Toys to Overcome Time, Distance, and Gravity: The World of Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein was born near the city of Vienna, Austria on April 26, 1889. The household into which he was born already had four sons and three daughters; he was his parents’ eighth and last child.
His immediate family provided him an uncommon vantage point, for his father was Karl Wittgenstein, the immensely wealthy industrial magnate of the European steel and rail industry. Though both he and his wife were children of successful businesspeople, Karl Wittgenstein’s empire had not been inherited. He had entered industry in his youth as an engineer designing new steel mills. He had rapidly acquired responsibility by promotion, then amassed immense personal wealth by investing in coal, iron, rail, and steel concerns, even establishing new steelworks. It was a time of industrial expansion in Europe, and advances in technology were common topics in newsmagazines. Technological innovations would have been of interest in such a household. But so too were literature, art, and music—especially music. Poldy Wittgenstein, Ludwig’s mother, was a pianist, and the Wittgenstein home in Vienna contained several grand pianos. At the time Ludwig was born, listening to music meant hearing live performances by musicians, often at private gatherings, and the extravagant Wittgenstein home at 16 Allegasse in Vienna was the venue of many such "musical evenings." Johannes Brahms was a frequent guest in the household, as were Clara Schumann, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and many other composers.
The year Ludwig Wittgenstein was born, nearby developments already underway portended two wondrous changes of the coming century: the advent of controlled heavier-than-air flight and the mass production of musical sound recordings. Before they brought about radical social and cultural transformations, though, these innovations appeared in Europe in the form of children’s toys. Both a rubber band-powered model helicopter-like toy and a working toy gramophone with which music could be reproduced from hard discs appeared in Europe in time for Ludwig’s childhood. And, as we shall see, not only were both innovations part of his childhood, but both reappear in his work as an adult.
On December 17th, in the year Ludwig Wittgenstein was born (1889), and in the city in which he lived (Vienna), Brahms recorded himself playing the piano. The recording was made on a wax cylinder in the apartment of his friend Dr. Fellinger. Though extremely fragile, the recording has been preserved. It was transferred from a wax cylinder to a gramophone disc in 1935 and is now available as an MP3 file on the Internet. You can now download it onto an iPod or a similar device and carry it around with you to play back whenever you like, re-creating the sound waves Brahms made in that apartment in Vienna the year Wittgenstein was born, before there were even gramophone discs. That such care has been taken to preserve it reflects how precious even a brief live recording was then.
Until then, the only way to communicate a musical composition other than by hearing a live performance was by sheet music (i.e., the musical score), and the publication of sheet music was a lively business. One visitor to the Wittgenstein household reported that "From time to time superb autograph manuscripts of the Viennese musical classics were to be seen lying around open as one wandered about ..." Publications of the sheet music of new compositions generated the kind of interest that new releases of musical compact discs do today.
That a sound recording capable of being played back at least once was possible in principle had been proved well before 1889, but the recordings were fragile. Both the number of recordings of a single performance that could be produced and the number of times each recording of it could be played back were, until just a few years before Ludwig’s birth, very limited. In addition, the quality of the recording was less than exact reproduction; in the early technologies, the reproduced sound was distorted and allowed only recognition of what was being said, not of who was speaking.
Emile Berliner’s technology of hard gramophone discs eventually beat out Thomas Edison’s use of cylinder recordings in his phonograph. In fact, gramophones eventually came to be called phonographs in the U.S. Berliner eventually developed a method whereby the quality of the reproduced sound was so good he described it as an "exact reproduction," and with which an unlimited number of discs of a single performance could be produced. Berliner was a German who had emigrated to the U.S. in 1870 at the age of nineteen. In 1888, ten days after he had invented the improved gramophone (but had not yet settled on rubber discs), he demonstrated it at a meeting of the Franklin Institute, and remarked on the excitement of hearing recordings of voices of people from whom we are separated by time or distance. He closed his presentation of the improved gramophone with speculations about its practical applications: "... whole evenings will be spent at home going through a long list of interesting performances. Who will deny the beneficial influence which civilization will experience when the voices of dear relatives and friends long ago departed, the utterances of the great men and women who lived centuries before, the radiant songs of Patti, Campanini, Nieman and others ... can be heard and re-heard in every well-furnished parlor?"
