Bank Holiday Monday in the UK. It’s been a big weekend, so I take some time off, and (having spent the morning overhauling the garage, amongst other things) I sit and watch my two young boys splash in the paddling pool. I have a beer in my hand, there is clear blue sky, and I am sitting in the shade looking up at the leaves of the tree on the front lawn. A moment of contentment and contemplation.
I once read that every leaf on a tree catches sunlight. Which I thought remarkable; and then I considered how if a leaf doesn’t catch any sunlight, it can’t be doing the tree any good in terms of processing the energy, which is why the leaves grow where they do. There is an explanation available.
Then I saw a leaf fall which wasn’t green, it was a sickly yellow. It wasn’t catching enough sunlight to live.
(I sometimes feel a bit like that leaf, but afternoons like this get my chlorophyll working again.)
And I remember that the explanation doesn’t really make much difference. The tree is beautiful. It is still remarkable how each leaf catches the sunshine; that this is how it all hangs together.
In Remarks on Colour, §317, Wittgenstein writes: “When someone who believes in God looks around him and asks ‘Where did everything that I see come from?’ ‘Where did everything come from?’, he is not asking for a (causal) explanation; and the point of his question is that it is the expression of such a request. Thus, he is expressing an attitude towards all explanations.”
In other words: this is meaningful. Asking the question is an expression of its meaning, not a query about the meaning.
Ricky Fitts: It’s like God’s looking right at you, just for a second, and if you’re careful you can look right back.
Jane Burnham: And what do you see?
Ricky Fitts: Beauty.