Cenizo Journal Summer 2023 | Page 5

Wittgenstein in the Trans-Pecos

By Brian Harding
The 20th century ' s greatest philosopher , Ludwig Wittgenstein , never visited the Big Bend region of Texas . In fact , he only ever came to the United States once , and then stayed mainly in upstate New York . Nevertheless , given his predilection for travel to remote places ( fjords in Norway , far western Ireland ) and his love of Westerns , we can be confident that if he spent more time in the U . S ., he would have made his way west of the Pecos .
Wittgenstein ' s travels were inspired by a desire to get away from the frippery and chatter of Cambridge , to escape into the vastness of nature so that he could think clearly and rigorously without distraction . While none of the members of the Southwestern Society of Mind is an intellectual of Wittgenstein ' s stature , for four years ( and counting ) philosophers , psychologists and artists have traveled to the Big Bend region to experience the vastness only it can offer and , hopefully like Wittgenstein , to think clearly .
The Southwestern Society of Mind is a scholarly organization , but one does not have to be a professional scholar or affiliated with an institution of higher learning to attend the conferences . It is intentionally open to any interested person who cares to come . The call for papers invites “ scholars from all disciplines , non-scholars with unique perspectives and any drifters or passerthrough ” to attend the meeting . While in the past , academicians have made up the bulk of presenters at the conference , we have also had web-designers , artists and therapists join us . The goal of the Southwestern Society of Mind is to facilitate the kind of creative thinking that can ' t happen when one is constrained by strict disciplinary boundaries . We are intentionally interdisciplinary and collaborative , seeking to create an intellectual environment of cooperation , support and friendship .
Organizers John Terrizzi , Jr ; Brian Harding , Chris Hart
Like many good things , the Southwestern Society of Mind was created over beers in the back porch of a bar . In Denton , Texas – initially where the southern tips of the Great Plains collided with the Cross Timbers region but is now paved with the asphalt and concrete of the DFW metroplex – three friends daydreamed of a trip out west , where philosophers , psychologists and any like-minded person could escape the pavement while sharing their ideas and enjoying good company . Slowly , the idea formed that rather than daydream we would organize the event ourselves , being sure to leave time in the schedule for activities outside the conference itself .
Our first meeting was held at the Indian Lodge at Davis Mountain State Park in 2020 . For many of the participants , it was their first trip out west . Prior to the conference , many attendees visited Marfa for its art and food ; afterward , all participants hiked the Davis Mountains . During the pandemic , the state park meeting room was closed . But we did not want to abandon our project , so we held our 2021 meeting in the town of Fort Davis at The Double Shot Coffee Lounge . We had a smaller crowd that year , but the important thing was that we kept it going ; this gave us a chance to get to know Fort Davis itself a little better , since our conference was right on the main drag . The following year , with pandemic restrictions in the rear-view mirror , we returned to the Indian Lodge . And in 2023 we had our fourth meeting in Terlingua , at the Red Pattillo South Brewster County Community Center . Each meeting begins on Friday evening with a keynote talk and a reception that often goes into the wee hours . On Saturday , we hold the bulk of the conference and when concluded invite the participants for a hike to close out the event . In past years we hiked the Davis Mountains , but this year , given our proximity to Big Bend National Park , many of the conferencegoers went there afterwards .
This year , on the morning of the first day of the conference , some conferencegoers decamped to explore Big Bend and Boquillas , returning to Terlingua in time for dinner and the keynote address . The next day , after cleaning up after the last talk , I drove back to Big Bend , and pulled my backpacking gear out of the trunk of the car . As the sun set , I began my hike up the Pinnacles Trail toward my campsite . The sky was dark by the time I reached it , and I started setting up my tent by the light of a small headlamp . Alas , a belt of clouds obscured the normally illuminated night sky . I settled down in my tent to read ( Wittgenstein , naturally ) but the nocturnal music of park animals quickly lulled me to sleep .
The first year we held the conference , we didn ' t expect anybody but ourselves and our friends to show up .
Continued on page 21
Cenizo Summer 2023