Although he lived in, loved, and developed his invention in America, in 1889 Berliner traveled back to Germany to present his improved gramophone to the Electro-Technical Society of Berlin, at their invitation. While in Germany, he also arranged to have some single-sided gramophone discs produced there in late 1889, but sound quality was still an issue. A German toy manufacturer showed interest in the device, however, and the next year, in July 1890, it began to market a toy gramophone cranked by hand that was capable of reproducing music from hard 12.5-centimeter discs. In addition, it produced a "talking" doll that used a smaller, 8-centimeter disc. These were also imported to England for a short time. Berliner returned to the U.S. the next year to further develop his invention and set up companies to manufacture it.
So, in 1889, the year Ludwig Wittgenstein was born, the first mass produced gramophone discs in the world were produced in nearby Germany. The next year, a working hand-cranked toy gramophone was sold in Germany. It would not be long before songs could be reproduced in infants’ nurseries and the living rooms of America as well as in Europe, using a gramophone and analogue recordings on rubber discs. The advent of accurate, durable, mass-produced sound recordings of musical performances must have been especially significant in the household into which Ludwig was born, since music played such a prominent role there. The gramophone, which enabled anyone to conjure up great musical performances, would surely have been of great interest.
Brian McGuinness, the author of Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein’s Life 1889–1921 and for many years a philosopher at Oxford, meticulously researched Wittgenstein’s early years, often working with members of his family. He writes of the attitude toward music in the household: "All the emphasis was on the expression of the musical idea and it was this that was discussed with a minimum of technical terms and in the vocabulary of cultivated and perceptive participants in the long Allegasse analyses that followed each Vienna Philharmonic Concert."
The invention was conceptually interesting as well as having a major practical impact, for now there was a way to represent a particular musical performance: by the grooves or lines in a rubber disc, from which sound could be reproduced by the motion of a needle moving in response to the sounds produced by the musical performance.
The example of alternative durable representations of a musical composition—a written score consisting of marks on paper and an analogue gramophone record consisting of grooves in a rubber gramophone disc—reappeared years later. When Wittgenstein had grown into a young man concerned with solving problems in logic—specifically, the question of how a picture or model can depict something else—he used the example of the lines on a gramophone record to illustrate the relationship between "language and the world." Then he reflected on the relationship between four different things: a musical thought, the musical score of a symphony, the sound waves made during a symphony performance, and a gramophone record of the symphony performance. He remarked that they "all stand to one another in the same internal relation of depicting that holds between language and the world. They are all constructed according to a common logical pattern." What he emphasized then was something much emphasized in both popular and technical accounts of the gramophone in the days when the technology was new: the processes by which one of these four different things can be produced from another. The lines on the gramophone record and the musical notation of the musical score of a symphony are both visual, and Wittgenstein may have very early on contemplated how such different things could both be of the same musical composition.
Much later, as a young man, Wittgenstein contemplated translation between the gramophone lines and the musical score as a sort of translation between languages. The similarity between these very different things was accounted for in terms of the processes by which one of them could be derived from the other. There are four processes to think about: (i) the process by which the musician produces the score from the symphony, (ii) the process by which the musician produces the symphony from the score, (iii) the process by which the lines are produced from the sound waves, and (iv) the process by which the sound waves are produced from the lines.
The process by which the musician "reads" the musical notation of the score and "hears" the symphony, imagines "the musical idea," or at least understands what and how instruments are to be played to produce a symphony, is a matter of skill. Then there is the process by which the score can be produced by a musician who hears the symphony, or hears the sound waves produced from the gramophone record grooves. As we shall see later, as a young adult writing on the logic of depiction, Wittgenstein thought of this process as something that would be carried out by a musician who already knew how to read a score, who already knew how to "obtain the symphony" from it. The musician would use the same "rule," he said, to derive the score from the symphony—to put a heard symphony into the language of musical notation. He referred to this as "the law of projection which projects the symphony into the language of musical notation." I take it that here he used projection in its mathematical sense. For example, if we are interested in how much floor space an item will take up, we only ask what the projection of its dimensions onto the plane of the floor is; it is not necessary to mention details about its shape in the vertical direction. Similarly, for musical notation, there may be features that a particular symphony has that are peculiar to that performance, and are not part of the musical composition; these would not be captured by, or projected into, the musical notation. It is notable that Wittgenstein thought of the ability to read the score as the primary human skill, and the recording of a symphony in musical notation as something done in virtue of possessing that skill.
