I really approve of targeted advertising. In my experience it’s been a win-win situation. (And more generally, I’d say about 80-85% of my happiness and accomplishments in life have been due to searching- and sharing-technology, but that’s a topic for another essay.) In the summer of 2012 my liking a Facey B page on Wittgenstein led to my seeing an ad from Riding-Iceland for a horse trip that would follow the trek that young Wittgenstein and his pal David Pinsent made 100 years earlier in the south of Iceland. I wasn’t horsey but I figured I’d pick it up as I went along. I went with my mum, because “mums go to Iceland”. I fell in love with the land, as most do, and furthermore I found myself my very own magical Icelandic elf boy whom I decided to keep.
We retraced Wittgenstein and Pinsent’s horsesteps, recreating the conditions under which young Wittgenstein was brooding over the mysteries of logic and language in pursuit of the clarity that led to the system laid out in his ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’. Our first destination was, Þingvellir, the original location of Iceland’s anarchistic ‘thingy’, or parliament, where people gathered annually to discuss who stole whose sheep.
Pinsent’s diary documenting the trip shares impressions of the Icelandic landscapes and gives us a glimpse into Wittgenstein’s tense intellectual preoccupation.
About the scenery, Pinsent remarks: ‘The country through which we have passed is excessively bleak – moorlands covered with lava-stones and what in England would be called heather. The latter is of the most glorious colours – light green, yellow and pink – and even in the misty weather looked almost vivid. The road was not hilly, though there were some mountains in the distance’. He records that after a good supper…LW teaches him ‘Russell’s definition of Number etc and the use of his logical symbolism’, which Pinsent finds ‘excessively interesting’. He also notes that LW makes a very good teacher (Pinsent, p.17, McGuinness p.137).
– website: Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Chronology of his Life & Work Cambridge and Norway, 1911-1914
To add to the general epicness we were very fortunate to have Ray Monk with us on the tour – the world’s leading biographer of Wittgenstein. When we weren’t singing Beatles songs to an acoustic guitar in farmhouse kitchens he regaled us with lectures on the development of the foundations of mathematics during the time of Bertrand Russell…however, we spent most of the time singing and drinking.
It seems that every day Wittgenstein and Pinsent had serious talks about philosophy. On Wednesday 18th September, 1912, ‘LW talks logic again during their walk in the afternoon, and again after supper. Pinsent feels that he is learning a lot from LW, who he feels is ‘remarkably clever’. (Pinsent, p.21)’*. On Thursday 19th September, 1912,‘they talk philosophy until 10pm. Pinsent records that LW talks a lot about people he despises, whom he calls ‘Philistines’, and Pinsent worries momentarily that LW considers him to be one such (Pinsent, pp.21-22)’*. For a number of days they wait hopefully for the renowned geysir Geysir to erupt. However, they eventually give up and move on. The next destination is Gullfoss, Iceland’s greatest waterall.
That night they stay at Skipholt, the farm where we in turn were to visit the descendants of the people who hosted Wittgenstein 100 years before, and bond with baby cows.
W and P were to spend the following day caught in a downpour while riding over ‘the dullest of marshy plains’ (Pinsent, p.23), which is precisely what happened to us in on the first day of our trek when the weather attacked us and turned Ray Monk blue just in time for his appearance at the “In Wittgenstein’s Footsteps” conference at the University of Iceland.
On Saturday 21st September, 1912 our heroes cross the Ölfusa river and have a tiff – so no logic lessons that night, presumably.
Next we followed our philosophers over lava-plains and through black volcanic dust.
And our philosophers’ next destination, Krýsuvík, home of several geothermal fields, craters, mud pots and hot springs, is a site where shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to appreciate these natural phenomena in the comfort of my own skin at dawn.
(c) Bragi Jósefsson . Krýsuvík, Iceland . September 2012
On their boat journey back to England, our philosophers see the Aurora Borealis, and talk about ‘some new research Wittgenstein is doing’. Pinsent gets the impression that LW has ‘discovered something good’ (Pinsent, p.30)*.
Or should that be, as they sometimes say, “or should that be…the beginning?”