Book Tip: Wittgenstein Flies a Kite: A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World

by Susan G. Sterrett

Susan Sterrett present a highly readable, compelling narrative that parallels Wittgenstein's early philosophy in the Tractatus with the engineering developments of the early twentieth century, particularly in aeronautical research. Sterrett presents Wittgenstein as one who is compelled by the image of sentences as models (or pictures) of states of affairs. He is presented as one who is struck by the idea that propositions can construct models of reality, which can focus our attention on the most salient aspects of the world. Sterrett presents the often cited example of Wittgenstein being struck by the presentation of a scale model of a car accident in a Paris court room. He was struck by the ability of the participants to manipulate and take on different perspectives by using the scale model as if they were at the scene themselves. He took this observation and applied it to our language. Meanwhile, Sterrett documents both theoretical and experimental attempts by those in the early twentieth century to invent "the fly machine". This period of time was full of innovative models, tests and theories that all sought to solve a problem that had never been achieved before. 

I recommend this book for anyone who has a deep interest in Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the picture theory. One can argue that Wittgenstein presented two key perspectives on language in his career: the picture theory and the language games concept. Like the early Wittgenstein, I must admit that I am regularly drawn to the picture theory, and to the idea that we convey images of the world through sounds out of our mouths, scribbles on the page and vibration from a speaker. Even though the language games concept may present a fuller and more developed image of language in use, I cannot deny the attraction of the picture theory to explain how we model the world through our words.