The philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein seems to come up often, so I decided to read up on what all the hoopla is about. This semi-biographical introduction to his major works is fascinating and easy to read. It seemed pretty comprehensive as well, though I’m no expert.
Wittgenstein was primarily concerned with logic and language, but I found his emphasis on know-how as opposed to know-that, and his view that skill supersedes knowledge of rules, to have a certain ’embodiment’ quality to it. Excerpts:
So, language can indeed be said to be governed by rules; but those rules are for the most part only implicit in native speakers’ common usage. They can be derived from common usage by anyone who pays attention to it, but they are rarely operative in it: we do not normally use rules to work out what is correct. Rather, we have a fairly reliable ‘feeling’ for what sounds right in a given case. Rules can be formulated to codify our usage, but our usage is not ultimately based on such rules. (191)
Our traditional concept of pain, however, is not in competition with concepts that classify the same phenomena in terms of their underlying conditions. No physiologist could convince me that what in my own case I call ‘pain’ may not in fact be pain, or that my pain was in truth not where I felt it but in the brain. Why is this so?
Concepts are an expression of our interests. We group things together and call them by a common name according to those resemblances we find striking or important. And in different contexts we may be interested in different aspects of things. To classify phenomena scientifically, by their underlying structures or causes, is not always what we want. For instance, when taking an aesthetic attitude towards things, we are concerned entirely with their appearances. Invisible micro-structures become wholly irrelevant. And another area in which the scientific urge to leave behind the surface for underlying causes is often out of place is the realm of feeling: where our primary interest is in people’s conscious experience. Their suffering and well-being is important to us in its own right, and not merely as an indication of some underlying physiological conditions. Therefore physiological concepts like ‘lesion of tissue’ — whatever their importance for diagnosis and therapy — can never be in competition with, or act as substitutes for, our traditional concepts of feelings and emotions that are taught and understood through their links with natural expressive behaviour and characterized by the special authority we have in their first-person use. (254)
Yet another sensory capability of skin has been discovered:
Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that the skin of mice can sense low levels of oxygen and regulate the production of erythropoietin, or EPO, the hormone that stimulates our bodies to produce red blood cells and allows us to adapt to high-altitude, low-oxygen environments.
“What we found in this study is really something quite unusual,” said Randall Johnson, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research study. “We discovered that mammalian skin, at least in mice, responds to how much oxygen is above it and, by virtue of that response, changes blood flow through the skin. This, in turn, changes one of the most basic responses to low oxygen that we have, which is the production of erythropoietin.”