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Über die Beziehung zur Welt (Relating to Reality)

by Andrea Gaugusch
Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany 2002
90 pp., illus. Paper, ¤ 16
ISBN: 3-89670-315-3.

Reviewed by Frieder Nake
Bremen, Germany


This is a very late review, and the short essay under review is in German. Only few readers will, therefore, ever read the review or even study the essay (which is part of a Ph.D. thesis). Those few should, however, make an effort to do just that. They will be rewarded, experiencing themselves diving into a nicely flowing language, poetic formulations at times, and pausing to ponder old questions again and in an enjoyable way. What is it that makes me consider myself a subject? How come I am different than those objects? What are the precoditions for the discourse on subjects vs. objects, and on grasping anything at all about something?

Andrea Gaugusch is a psychologist interested in language use by constructivists and psychologists. As a researcher and practitioner of language from Viennese origins, she knows her Wittgenstein and takes us on a language game journey to find places in time and space that could, perhaps, tell us a bit more about the origins of the observer and the observed, and what the observer would do observing his or her brain? Would she actually find such inside her skull, and would it be more than Turing’s porridge? But if it did, would she be able to observe that, and in that case, would she further be able to tell us? In writing or speaking?

The reader is taken on a tour of deliberations that start from well-known theoretical constructs of epistemology, phenomenology, and semiotics. The introduction first tells you that the issue is certainty (Gewissheit) as in Wittgenstein’s last written remarks, and second that the answer is „all things flow if we only let them flow".

The essay culminates in the sketch for a radio play about „OM"——oral morals, a brief note on love. Two characters meet in that play, a writer and OM, who is not introduced other than through his name. Its sound reminds us of East Asian wisdom.

The seven sections between start and end of this printed version of flowing thoughts come under titles that could be translated as „Do pictures tell more than thousand words?", „Language games", „Neuroscience defining the brain", „Perception as cognition", „Cognition as construction", „If a lion could talk", and „Understanding consciousness".

Even though it must be denounced as naive belief of first sight, it appears as a fact that subject and object are separate parts of the world. Of course, we realize, they are not fixed. But the separation is helpful for much of analytical thinking. In actual life we get along quite smoothly with the problematic dualism.

Contrary to this naive belief, recent constructivist theory offers empirical evidence that there is no consciousness guiding our decisions. A radical empiricist and materialist analysis tells us that, when we believe to make a decision, brain measurements actually show that what we call decision is nothing but a firing of neurons in reaction to stimulation from outside.

Gaugusch, always playing language games, however tells us that „consciousness"——as a word and concept——in certain such language games serves certain purposes, and isn’t that a lot? Her essay seems to suggest that we should allow for amazement in our observation of reality. The reader will not be surprised to realize that some of her arguments are influenced by the Buddhist way of thinking.

Within about 75 pages, Gaugusch takes you to the places of the greatest riddles that humans in their mind’s limited capacity can formulate. She also takes us to Eastern and Western answers. They are called love and game. On a theoretical level we might call them signs. Semiotics is not explicitly the hot topic of the book although it starts, on a semiotic consideration, into the revolutionary Wittgensteinean turn. Whereas the young Wittgenstein took things as givens onto which we stick name tags in order to be capable of talking about them, we don’t do that anymore. For, when we investigate our brain, we need as a prerequisite the word „brain". Philosophy after the late Wittgenstein became something totally new. But this new attitude, the tremendous impact on our existence and knowledge of language as a sign system that we are using, has not been widely accepted yet. Gaugusch wants us to become aware of this.

She also draws attention to the decisive difference between speaking and writing. We usually pull the two together as if they were but two forms of how language appears. Speaking, however, is much more a behavior of our being-in-the-world than a detached naming and labelling of things in the world.




Updated 1st February 2006

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