I'm sure that many of the people who got to know me personally in college have the impression that I am simply a young, idealistic scholar––and in a certain sense, they couldn't be more right! But as always, there's a more nuanced version to the story, if you're bothering to look into things ...
... They might go on to say that I concentrated on the history of Western philosophy; but it's more likely a lot of the time that what people remember is that I was always mentioning the work of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. I occasionally have that impression myself! In 2012, however, I started seeing definitive elements of a broader continuity to my studies. After years of immersing myself more and more into independent scholarship, I found that my disparate interests had converged on the level of western intellectual history––on the of the historical development of our concepts and ideas which, at the risk of sounding vague, have trained us into thinking in certain ways as opposed to others.
Realizing all too well that the world is not in need of yet another intellectual historian couched in a comfortable armchair or his stereotypical ivory tower, I decided to put this research to work. I became determined to find some sort of practical use to this type of scholarly thinking: and I'm proud to say that this approach has (at least speculatively) paid off! Today I'm quite close to realizing where and how my kind of attitude and conceptuality finds significant value in creative and practical applications: it is the value of open-ended problem solving strategies––not of any 'know-it-all' universal theory.
Deep down I'm an ideas guy. I like formulating them, I love their history, and I love the ceaseless sense of possibility I see in imagining the endless list of applications they might have. Sometimes all I do is imagine the potentials of certain concepts. But the fact of the matter is that only my independent work emphasized this. I will likely never accomplish my original, all-too-naïve goal––to understand the history of philosophy up until now inside and out. Nevertheless, I've taken my project to a point where I can see the broader and much more practical horizons which fall in line with my more general interest: in digging up novel ideas and perspectives, underutilized methods and tools, by which one can 'see' a situation. Any situation.
I have been trying (and usually succeeding) to draw out a conceptual tradition that most of the history of art and of philosophy tends to overlook. The thinkers I study are those for whom large portions of their work is geared towards discussions of the conceptuality behind eidetic form––that is, behind images, imag-ination, shapes, pictures, geometry, vision, concepts of space, models, analogies and diagrams. My project often gets into those shape-related ideas involved in movements as 'new' as 20th Century linguistics and so-called 'post/structuralism' and as old as Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants, which gets picked up upon in the work of Husserl, Derrida and Wittgenstein. Often this supposedly 'philosophical' work is limited to the subject of the history of geometrical concepts, especially the potentials underlying non-Euclidean geometries, of which I am by no means a mathematical expert. To another extent my interests delve deep into ancient art history and even into what is more traditionally known as aesthetics. But perhaps most importantly my work attempts to take its lessons from burgeoning fields of information visualization, complexity studies, and (typically architectural) diagrammatic research. Following this emergence, my goal has been to formulate a coherent, new-old methodology by which we can approach such disparate-but-connected concerns.
My method is based in conceptual history. In the end (what a picturesque thing to say!), I want to suggest that this history was always quite readily there, shining clearly and brilliantly––but for which perhaps we only today have the tools to uncover well.
I predict there will soon be discovered countless applications of this history as we move into dealing with the emergent complexity of the 21st Century, and however this happens, I want to be there when that happens. But I also want to be there even where and when people are being freely creative to meet challenges which have nothing to do with philosophy; in fact, I'd prefer that. The challenge for me now is to find the right kind of outlet to test and practice the methods I've been developing. I'm finally at the point where I need to experiment with concrete problems to see how my work might be valuable, and to see if my insights even work––that is, to see whether or not I can put them to work.
A taste of the method:
In terms of my more 'philosophical allegiances', they lie in taking a rather freely Nietzschean and especially pluralistic platform. By that I simply mean that I embrace multiplicity and variety; on top of that, I am a steadfast supporter of the syncretic attitude which is capable of holding two or more 'conflicting' ideas in mind at once. When we have to interpret what's in front of us, less is not more, more is more: more options to weigh, more perspectives to take, new and different facets to explain. We cannot rely on singular vision or techniques. And as individuals we truly are free to come up with what we can, to demonstrate what we can. And I mean this in the most profound and the most everyday sense.