Then there is the process by which the gramophone record is produced, whereby sound waves evoking the original symphony performance are produced from the lines on the gramophone record, and the inverse process; i.e., the process whereby the gramophone lines on the gramophone disk are produced. This latter process is relative to human capabilities as well, for, though the recording devices involved only mechanical processes, the first recording devices were modeled on the human ear. It makes sense that, for a sound recording meant to capture a musical performance to be listened to by humans, it is only important to capture what humans can hear. Here it is more evident that what is recorded is a "projection" of the symphony into the language of the gramophone lines. Ultrasonic frequencies outside the range of human hearing that are produced in a symphony production are not relevant to the gramophone record of the performance. The process whereby gramophone records are produced, however, does not figure in the account of translation Wittgenstein gives in the Tractatus, written when he was in his twenties. Close attention to the text in which he describes what provides the means of translation reveals the absence of any mention of the mechanical process of recording sound waves:
4.0141 There is a general rule by means of which the musician can obtain the symphony from the score, and which makes it possible to derive the symphony from the groove on the gramophone record, and, using the first rule, to derive the score again. That is what constitutes the inner similarity between these things which seem to be constructed in such entirely different ways. And that rule is the law of projection which projects the symphony into the language of musical notation. It is the rule for translating this language into the language of gramophone records.
Instead of the process of recording lines or grooves in the gramophone record, what figures in Wittgenstein’s account of translatability between the musical score and the gramophone record here is instead the process whereby sound waves are produced from those lines, or grooves. (And, after that, the human skill of putting the heard symphony into musical notation.) This is striking, for, actually, the visual record of sound as wavy lines predated the production of gramophone records meant to be used to reproduce sound waves.
That other, earlier, visual record of sound is yet another kind of representation associated with the invention of the gramophone that was actually the springing-off point for the development of the gramophone record. It was called a phonautograph, and Berliner begins accounts of his own invention, the gramophone, by describing it. Phonautographs produced by a machine also called a phonautograph seem to have been well-known at the time, for Berliner speaks of "Scott’s phonautograph" as if assuming audience familiarity with it, and another paper on the principles of the gramophone by a Professor Houston refers to it as "the well-known phonautograph of Leon Scott."
Scott’s story was poignant: his family was too poor to give him an advanced education, and he was apprenticed to a printer. His work involved printing the transactions of scientific societies, which he read in the course of copyediting. He got to know some of the scientists whose work he printed, and he began corresponding with them about their work. These pursuits led to Scott’s inventing a machine that would produce a visual record of sound. Scott’s illustration of his invention shows a person performing on a musical instrument in front of the machine, and the machine, built on the model of the human eardrum, producing a series of wavy lines distinctive of the performance. The record consisted of lines caused by the motion of a membrane, which was in turn caused by the sound waves produced by the musical instrument. The sound records were white wavy lines scratched in a blackened surface formed by a smoky film on paper. The point was that they were distinctive marks corresponding to sound waves, and that, like any other two-dimensional icon, they could be reproduced without limit by a printing process.
The point was to have a method of recording sound, somewhat like present-day seismographs record waves traveling along the Earth’s surface. Some put special significance on the production of wavy lines that were geometrically similar to the sound waves that produced them. Berliner remarked that the hard zinc disc made in his process "becomes a picture of sound waves which, though slumbering in a bed of hard metal, is ready at any time, even centuries hence, to burst forth into the soft cadenzas of word and song, the ripple of laughter, the strains of martial music, as well as the melancholy and imploring drag of the organ-grinder’s tuneful melody." However, geometric similarity to the actual sound waves was not essential to the goal of producing some sort of graphical or iconic representation of sound. Hence, the role of the lines as pictures of sound in virtue of their similar visual appearance and pictures of sound in virtue of the ability to produce sound waves from them diverges for Berliner. (As we have seen, Wittgenstein was sensitive to this point, too, for his account of similarity between gramophone lines and other representations of sound does not appeal to geometric similarity.) In March 1857, Scott was granted a patent for "a method of drawing or writing by sound, and for multiplying the result of this graphically with a view to industrial applications." The same kind of device was also called a logograph. Scott did not attempt to use the graphical representations to actually produce sound, but Edison and then Berliner subsequently saw the potential of such a complementary process. This complementary process, which Scott seems not to have noticed or cared about, led to the development of Edison’s phonograph and Berliner’s gramophone.
