Roger von Oech

Creative Think

What I Post About:

AddThis Feed Button

« Video of the Amazing X-Ball® | Main | Nice X-Ball Video »


Richard Fritzson

Yes, Wittgenstein was a smart guy, but this exchange, I think, devalues the imagination and creativity it took to come up with the idea that the earth is rotating.

We all know what it's like to feel as though you are moving. And if you are standing still on a windless day you are not experiencing that feeling. And, if you've experienced the fun of being on a rotating object (in an amusement part or playground) you know about the experience of centripetal force. Again, you aren't feeling that either when you are standing still on the Earth.

It took enormous imagination to envision a rotating earth and to struggle against the false evidence of your senses which keep telling you that you are not moving but the sun is.

I think Wittgenstein was just showing off in that exchange.

Roger von Oech

Thanks for your comment Richard — especially this part: "I think, devalues the imagination and creativity it took to come up with the idea that the earth is rotating."

My take is that Wittgenstein felt that thinking people should more often question self-evident assumptions and imagine other scenarios in which what we experience can be explained.

Jorge Castillo

I think that the lesson from the philosopher is that something may have two explanations: 1) the natural-logical one and 2) the truth. So we better look for the second right answer.


Thanks for sharing.
The fact that you have left the post without any further explanation has made it even more nice read. This allows you to think which re- emphasizes the message Wittgenstein wanted to pass on.

Best Regards

Jayesh Badani | Founder & CEO - when you need to - collaborate to innovate


Thanks for providing Further information it is useful for us. great site with very good look and perfect information...i like it...


Why, it would look like the ground trembling, wind blowing from east to west, and probably some roaring noise too. Just what we experience when we're on something that moves fast.


What is the source for the anecdote?


I think he was questioning what is 'natural'. Why the one idea would appear more intuitive than the other given that the evidence is exactly the same.

I've tried to start a Wittgenstein blog, bit pretentious but... :

Luboš Motl

This great comment by Wittgenstein was also used by Sidney Coleman

in his lecture Quantum Mechanics in Your Face at the end. He quotes Wittgenstein and says that the viewers should also ask what the world would look like if it looked like that quantum mechanics with its deterministic equations were behind the phenomena.

It would exactly look like our everyday world. Welcome home. ;-)

Wittgenstein was right on the money. Heliocentrism may have arisen because people randomly thought about their being the "best reference frame" at the beginning, and it looked consistent. However, at the very first moment when they would be able to ask the question whether it was like this or the other way around, they should have determined that they couldn't answer the question without extra data.

And of course, extra data answer it in favor of heliocentrism.

Cheap Jordans

Hear all parties.

Duncan C

@Lubos - You mean 'indeterministic', I assume.

Wittgenstein was a notorious nitpicker and inclined to correct people when (he felt) what they said couldn't strictly speaking in correct. His intention isn't (contra-Richard) to belittle the amount of work or imagination required to oppose heliocentrism but merely to challenge the idea that this was what was believed because this is the way it 'looked' as, strictly speaking, it must have also 'looked' as though the Earth went around the sun if that's the way it is. To simply say 'that's how it looked' is to miss out all the interesting facts about human psychology and the terrestrial perspective which (a) might well lead you to discover other mistakes people have been making because they are 'intuitive' and (b) actually prevent you appreciating the imagination required to overcome that perspective. Wittgenstein and Richard are on the same side on this one.

Toq - Good question. It's probably not possible to tie it down to an exact source (W. was a good rumour-mill). I assumed it came from Norman Malcolm's 'memoir' on Wittgenstein (which is the source of many of the better-known W anecdotes) but apparently the source a) of the quote as given above is a Stoppard play - I'm not sure which one - and b) as originally given is in the introduction to Anscombe's Introduction to the Tractatus. That version reads (p151 in both the '59 and '79 editions)

The general method that Wittgenstein does suggest is that of 'shewing that a man has supplied no meaning [or perhaps, "no reference"] for certain signs in his sentences'. I can illustrate the method from Wittgenstein's later way of discussing problems. He once greeted me with the question 'Why do people say that it was natural to think that the Sun went around the Earth rather than that the Earth turned on its axis?' I replied 'I suppose because it looked like the Sun went around the Earth.' 'Well' he asked 'what would it have looked like if it had /looked/ as if the Earth turned on its axis?' This question brought out that I had hitherto given no relevant meaning to 'it looks as if'[.] My reply was to hold out my hands with the palms upwards and raise them from my knees in a circular sweep, at the same time leaning backwards and assuming a dizzy expression. 'Exactly!' he said."

The comments to this entry are closed.