Thinking clearly is like a puzzle; sometimes, some pieces just don’t fit. Sometimes you are tempted to throw away the puzzle box entirely because you feel like everything is so messed up, but instead, you keep trying new things, thinking of ways out of this mess and seeking solutions for every problem.
“The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have known for long,” says Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Ludwig Wittgenstein is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of philosophy. He is renowned for challenging long-held notions about language, logic and knowledge.
In short, he questioned everything we thought we knew about how to think. He observed that human understanding does not consist of a set of isolated concepts but instead is better understood as a network of interconnected ideas.
Few people have ever been as respected and misunderstood as the genius that is Ludwig Wittgenstein. A pioneer of modern philosophy, Wittgenstein is well-known for his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
In the book, Wittgenstein argues that the world is purely logical and, therefore, entirely knowable. It is the worldview within which all else rests, he observes.
If you can change your mind based on logic, then you are a free thinker and a member of the elite group that understands what is true beyond all doubt, so long as they remain logically consistent throughout their lives.
We must always keep an open mind to grow and evolve into more complete human beings (i.e., growing and evolving into a complete human being involves choosing to believe new ideas over old ideas). It follows then that if you want to become smarter and more complete in your perception, you must embrace lifelong learning.
“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push,” Wittgenstein said.
To improve things, we must first admit that they are not good enough as they currently stand. We must also acknowledge that there are underlying causes for our current troubles — challenges that we can resolve if we approach them with the right mindset.
Wittgenstein thought we could not ask what a thing is — only how it functions. In other words, if we cannot define something clearly, then it cannot be understood clearly either; instead, its use should be looked at as an ‘as-if’ condition until another definition can be found for it.
Language is the limit of your reality
“I am my world.” ― Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world”. He proposed that we adopt an ‘as-if’ mentality when thinking about our lives and the world around us.
Wittgenstein argued that we could not completely describe reality or fully grasp reality through our language. He suggested that we should only think about things for as long as it takes to understand them. This led to a movement in philosophy known as “logical positivism”, which stressed the importance of clarity and precision in thought.
Wittgenstein maintained strong and thoughtful views on language as a reality. He observed that language is not something that can be nailed down with certainty and therefore cannot be used to express anything definite or factual.
Instead, language is a tool for describing the world and expressing our thoughts about the world. The best way to understand this view is through an analogy: language is like a ladder, with different levels representing different aspects of the world.
For example, if you want to describe what I look like, you may describe my nose or eyes or hair or height as well as other characteristics that you associate with me, such as my personality or mood at the time you are thinking about me. These descriptions are all part of describing me; they do not describe anything outside of me, so they cannot be used to convey all facts about me.
“Language disguises thought,” Wittgenstein said. In recent years, however, there has been a move away from this emphasis on accuracy and clarity, favoring more subjective approaches to thought.
He observed that the language we use is complicated and often ambiguous, so we have trouble understanding exactly what we mean when we use certain words. As a result, we often misinterpret what other people are saying and end up making mistakes.
When you notice that you have made a mistake, try to figure out why you made it. If you can’t figure it out, it means your reasoning was flawed, so you should re-examine your facts and assumptions and try again.
Wittgenstein thought we must consider the context, situation and environment when we make decisions or draw conclusions because everything is relative and contextual.
If we don’t take into account other factors such as culture, history, etc., then our decisions may not be as effective as they could be otherwise. “Anything that can be said can be said clearly,” he said.
Bertrand Russell tried to explain how people think by focusing on logic and reason. He believed that people could reason in an orderly way if they knew how to apply basic principles of logic correctly. But he also recognized that there are many cases where these principles don’t apply, which can lead to confusion and errors in judgment.
This shift in thinking is reflected in a growing interest in “mindfulness” as a way of bringing attention to the present moment without getting caught up in endless debating or overthinking. As with other areas of life, whether you think clearly depends on your overall attitude and approach.
This article originally appeared in Medium.