Thus, for a while, there were phonautographs, or visual records, of sound, and these were well known before and during Wittgenstein’s childhood. Berliner remarks that Scott’s phonautograph "is described in every book on physical science," and, in fact, Berliner talks about using printed phonautographs as a means of conveying the gramophone sound recording. The ability to produce sound from them, while still regarding them as two-dimensional visual representations, is illustrated in a particularly colorful way in his fanciful speculation that "We may then have dinner-sets, the dessert-plates of which have gramophone records pressed in them, and which furnish the after-dinner entertainment when the repast is over." This is immediately followed by the speculation that "Gramophone plaques with the voices of eminent people will adorn our parlors and libraries."
Likewise, the dual aspect of a gramophone disc—both like the written word yet also able to produce the sound represented by the written word—was a novelty not lost on its inventor. Berliner wrote "I am carrying on a vocal correspondence with my friends in Europe, by means of small gramophone discs, which can be mailed in a good-sized letter envelope.... I could cite a number of instances where persons have been made happy by hearing and recognizing the voices of loved ones whom they had not seen in years, and the owners of which were thousands of miles away."
It is notable that in his discussion as an adult about the gramophone record, Wittgenstein does not include the kind of graphical record that a phonautograph is among the group of things that have the same "logical form" as the musical score—even though Scott was aiming precisely at providing a graphical representation of sounds. It makes sense that Wittgenstein does not include Scott’s phonautograph, however, given his explanation there of what logical form consists in, since there was no way to produce any of the other records of sound from a phonautograph unless there were some kind of playback mechanism. Of course, by the time gramophones were in existence, he would have been aware that it was always theoretically possible to develop a machine to play back a phonautograph record, but the existence of a playback mechanism would essentially make the phonautograph record a gramophone record—which is what he does use to illustrate his points about logical structure and pictorial representation. But it is also striking that the crucial aspect that Wittgenstein cites as accounting for logical form in the philosophical treatise he writes as a young man—"there is a rule by which one could reconstruct the symphony from the line on a gramophone record"—is precisely the advance in sound recordings that was exhibited in the toy gramophone that premiered in nearby Germany just after his birth.
There is another point important in Wittgenstein’s philosophical writings on depiction that is consistent with making a distinction between Scott’s phonautographs seen as lines on paper and Berliner’s view of exactly the same object as something from which sound waves can be produced. Scott’s phonautographs are not pictures of sound for Wittgenstein, since they do not include the concept of a process whereby the sound can be produced from the lines; Berliner’s notion of the lines, which includes the notion of a process whereby sound waves can be produced from the lines, does. Wittgenstein not only made the distinction for pictures of sound, but he saw in it a point about all pictures and thus about the very nature of depiction: after explaining that a picture is a fact, he writes that "a picture, conceived in this way, also includes the pictorial relationship, which makes it into a picture."
A story about a fraud perpetrated on a count in the Vienna Woods in the summer of 1888 highlights the role of a playback mechanism. In his account of the year preceding Wittgenstein’s birth in A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889, Frederic Morton writes of an unexpected visit paid to a count whom he describes as "the principal performer in the amateur musicals given in his house":
During the hot months of 1888 ... a coach rolled into the leafy driveway of a villa in the Vienna Woods. It belonged to Count Walter H.... A gentleman stepped out, excellently cravated, and handed a footman his calling card. It said Philip H. Elkins, Esquire, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Admitted to the Count’s presence, Mister Elkins introduced himself as the chief European representative of Thomas A. Edison Enterprises of New Jersey [and said that] Mister Thomas Edison was planning a phonographic gallery of famous great voices of the nineteenth century. At Mister Edison’s request he had therefore brought along an Edison machine in the hope that the Count might be kind enough to let the machine record the art coming from the Count’s throat.
The Count was most cooperative. With the help of two of his footmen, a heavy American-looking machine, bristling with tubes and wires, was dragged out of the coach, over precious carpets, into the music room. Here the Count sang feelingly his favorite aria, "Se vuol ballare," from The Marriage of Figaro, while Mister Elkins kept adjusting levers to accommodate the remarkable volume of the Count’s voice.
