Chapter 2

Three Worlds

This chapter is devoted to another Popper innovation - a more recent one - which has far-reaching implications for psychology and all aspects of human behaviour. Hitherto controversy has ranged around the mind-body problems with such questions as: Is mind something separate from body? Does mind control body or vice versa? Or is mind an illusion, an epiphenomenon, something like the locomotive's whistle that has no effect on the working of he body-machine? (The analogy is T. H. Huxley's and represents what he believed to be the case.) In tackling this question, Popper distinguishes between two problems which have tended to be telescoped into one.

The first he called Descartes's problem, and he stated it like this:

"How can it be that such things as states of mind - volitions, feelings, expectations - influence or control the physical movements of our limbs?" (O.K. 231)

The second he called Compton's problem because it had first caught his attention in a published lecture by the American physicist-philosopher, Arthur Holly Compton. Unlike Descartes's problem, it had not been appreciated by philosophers of the past, Popper says. If they saw it at all, they saw it only dimly. He stated this general problem in terms of the specific problem Compton himself had posed, namely how to explain the faith of his Yale audience that he would return from Italy to lecture to them at the time and date advertised, bearing in mind that, viewed as a physical event, it was a fantastically improbable one. So the problem, as Popper puts it, is this:

"There are such things as letters accepting a proposal to lecture, and public announcements of intentions; publicly declared aims and purposes; general moral rules. Each of these ... has a certain content or meaning, which remains invariant if we translate it or reformulate it. Thus this content or meaning is quite abstract. Yet it can control - perhaps by way of a short cryptic entry in a diary - the
physical movements of a man in such a way as to steer him back from Italy to Connecticut. How can this be?" (O.K. 230)

Popper not only affirms the separate existence (and power) of mind, but points out the existence of a third reality, the world of the products of the human mind. He is thus not merely a dualist but a pluralist. World I, in his scheme of things, is the material world which includes brains and also physical forces such as magnetism and gravitation. World 2 is the world of consciousness, or mental events. Descartes's problem is the problem of how World 2 acts on World 1. In addition there is World 3, consisting of art, music, moral obligations, ideas, problems, theories (true and false), which have been published or spoken or written down - objective as opposed to subjective knowledge. Compton's
problem is thus the question of how World 3 acts upon World 1. Although produced by human . minds, World 3 is no longer `within' minds. Popper is making the distinction between thoughts (World 2) and the externalised results of thoughts (World 3). (O.K. 153 and S.B. 38) His tentative solution to both the problems he defines is given in a paper called `Of Clouds and Clocks' (O.K. 206).

I cannot even sketch it here. I raise the matter only to emphasise the reality and the power in all our lives of World 3. In the form of theories, proposals, and plans, World 3 items will loom large in the rest of this book.

It is Popper's conjecture that World 3 developed hand in hand with World 2, and it was language that made both possible. There is no mind, no consciousness, he conjectures, or at any rate no self-consciousness, without the products of mind.

The above paragraph may be dismissed as metaphysics. There is no conceivable way of proving these conjectures false. But it is not hard to show that World 3 objects exist. They are abstract but real. That they are abstract is shown by the fact that they have no location in space. `Where is the
English language?' is a meaningless question. Their reality is demonstrated by their power, by way of World 2, to influence World I. Popper exemplifies this by postulating two variants of a hypothetical disaster, for example nuclear holocaust. In both all adult humans die and just a few children survive. The difference is that in one case the libraries survive and in the other all human artefacts are
destroyed. In the first case, one can imagine that in a few generations civilisation might be rebuilt; in the second the human race must be set back 30,000 years. It makes no difference what material form the recorded knowledge takes. Instead of libraries it could be magnetic tapes with the appropriate means of reproducing them. All that matters is that they should be intelligible to the survivors.

Or take a less hypothetical example of the power of a message, the public notice of a theatrical performance, pop concert, or football match. Those printed words in newspaper or poster will in a real sense cause the movement of hundreds or thousands of people from their homes to the place named. The effect is independent of the physical ink and paper, being the same whether printed in capitals or lower case, English or French, broadcast by radio or public address, provided only that the minds (World 2) can grasp it.

