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This article is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

Catchwords 11 Iain Bamforth
Houses like Hospitals

Technology played a great role in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s life. On 17 December of the year he was born (1889) Johannes Brahms, a frequent guest at the Wittgenstein mansion and one of the philosopher’s favourite composers in later life, had a recording of himself playing the piano transcribed on a wax cylinder. This recording on an extremely fragile medium was transferred years later to a gramophone disc, the very first of which had itself been produced in that same year.

When, as a young man, Ludwig sought to explain the logical problem of how a model can depict a process, he chose the example of the analogue lines on a gramophone disc to illustrate the relationship between ‘language and the world’. Musical thought, score, sound waves in performance, and recording ‘all stand to one another in the same internal relation of depicting that holds between language and the world. They are all constructed according to a common logical pattern.’ Models, the creative appeal of analogy, spurious idealisations of the phenomenal world: these topics would occupy Wittgenstein for the rest of his life.

He entered the Victoria University of Manchester in 1908 as a student in aeronautical engineering. There he devised and patented (UK patent No. 27087: ‘Improvements in propellers applicable for an aerial machine’, 1910) a novel airscrew driven by blade tip-jets which avoided the problem of torque associated with propellers driven from a central shaft. Materials that would have withstood the heat ...

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