When the Count asked to hear his voice played back, however, he was told that the only such machine in existence was in New Jersey with Mr. Edison. The Count suggested building a "playback apparatus" in Vienna, giving him "two hundred and fifty florins to get the work started, plus a fifty-florin licensing fee to Mister Edison." Whereupon
Mister Elkins then carefully guided the footmen as they heaved the wires and tubes out of the house and into the coach, climbed into the coach himself, waved his hat, and was never heard of again.
Such a story naturally raises questions about when a sound recording really should be counted as a sound recording. When is it a fraud? When is it, though intended to be a recording, useless or meaningless? When is it correct to say that it is in some sense a record of a performance of an aria? And what does being a recording consist in?
Given the times, the city, and the household in which he was born, the gramophone was undoubtedly important to Wittgenstein in his childhood, and we know that it was important to him as an adult, too, for it is reported that Wittgenstein "when listening to music on the gramophone put the needle back repeatedly to some musical transition from which he wanted to extract everything." The question of depiction could well have arisen much earlier in his life, in the form of the difference between a gramophone record and a phonautograph. But puzzles about the relation of these pictures of sound to the musical notation used in a musical score might not have been so explicit. Perhaps all that he got out of this from his childhood years, besides the preceding point about pictures, was one example of alternate depictions of a musical composition; even so, his observations about it resonated decades later in working out problems in logic and philosophy.
Another toy common in Europe during Wittgenstein’s childhood was one that actually flew: an elastic-powered, helicopter-like toy. George Cayley had developed the toy in England in 1796 as a small model, drawing on even earlier versions. Cayley was an independently wealthy Englishman who somehow became convinced that heavier-than-air flight was possible, and he is credited with the very concept of an aircraft with fixed wings. Because his work on airflow over inclined wings was the first accurate research done on the subject, he is often referred to as "the father of aeronautics." Cayley’s model helicopter design was later perfected and made popular in France by Alphonse Pénaud. The toy was very popular in Europe during Ludwig’s childhood, and he almost certainly would have been familiar with it. The Wright Brothers described the toy they had played with and tried for years to make larger copies of as a European toy called a "bat." Orville Wright was adamant in his recollections that it was the toy based on Pénaud’s design (and not another one known as a "butterfly" and often confused with it). There had been toy helicopter designs for centuries, but Pénaud’s version was rightfully well known and much reproduced; its performance remained unsurpassed. It has been credited with inspiring a whole generation of children to become interested in flight. Octave Chanute described it in his 1894 work, Progress in Flying Machines, as "the best of its kind," remarking:
Pénaud’s flying screw, which is called by the French a "Helicoptere," consists of two superposed screws rotating in opposite directions, and actuated by the force of twisted rubber strings... . These models, when built in varying proportions, would either rise like a dart to a height of some 50 ft., and then fall down, or sail obliquely in great circles, or, after rising some 20 or 25 feet, hover in the same spot for 15 or 20 seconds, and sometimes as many as 26 seconds, which was a much longer flight than had ever before been obtained with screws.
Chanute mentions that the models behave differently depending on "varying proportions." If by "varying proportions" he meant models of different sizes (the proportion being the ratio of lengths in the original version and another one made of a different size), then he is simply saying that the device behaved differently depending on its size. That would explain why playing with different-sized models of the toy, which the Wrights said occupied them for years, might be so worthy of study. The toy used stored energy (the energy in the rubber band), so that in a way it was self-propelled, or, as one historian put it, it had "a perfect lightweight powerplant." It was inherently stable due to its clever design, the rotating propellers rotating in opposite directions. Chanute reports that, with a suitably light engine, a size large enough to carry humans might have actually flown appreciable distances. So the toy held the promise of humans being able to defy gravity, and it illustrated the puzzling effect of size.