Two points must be emphasised. (1) Abstract ideas have this power to change the material world only when they become objective, World 3, public knowledge as opposed to private thoughts; and (2) their power to affect World I is exerted only via World 2. World 3 objects, the products of human minds, have to be grasped again by human minds before they can produce results in World 1. A book is of
itself a powerless World I object. But if its message (World 3) is grasped in the mind (World 2) of a reader (World I) that reader may in consequence take action which he would not otherwise have taken. That action is therefore caused or partly caused by a World 3 object.

It is worth pointing out the reality of World 3 objects as compared to something like a corporate spirit. A group of people, it can be a committee or a team, may be said to have a life over and above the lives of its members. But that life or spirit depends on its members being alive. Shoot them all and there is nothing left of the spirit. But, though Shakespeare is very long dead, his plays live on and influence us to this day.

Philosophers are well known to be obsessed with Plato and at the drop of a hat will quote Whitehead's defeatest view that the most anybody can hope to do is to write `footnotes to Plato'. Inevitably therefore Popper's World 3 has been written off in some academic circles as a re-hash of Plato's forms, which were conceived as a kind of pure essence or distillation of crude impure realities. They were of divine origin and changeless. Popper's World 3 objects are man-made and constantly being modified, corrected, added to. Furthermore Plato's forms were powerless in the physical world; Popper's World 3 has changed the face of the earth. (I am referring to the fact that the immense
physical changes brought about by man have been the consequence of theorising and grasping of theories and of the growth of human knowledge.) Finally Popper, points out, World 3 is to some extent autonomous. Man invented the natural numbers 1, 2, 3 etc., but he did not decide that the sequence of numbers should contain an irregular number of prime numbers nor that every even number should be the sum of two primes. Similarly a theory often contains within itself implications that were unintended by its author. A theory, as it were, generates its own sub-theories.

Nevertheless, Popper has to justify his pluralism against conventional monist theories such as the one that mental events are brain processes which would take place anyway whether conscious or not. This implies that the fact of their being conscious has no material effect. Popper's argument is in essence an evolutionary one and this is what makes the footnotes-to-Plato school look a bit silly. For 'centuries philosophers laboured under what H. G. Wells called `that fantastically precise misconception' that the world had been created quite suddenly in the year 4004 B.C. (although it
was uncertain whether in the spring or the autumn of that year). Plato's misconception would have been less precise; but he would not have taken into account a world without life. We with our vastly wider horizon have to consider the advantages of each change, in particular the change from unconscious life to consciousness.

The biological function of World 2, in Popper's view, lies in its ability to 'produce theories and conscious anticipations of impending events' and to grasp World 3. That is, the biological function of conscious minds (as opposed to unconscious brain processes) is to seek, select, interpret, and understand the ideas first formed in other people's minds and then by some means made publicly
available, and to add to them. It is the main biological function of World 3 to make it possible for these ideas to be rejected - `to let our theories die in our stead' (S. B. 138).

Language made it possible for World 2 ideas to be externalised, made objective, and thus shared, built on, and criticised. We have already seen how knowledge grows by criticism. You cannot criticise an idea in somebody else's mind until it has been transformed from a mental event (World 2) into a public World 3 object, by being spoken or written down. It is not even very easy to criticise an idea in one's own mind, as most of us discover when we come to explain to somebody else or to defend what, up to that moment, had seemed to be a good idea. As Popper says: `the very small difference between thinking (in the sense of acting on the assumption) "today is Saturday" and saying "today is Saturday" makes a tremendous difference from the point of view of the possibility of criticism' (S.B. 451). In the long run, therefore, the biological advantage of consciousness is that it makes possible the cumulative growth of knowledge.

