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I do not understand but very much enjoy reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (1953). In the posthumously published book, Wittgenstein uses an illustration of a ‘Duck Rabbit’ (as above) to distinguish between the ‘continuous seeing’ of an aspect and the ‘dawning’ of an aspect.  In other words, to distinguish between perception and interpretation, or between ‘seeing that’ and ‘seeing as’.

Today, with your indulgence, I’d like to talk a little about the relationship between what we ‘see’ and what we ‘know’. And of course, as in every other offering, also the idea of truth.

If you’d asked the average educated fifteenth-century European about the sky, they’d have told you that they knew that the sky was made of closed concentric crystal spheres, rotating around a central earth and carrying the stars and planets. That knowledge structured what they did and what they thought. This knowledge told them the truth. Then Galileo came along with his  telescope and changed the truth.

As a result, a hundred years later everybody knew that the universe was open and infinite, working like a giant clock. Architecture, music, literature, science, economics, art, politics – everything – changed, mirroring the new view created by the change in the knowledge.

This view affects our behaviour and thought today, just as previous versions affected those who lived with those. Like the people of the past, we disregard phenomena which do not fit our view because we conclude that they are ‘wrong’ or outdated. Like our ancestors, we know the real truth.

So today, we live according to what we believe to be the latest version of how the universe functions.  In a world of deep fakes and conspiracies both up and down the Swanee, truth itself often gets dismissed as part of the rhetoric of power supposedly decreed at whim to suit those who hold the power. And there are some people who argue that the whole business of truth itself is an old-fashioned idea that ought to be dispensed with. I met one of those very people last week at a party.  You should have seen the look on their face when I pointed out that the claim, “there is no such thing as truth” is in fact a truth statement.  The Director goes to some great parties.

This brings us to the famous Dunning Krueger effect which, briefly stated, is that the less you know the more you think you know whereas those who know a lot are aware of what they don’t know and are therefore more willing to accept alternative ways of seeing. There’s another piece of research that Dunning and Krueger did which concerns what happens when people find out their theories don’t actually work in practice.  By all accounts, said people tend not to have a little moment of ‘well maybe we should reflect on this and see whether we’ve made a mistake’.  Instead they double down their efforts to implement their theory.

But that there is no single fixed truth absolutely does not mean there is no truth.  Without truth we would have no reason to do or say anything at all.  Truth of course, is not a thing.  Never has been, never is and never will be. And you can take that to the bank.

So, is it a duck or is it a rabbit?

We all know the old chestnut about how you can never step into the same stream twice.  Is that true?  Yes it is and no it isn’t.  Because it’s not a case of ‘either-or’ or ‘both-and’.  It’s actually both ‘either-or’ and ‘both-and’.  It is both true that the stream is the same stream and that it is a different stream but all the time one and the other.

So, is it a duck or is it a rabbit?

It is either a duck or a rabbit and it is both a duck and a rabbit.

The best things in life have this kind of dual quality

As I may have mentioned, context alters everything.  Context is another way of understanding how we see. In the time since we were last together I was lucky to read The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, as recommended by our matchless LRC Manager, Ms Galvin.  The story (no spoilers) essentially places Homer’s Iliad in a different context and therefore the reader is invited to experience the story in an entirely different way.  An enriching process if ever there was one.  Whose account was the truth?  Both of them.  Whose account was truer?  Well as dear Philip Larkin once said,

Ah, solving that question

Brings the priest and the doctor

In their long coats

Running over the fields.

Homework.  Is this a picture of a frog or a horse?