There was more reason than the behavior of Pénaud’s "bat" toy, exhilarating as it was, for his contemporaries to feel that gravity-defying human flight in heavier-than-air machines was possible, to feel that it really was so close that it might possibly be achieved. Pénaud was a serious aeronautical researcher whose life was cut short at age 30 by his suicide after a series of disappointments, the last being finding out that the expected funding for his next experimental flight would not be forthcoming after all. Chanute summed up how things stood by the end of his life: "M. Pénaud was criticized, decried, misrepresented, and all sorts of obstacles arose to prevent the testing of his project. He lost courage and hope, his health gave way, and he died in October, 1880, before he had reached 30 years of age." Pénaud had been born with a degenerative hip disease, a condition that was both disabling and painful. He had to use crutches to get around, but he designed flying machines that soared on their own. He left behind a promising aircraft design called a "planophore," for which there was good reason at the time to believe it might have flown. The helicopter toy was special because it worked so well, but the planophore was more distinctively his. It was special in that, even as a model, it established a landmark in aviation history. Richard Hallion describes the event, which took place in the presence of a large audience, and so had become famous by the time Wittgenstein was born:
... the young Frenchman ... had his sights set on nothing less than developing a full-size airplane, and achieving that goal would require a number of technological demonstrations. To Pénaud a practical airplane would have to incorporate a high degree of inherent stability—the ability to fly in such fashion that a pilot did not need to manipulate the controls constantly to keep it on a steady course. Experimentation had led him to develop a configuration that he believed would work, and now he was ready to demonstrate it to the public. [...]
That morning in Tuileries, his compatriots watched, intrigued, as Pénaud slowly turned the propeller through 240 revolutions, winding the rubber cord tighter and tighter. Then he held the model at head height and let go of the propeller, and as it immediately began spinning with a slight buzzing sound, he launched the model horizontally in the air. As he wrote later, "For an instant it started to drop, but then, as its speed picked up, it flew straight away and described a regular movement, maintaining a height of 7 or 8 feet, covering a course of 40 meters [approximately 131 feet] in 11 seconds." It had followed a slightly curving path, flying several gentle circles from the propeller’s torque until the rubber bands fully unwound, and, its power exhausted, it smoothly glided to earth. Stunned, the onlookers quickly measured the distance. The first significant powered flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine was history, and young Pénaud was the talk of the aeronautical world.
Hallion remarks on its significance: "what [Pénaud] achieved that August day in 1871 was no less than the answer to the question ‘Can an airplane fly?’, a question that dated to the very dawn of interest in mechanical flight." The historical significance was that it changed the state of the art, in that the open questions had shifted from one concern to another:
Critics could no longer doubt that an airplane could fly; rather, the issue would be one of scale, involving two critical questions: Can an airplane be built with an engine of sufficient power to lift a human aloft? and Can the operator control it?
What Hallion says here about silencing the critics may have been true in France, but there were certainly critics in other countries, such as the U.S. and Britain, who did doubt that an airplane could fly, and with every new failure they were more assured of the validity of their doubts. However, in Europe, children had Pénaud’s "bat" toy to play with in their own hands and the story of the very public success he had had with the planophore in their heads. When Pénaud committed suicide, he was dramatic about it: he put drawings of all his inventions in a coffin, which he arranged to be sent to the would-be benefactor whom he felt had let him down.
Many people outside France were inspired by his success, in spite of the substantial prejudice against practical heavier-than-air flight that still existed. Inventors such as Emile Berliner (who had invented and manufactured the gramophone), Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram Maxim (inventor of the machine gun), and, of course, the proprietors of the Wright Cycle Company devoted much of their time and parts of their fortunes to building a practical flying machine after their success at other pursuits had provided them with financial means sufficient to indulge their passion for flight. Samuel F. Cody’s stage pursuits—massive efforts involving his whole family and portraying himself somewhat fraudulently as connected with "Buffalo Bill" of the American West—became largely a means of financially supporting his interest in flight, particularly the development of his man-carrying kite. The scientist Samuel P. Langley and the distinguished engineer Octave Chanute already had established careers in their own fields when, late in life, they devoted their energies to promoting flight research and building their own experimental aircraft. Lawrence Hargrave (in Australia) used his own fortune to invent an inherently stable kite and an engine to power it, and Alberto Santos-Dumont (a South American living in Paris) drew from his inheritance to develop a heavier-than-air machine based on Hargrave’s designs to compete in French competitions. Although there was sometimes the hope that success would pay off, either in patents or in prizes at competitions, money was seldom if ever the motivation for participating. When asked, the entrants almost always explained that they were pursuing flight because of an irresistible desire to know, to discover, to invent what was waiting to be known, discovered, or invented. However, they did not all agree on which of the two remaining questions about flight—power or control—deserved attention most.
