Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect. (Wordsworth, The Tables Turned)
I often used to feel that doing analytic philosophy was like pulling the legs of a spider in order to see how it worked – by analysing things too rigorously and asking what things “really” are we miss any chance of understanding them at all. As a wise man1 once said, sometimes it doesn’t pay to look at things too deeply – it’s better to sort of squint at things sideways, out of the corner of one’s eye – that’s when you’ll see the spider scuttling off to weave its web.
Wittgenstein makes a similar point about the futility of finding and defining essences with his talk about games and family resemblance:
One might say that the concept ‘game’ is a concept with blurred edges.—”But is a blurred concept a concept at all?”—Is an indistinct photograph a picture of a person at all? Is it even always an advantage to replace an indistinct picture by a sharp one? Isn’t the indistinct one often exactly what we need? (Wittgenstein, PI, Section 71)
And, earlier in the same discussion he admonishes those who think that games must all have something in common to challenge such assumptions:
Don’t think, but look! (PI, Section 66)
A few days ago some of us from #rhizo14 presented at ALT-C In this talk we ask how we should describe ourselves. A community? A collective? A network? A group? A swarm? Rhizocats, I jokingly said.2
We simplify, in order to discuss. And in so simplifying we distort. There is no one thing that is/was #rhizo14, there is no one band of rhizo researchers. As Heraclitus probably once said:
You cannot step into the same river twice (Here)
Actually, I don’t think you can even step into the same river once.3
1. I’m paraphrasing and extending something Dave Cormier once said in a Facebook group when some folk were trying to work out what rhizomatic learning was.
3. This semester I have to tutor about personal identity to 1st years. Ugh!