Logicomix: A Short Review
I just read Logicomix. Very interesting. Should have taken the tractatus more seriously, but that's ok, even a lot of professional philosophers don't understand it.
The impact of World War One on modernity is beautifully captured by a two page layout of Wittgenstein standing in the middle of no man's land and a caption by Russell saying "put a man on the edge of the abyss, and in the unlikely event that he doesn't fall in he will become either a mystic or a madman."
The themes betray a computer scientist's fondness for Turing, algorithms, and computation that if not wholly misplaced is not the answer to everything that many computer geeks think it is.
Yet again i find myself wishing that more people would read Hubert Dreyfuss.
But Dreyfuss himself doesn't understand The Philosophical Investigations point on psychology and in his commitment ot Heideggerean phenomenology founded in metaphysics as opposed to a Wittgensteinian one founded in language, he concedes too much to the model makers.
As does Logicomix ultimately. Because the story of David Hilberts program, which is what the book tells through the experience of Bertrand Russell, is not in fact the greek tragedy that the authors make it out to be whereby redemption is born out of loss. Nor is it the shakespearean tragedy that the repeated allusions to Hamlet would imply. In fact, it is a black comedy where the absurdity of the program which emerged as a resistance to the scholasticism of the previous age but that failed to reject the rigid rulemaking of that age as the source of the problems it created.
In the end, the correct solution is only hinted at by Gödel's work on incompleteness, as indicated by the incredibly lame idea that has followed in its wake that our brains are really just Turing machines. And it is this idea that has led large swaths of our intellectual culture off into yet another messed up cul de sac, the notion of an algorithmic universe as the meaning of existence. It is this idea that Logicomix tries to attack with the recasting of the conclusion of Orestes as the solution to the story of modernity. It ultimately fails though because it gives too short a shrift to absurdity and the mystical, whose only champions in the book are the later Wittgenstein ideas which don't get addressed except in a the biographical appendix, and a brief encounter between Russell and a group of dadaists who are dismissed with the usual conservative handwaving cliche of putting a toilet in an art gallery.
All in all, it's interesting and for people who don't already know the story about this stuff, it's a good introduction. However I think it fails to shed much new light on the topic. I'd recommend as companion texts "Wittgenstein's Poker" and David Berlinski's "The Advent of the Algorithm" for a fuller picture of the ideas that are only touched on here but not fully explored. And for some countervailing views of course Hubert Dreyfuss's "What Computer's Still Can't Do" and Paul Feyerabend's "Against Method" are two books that not enough intelligent non-scientists have read. Intellectual life in America would be so much better if you would.