Towards the end of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein remarked (6.44) ‘not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is’. One cannot be quite sure what he intended by the expression ‘mystical’, and given his later arguments in Philosophical Investigations, there can be no meaning attached to the question as to what he, as the author of the remark, ‘intended’ by it. One is, therefore, allowed a certain latitude in the reading of this text, and I will take it that he meant that the existence of the world is a mysterium tremendum; but that the way it is, is not. Nobody can deny that the mere existence of the world is a total mystery. But Wittgenstein was wrong in thinking that the way it is, is not.
On the face of it, Wittgenstein’s distinction seems valid enough. We realise that the existence of the world is incomprehensible and that there can be no explanation as to why the Big Bang—if that was what it was—ever occurred. But how loud it was, that its echo can be detected at the present day, that the temperatures rose and then fell within the first three seconds, and so on—these are matters which appear to be explicable and, therefore, intelligible. But as soon as we probe, we discover that science, which informs us about how these things happened after the Big Bang, is, contrary to Wittgenstein’s expectation, not self-explanatory. We cannot simply say: wait until science finds out. Science can only find out how the world works and how it is if one has an understanding of the concepts of truth, meaning and reference—to mention only the most crucial problems. Once this is seen, knowledge as to how the world is, is as problematical and, in many senses, as mysterious as that it is.
At the outset, I will take it that there is no absolute difference between what we understand as ‘science’ and knowledge in general. As Thomas Kuhn put it, ‘science [is] our surest example of sound knowledge’. 1 I will therefore equate ‘knowledge’ with what we take to be ‘specially refined knowledge’, namely science; and refer to unrefined knowledge as ‘false knowledge’. The matter is well put by Karl Popper:
The whole trouble…[is] due to the mistaken belief that scientific knowledge was an especially strict or august kind of knowledge…[I