My more significantly 'everyday' concerns are with the methodological lessons one can glean from a faithful interpretation of Ludwig Wittgenstein's later work. Nietzsche + Wittgenstein: A potent mixture, as long as one doesn't get wrapped up with the dogmatic academic stipulations which would seem to suggest that there are very few affinities between their respective works.
Three quotations by the latter thinker should serve to show how it is I'm really thinking of all this:
A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably. –Ludwig Wittgenstein (ca. 1937), Philosophical Investigations §115
I believe that my originality (if that is the right word) is an originality belonging to the soil rather than to the seed. (Perhaps I have no seed of my own.) Sow a seed in my soil and it will grow differently than it would in any other soil. –L.W., 1939-40 (Culture & Value)
What I give is the morphology of the use of an expression. I show that it has kinds of uses of which you had not dreamed. In philosophy one feels forced to look at a certain concept in a certain way. What I do is suggest, or even invent, other ways of looking at it. I suggest possibilities of which you had not previously thought. You thought that there was one possibility, or only two at most. But I made you think of others. Furthermore, I made you see that it was absurd to expect the concept to conform to those narrow possibilities. Thus your mental cramp is relieved, and you are free to look around the field of use of the expression and to describe the different kinds of uses of it. (Lectures on the Philosophy of Psychology) –L.W., 1947
We like to say that some certain phenomenon looks like X; take for example, the customary way in which we imagine the tiered 'levels' of an organizational hierarchy, or the stock market 'falling', or 'distance' when we look at a map and switch from thinking 'as the crow flies' to how one might actually get there. One can quickly be caught up in the image of a glass ceiling, or of a stock-price dropping as if by gravity, or of a straight line in perfect space. There is a certain charm or appeal to certain ways we put things, certain ways we like to describe things to ourselves: more in Wittgenstein's words, a certain temptation or tendency to explain things in line with the kinds of explanations we are inclined to accept.
For Wittgenstein (though by no means for the Wittgenstein most 'experts' agree on), it is by paying attention to our language and by being constantly on guard and ready to recognize when we fall into 'wanting to say something in such-and-such a way' that we can learn how to study examples of “the morphology of the use of an expression”––which is not a science so much as a useful method in all problem-solving, research and investigation. I believe that it could be useful in business, design, law, architecture, medicine, scientific research, art theory, journalism––you name it; Wittgenstein simply used it to dissolve some of the problems (anxieties) which plague philosophers and scientists.
Both conceptually and in everyday life, there's nothing, I repeat, absolutely nothing besides tradition which prevents us from characterizing things in new or different ways or for paying attention to different aspects of the same situation. Many if not most of the developments made in the arts and sciences have stemmed from having the courage to put things into terms that were once deemed unacceptable.
The fact of the matter is that we are entirely capable of thinking, describing and perceiving in all sorts of ways almost all the time; and we constantly do! Ask any creative artist today of any kind! Poetry, music, architecture and the visual arts constantly draw attention to these freedoms. So do we all in dealing with everyday life. So much of life is about creative thinking, problem solving, picking apart puzzles and putting things certain ways; it is about inventing and discovering new or different (or even old) ways in which certain things, in various qualities and aspects, could be useful. We apply them, make new practices and traditions out of them. Often we merely play with them! (Nothing wrong with that!)
In some respects, this kind of thinking is part and parcel with a certain reading of what gets called 'post-Structuralism'. In others it can be easily grounded in what gets popularly and rather usefully called "horizontal" and/or "lateral" thinking. Or again, all this might sound familiar in terms of the language of "paradigm shifts" popularized by Thomas Kuhn.
But we can build it up from an independent source: the history of conceptual picturing. And here the pragmatic nature of this work becomes instantly recognizable in the form of ones thoughts ... whatever it be.
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Extraordinary profit can be drawn from the offerings of history, in even more abundant measure from those of art, and especially from poetry, which are, to be sure, imaginary but which, in the originality of their invention of forms, the abundance of their singular features and the unbrokenness of their motivation, tower high above the products of our own phantasy and, in addition, when they are apprehended understandingly, become converted into perfectly clear phantasies with particular ease owing to the suggestive power exerted by artistic means of presentation. –Edmund Husserl, Ideas §71