TSElosophers meeting 27.11.2017. Katja Einola, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén

Three worlds – The Tanner Lecture on Human Values, Karl Popper 1978

Blog by Otto

Popper’s three worlds ontology analyzes objects’ physical (world 1), mental (world 2) and/or cultural (world 3) representations. He argues that these worlds are not reducible to each other, and notes that he is a realist in relation to every of these worlds. Popper frames his argument against “monistic materialists or physicalists”, who concentrate only on explaining phenomena as they would belong to the world 1. They have neglected that culture has effects in world 1; the culture affects our minds, which leads to physical effects. It is quite insufficient to explain culture only by physics or psychology.

We discussed about how three worlds can be combined with pragmatistic approach, and especially with inter-subjectivity. Inter-subjectivity relates to the extent of shared understandings, so it can be understood as a bridge between the subjective mental world and the objective cultural world. Popper criticizes dualists, who grasp worlds 1 and 2, but do not consider how important the cultural world is in forming our subjective notions. For example, a notion of free will is important for many world 3 objects such as the justice system, but it also affects individual behaviors. In contrast, a pragmatist is not concerned whether human free will corresponds with reality, but that the object of free will has effects to other objects.

We compared humanism and post-humanism, which is grounded in pragmatism (e.g. Wolfe 2010). Popper is defending humanism, as expressed by the sub-title: “The Tanner lecture of human values”. The world 3 realism built upon the world 1 and 2 realisms effectively means that there are objective values that are inter-subjectively constructed based on the physical nature and especially the human nature. Popper posits that without the human instinct for long-term survival the artificial intelligence (yes, he mentions AI in his 1978 lecture) would not have a need to become conscious. A realist might ask what is the difference between the definition of AI becoming conscious and AI algorithm developing its own internal objects? A pragmatist might ask what are the differences between the effects of granting the AI the status of consciousness and granting that the AI behaves conscious-like? In general, the evolving information technology seems to be in the process of connecting more and more intelligences to the same system. It leads to further intensification of inter-subjectivity, which lends more weight to Popper’s philosophical argument about the importance of world 3.

Ironically, it undermines the inherent anthropocentrism of “three worlds” and thus its ability to defend humanism, because the non-human actors seem to be claiming a bigger role in the world 3 evolution.

Otto Rosendahl