Monday, September 17, 2018

Thoughts on Popper's World Three

In Popper's concept of three worlds (see here for a brief discussion), he characterizes world 3 as "autonomous," and restricts it generally to humans with some minor exceptions, like spiders' webs and birds' nests. However, it seems to me that world three exists at multiple levels in living organisms.

Organisms need a way to pass on their learning through time if progress is to be made and so must search for a world 1 representation of world 3 knowledge to serve this purpose. I suggest that DNA is the representation of world 3 knowledge for cells, while the brain is such a repository for organisms with central nervous systems. In mankind we see, for the first time due to the phenomenon of language, knowledge represented outside of the organism, while it is still within the evolving organic social system. This idea means that we have multiple world 1 representations of world 3 within us (e.g., within the immune system), and that many of them may so far be undiscovered.

This generalization of Popper's thinking is in line with his ideas of evolutionary knowledge and removes its anthropocentric bias. It would appear that Popper was moving radically in that direction when he wrote, in "Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge" (1990, p 35)
Can only animals know? Why not plants? Obviously, in the biological and evolutionary sense in which I speak of knowledge, not only animals and men have expectations and therefore (unconscious) knowledge, but also plants; and, indeed, all organisms.
I cannot know if Popper would have embraced this idea of a world of world 3s, as he may have seen some flaw and responded with a conjecture that moved far beyond what I am suggesting. After all, it seems like he spent a lot of time trying to explain world 3 to his audiences. However, what seems beyond dispute is that there are representations of knowledge distributed among the many cooperating systems in our bodies, regardless of whether we assign that knowledge to "world 3."


Popper, Karl R., (1990) . "Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge" in A World of Propensities, by Karl Popper, 29-51, Bristol, UK: Thoemmes.


Unknown said...

One of the problems to overcome here is the way that people do not perceive the same P1 and so we are not on the same page when we start getting serious about problem-solving. Hence the obsession with market failure in the mainstream, while government gets little attention in that literature.

Where is the common problem that can unite or at least bring together different schools of thought?

The threat of mutual nuclear destruction had this effect to some extent.

The threat of serious global warming might have done so but there is no such threat.

The rise of identity politics in its most virulent form has alerted some leftwing people to realise this is a bigger danger to civilized life than the spectre of free market economics!

Brian J. Gladish said...

I think that you articulate one of the major errors we are dealing with--that we must be "on the same page when we start getting serious about problem-solving." This is to see serious problem solving as a collectivist enterprise, and not an individualist one.

The common problem is "What is the society most conducive to problem solving?" and that is one in which individuals act, "lured by profit and disciplined by loss" to quote Peter Boettke. Without this driver and controller, progress is slow at best and subject to major reversals.

There will never be a uniting "P1," so we must pursue individual problem solving as it is all we've got.