The two groups of psychological theory which have had the greatest impact on human thought in this century (and form the subjects of Chapters 5 and 6) tend to discount the importance of consciousness, assuming almost that `the true mind of man is in the unconscious, as if man were most absent-minded when he is most attentive', as Arthur Little put it. Because they discount consciousness, they necessarily ignore the question of its function, and of the biological advantage conferred by it. The importance of Popper's World 3 concept is that it draws attention to this major
power in our lives that popular psychologies leave totally out of account, the stuff that consciousness works on.

A few bacteria inoculated into a suitable culture medium may increase in numbers to 3 or 400 million organisms per millilitre of medium in some twelve hours. After a further forty-eight hours they may all be dead, having used up all the nourishment and poisoned their own environment. In the absence of periodic wars and pestilences the same sort of fate may threaten the human race. Bacteria can respond only to `routine' stimuli; but our consciousness and ability to theorize offer at least a hope that we may escape the otherwise inevitable. Toynbee stressed that it was our ability to learn from history that might prevent our civilization from going the way of its predecessors; but in more precise, Popperian terms, this ability to learn from history is an aspect of our ability to `grasp World 3'. It
depends on the reality of Worlds 2 and 3.

In The Self and Its Brain (p. 549) Popper gives what amounts to a proof that World 1, the material world, cannot be all that there is, that no material object could achieve what the mind does achieve. He uses Euclid's proof that the series of prime numbers is infinite and shows how such a proof must belong solely to Worlds 2 and 3, essentially because you cannot make a material model of infinity.
I end this chapter, in a parallel vein, with a kind of mathematical demonstration both of the superiority of conscious reasoning over unconscious, genetic, programming, and of the importance of institutions. It amounts also to a refutation of what some ethologists are always telling us, if not in so many words, that we should do what chimpanzees do. It comes from Richard Dawkins's most important book The Selfish Gene. His dominating theme is that natural selection operates at the level of the gene (or at any rate a short section of DNA) rather than on, the individual, group, or species, because the gene is the thing that is replicated. `This is not a theory; it is not even an observed fact; it is a tautology', he says. It amounts to saying that what survives best survives best.

Dawkins combines this idea with the concept, invented by Professor John Maynard Smith, of evolutionary stable strategy (ESS), which is best explained by the simplest example Dawkins quotes. He supposes an animal which inherits a tendency to behave either as a `hawk' or a `dove'. When an asset such as a piece of territory or a female is in dispute, a `hawk' will attack, retreating only if seriously hurt, while a `dove' will stand and stare, never hurting his opponent and, if attacked, he will retreat before he himself is hurt. Maynard Smith allots scores, pay-offs, for each kind of confrontation, based on an assessment of the numbers of the animals' genes- that are likely to survive (in itself and its relatives). Winning a fight scores +50 and serious injury costs - 100. There is also a cost, - 10, for wasting time, trying to stare out the opponent (which, for example for a small bird in a cold climate, might be lethal to itself or its offspring waiting to be fed). A dove that wins therefore scores 40 (+50 -10). Now if all are doves there is an unstable situation, because one mutant or invading hawk has a huge initial advantage. Hawk genes then spread rapidly at first until there is a good chance of any one hawk having to fight another. Similar considerations apply to all-hawk populations, because a lone dove, although he scores zero in any encounter, does much better than the average hawk who loses one to every one that he wins (his average score is a half of +50 -100 = -25). Maynard Smith's idea is that a stable population in respect of this one characteristic will ultimately evolve. Simple arithmetic shows that it will have 7 hawks to every 5 doves (on these scores). In such an ESS the average pay-off per confrontation is 614.

The important thing is that this pay-off is less than the average score (15) which would be obtained by an, albeit unstable, all-dove population. Thus the blind, unconscious forces achieve a stability which is by no means the best of all possible worlds. Conscious calculation can arrive at a better solution and all that is needed is an institution to enforce it, namely the outlawing of hawkishness. Interestingly enough, it can even tolerate a little law-breaking. For an occasional outburst of hawkishness results in an even better average score, 163 for one hawk to every 5 doves!

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