The question of the effect of a machine’s size on its performance can be asked about any number of toys that are miniatures of larger craft or machines: a boat, a building, a simple bow and arrow. But, in Wittgenstein’s youth, it was especially striking for aircraft, for there were models that worked well on a small scale but failed or behaved qualitatively differently on larger scales. There was the European "bat" toy, as I have said, which, when imported to America a few years before Wittgenstein’s birth, made flight research irresistible to the Wright Brothers, around seven and eleven years old at the time. Besides the toy models, there was Pénaud’s spectacular model planophore of a design meant to be built on a scale that could carry humans, and for which the question of the performance of a full-size version was still open.
Though not immediately obvious, the questions raised by Pénaud’s pursuits, of which the ubiquitous "bat" toy was a constant reminder, are analogous to the questions about representation and language occasioned by the gramophone. Just as the musical score and the lines on the gramophone represented the symphony performance in some way, so the model of a flying machine was supposed to, in some way, represent the performance of a full-size one. In the case of aircraft, the skill required to "project" the features of a full-size model onto a smaller one of some sort was often claimed, even though the reverse of that process, by which an experienced model builder would be able to produce a practical full-size flying machine from a model, was often revealed to be faulty.
We can see that the pressing question was about this process and its inverse: the experimenter’s task of building a model whose behavior would reflect (as most models did not) the behavior of an imagined full-size flying machine, and the inventor’s task of building a full-size version of a model in such a way that it mimicked the model’s performance. These seem to be human activities involving skill, as are the musician’s activities of reading and writing a musical score. Yet, it also seems that, once built, the connection between an experimental mechanical model and what it models ought to be as mechanically determined as that between a gramophone record and the sound waves it produces. The analogy does not of itself provide an answer to how the representation is effected, does not say more about the logic of depiction than that models somehow depict. What an analogy between how models depict and how gramophone records depict does do is give a kind of representation that is an alternative to language. It provided Wittgenstein with something to reverse, as in von Wright’s account of the key insight Wittgenstein had in late 1914, mentioned in the Preface. He could ask: rather than assuming that a model works on analogy to a statement of a language, why not think about whether language works on analogy to models—whatever that account may turn out to be? This would put him on the alert for a satisfying account of experimental scale modeling.
As numerous works of intellectual history have pointed out—most notably, Toulmin and Janik’s Wittgenstein’s Vienna—philosophy of language and revolutionary approaches to symbolic representation in music and art figured prominently in the Vienna in which Wittgenstein was born and spent much of his youth. Toulmin and Janik cite Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system of music in particular, comparing Schoenberg’s "breaking through the limits of a bygone aesthetic" (as he himself put it) to the work of the modern logicians De Morgan and Boole, which they see as analogously "breaking through the limits of a bygone logic." They even see Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre as closely analogous to Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica, since both, they say, are "compendious expositions of a new logic." But it is also true that, in his own ruminations about a theory of symbolism, the grown Wittgenstein eventually brought to the solution consideration of things not occurring frequently in those intellectual discussions—the lines on a gramophone record and experimental scale models.
The toy gramophone and aeroplane portended important changes in the lives of adults and therefore were not regarded condescendingly, as toys such as dolls or wooden trains might be. While still available commercially only as toys, they were discussed in lectures about the science underlying the developing technology, as in Berliner’s talks to engineering societies about how energy considerations in reproduction of sound had led him to the new rubber disc technology, and in Lilienthal’s and Chanute’s discussions of the forces involved in the behavior of various toy helicopters, aeroplanes, and gliders. These playthings from Wittgenstein’s childhood were astounding to people of all ages, in terms of the way in which they employed basic science in challenging the presumptions of everyday experience. One toy illustrated how the time and distance normally separating a distant or absent hearer from a speaker’s voice could be overcome with a machine that re-created it from a pattern of lines. The other gave hope to an equally romantic notion: the ability of a vehicle that was heavier than air to defy gravity and fly in the air, to carry a person when and to where one wished, at will. Like many others of his generation, Wittgenstein wanted to design, build, and fly his own airplane; like a few of them, the desire shaped his career choices as a youth. But there was more to these childhood experiences than the directions in which they led him as a young man: the reflections they occasioned and the examples they provided were resources upon which Wittgenstein could, and did, draw as a philosopher.