On Butterfly Feelers: Some Examples of Surfing on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

Luciano Bazzocchi


In the only two places where Wittgenstein touches upon the decimal numbers of TRACTATUS propositions, he claims that only those can transform his incomprehensible book into a perspicuous representation. We can now show how this is possible if we interpret them as specifics for a hypertextual implementation. By surfing on the top-down structure of the Tractatus hypertext, we see (we feel) the logical form of Wittgenstein's masterpiece, that is, the form of the reality it represents. What pictures and reality then have in common is revealed by a charade hidden inside Tractatus propositions – and the differences between two levels of generalization can be seen playing the game ‘spot the difference’. Can a picture, in virtue of the connection of its elements, really touch (as butterfly’s feelers) reality? And when we turn up towards the main page, do we really withdraw these feelers? Hypertext exploration has neither a starting nor an end point; although it does have a barycentre, a “pulsing heart” (McGuinness) in the middle: a point of balance (for instance: there is a rule – the rule is not here). You visit the hypertext – like a city, “from north to south, from east to west, from Euston to the Thames, from Piccadilly to Marble Arch. You have to cover all the ways many times - every time within a different route. At end you will know London like one who is born in London” (Wittgenstein, about his teaching method). The journey can afford us pleasure, even if we suspend it; there is no need to run towards an exit, nor towards, for instance, proposition seven. Visiting a town (like understanding) is not a sequential commitment - it has no fixed direction. Perhaps Wittgenstein’s ladder, level by level, does not lead us to “what is higher”, but rather, like Escher’s ladders, to the basic level to which all the others must be reduced: to what can be said, i.e., to the world. When we observe the hypertext page with the right mental disposition and we understand how everything lies in its right logical place, all of this naturally emerges with ever growing clarity and evidence.


20th century philosophy; media philosophy; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; computer science; edition; hypertext; language; Tractatus logico-philosophicus

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