19 May 2009

What is the object of your wish?

A process accompanying our words which one might call "the process of meaning them" is the modulation of the voice in which we speak the words; or one of the processes similar to this, like the play of facial expressions. These accompany the spoken words in the way a German sentence [thought by a native German] might accompany an English sentence [spoken by the German], or writing a sentence accompany speaking a sentence; but in the sense in which the tune of a song accompanies its words. This tune corresponds to the 'feeling' with which we say the sentence. And I wish to point out that this feeling is the expression with which the sentence is said, or something similar to this expression.
  ... Another source of the idea of a shadow being the object of our thought is this: We imagine the shadow to be a picture the intention of which cannot be questioned, that is, a picture which we don't interpret in order to understand it, but which we understand without interpreting it. Now there are pictures of which we should say that we interpret them, that is, translate them into a different kind of picture, in order to understand them; and pictures of which we should say that we understand them immediately, without any further interpretation. If you see a telegram written in cipher, and you know the key to this cipher, you will, in general, not say that you understand the telegram before you have translated it into ordinary language. Of course you have only replaced one kind of symbols by another; and yet if now you read the telegram in your language no further process of interpretation will take place.—Or rather, you may now, in certain cases again translate this telegram, say into a picture; but then too you have only replaced one set of symbols by another.
  ... Our confusion could be described in this way: Quite in accordance with our usual form of expression we think of the fact which we wish for as a thing which is not yet here, and to which, therefore, we cannot point. Now in order to understand the grammar of our expression "object of our wish" let's just consider the answer which we give to the question: "What is the object of your wish?" The answer to this question of course is "I wish that so-and-so should happen." Now what would the answer be if we went on asking: "And what is the object of this wish?" It could only consist in a repetition of our previous expression of the wish, or else in a translation into some other form of expression. We might, e.g., state what we wished in other words or illustrate it by a picture, etc., etc.
  ... The fault which in all our reasoning about these matters we are inclined to make is to think that images and experiences of all sorts, which are in some sense closely connected with each other, must be present in our mind at the same time. If we sing a tune we know by heart, or say the alphabet, the notes or letters seem to hang together, and each seems to draw the next after it, as though they were a string of pearls in a box, and by pulling out one pearl I pulled out the one following it.
  Now there is no doubt that, having the visual image of a string of beads being pulled out of a box through a hole in the lid, we should be inclined to say: "These beads must all have been together in the box before." But it is easy to see that this is making a hypothesis. I should have had the same image if the beads had gradually come into existence in the hole of the lid. We easily overlook the distinction between stating a conscious mental event, and making a hypothesis about what one might call the mechanism of the mind. All the more as such hypotheses or pictures of the working of our mind are embodied in many of the forms of expression of our every day language. The past tense "meant" in the sentence "I meant the man who won the battle of Austerlitz" is part of such a picture, the mind being conceived as a place in which what we remember is kept, stored, before we express it. If I whistle a tune I know well and am interrupted in the middle, if then someone asks me "did you know how to go on?" I should answer "yes, I did." What sort of process is this knowing how to go on? It might appear as though the whole continuation of the tune had to be present while I knew how to go on.
  Ask yourself such as question as: "How long does it take to know how to go on?" Or is it an instantaneous process? Aren't we making a mistake like mixing up the existence of a gramophone record of a tune with the existence of a tune? And aren't we assuming that whenever a tune passes through existence there must be some sort of a gramophone record of it from which it is played?

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Prelimary Studies for the "Philosophical Investigations" (1969: 35-40)