactly what we are dealing with here, and since it may lie beyond human understandings, perhaps I should use a slightly different metaphor: "Come with me and I will usher you into the maze."

  • The philosophical truth is a maze because we can so easily get lost.
  • We cannot know at the outset if there is anything of value in the center,
  • or if there is a way back out with anything we might call wisdom.
  • The truth is a maze because the journey to truth is a journey of discovery.
  • We need to learn to find our way about it.

Perhaps most of all the truth is maze because it is a self-recursive task: I seek the very things I need to seek the very things I need to find.

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