Sir Karl Popper is a man of true grit. A veritable Rooster Cogburn of the philosophical badlands he has been tireless in pursuit of enemies of the open society and he has gunned down some of the most ruthless and desperate historicists of all times.
While Hitler controlled Europe, Popper shifted from Vienna and holed up in New Zealand. After the war he returned to England and frequented a low dive called the London School of Economics. Bryan Magee is writing a book on Popper for the Fontana Modern Masters and it is anticipated that John Wayne will play the lead in the film version.
Our story begins at London airport where Bazza McKenzie is met by a reporter.
Bazza. Stone the lizards, it cold over here. I can't wait to get stuck into some of that warm Pommy beer.
Reporter. Mr McKenzie, I understand that you are coming over to work on a paper with Sir Karl Popper, then you have to dash back to Sydney in time for the football finals.
Bazza. You should have seen us after the grand final last year. Talk about chunder down under!
Reporter. How do you think you will get on?
Bazza. We might not make the grand final this year but we'll get pissed just the same.
Reporter. Will you catch up with Lakatos while you are here?
Bazza. Who does he play for? Say, I wouldn't mind featuring with that jam tart....Lets get down to the rubbidy instead.
~In the Pub~
Reporter. How well regarded is Popper in Sydney these days?
Reporter. Apparently he is ignored by the Right and misrepresented by the Left.
Bazza. This beer is better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick!
Reporter. I am told that his theory of knowledge forms a non-authoritarian and open ended synthesis between British Empiricism and Continental Rationalism.
Bazza. Talking about the Continent, you should have seen us at the Munich beer festival last year!
Reporter. Popper's achievements are supposed to extend beyond philosophy into a range of disciplines
Bazza. Don't come the raw prawn with me, mate! Are you trying to crack onto me or what?
Reporter. Mr Mackenzie there seems to be some mistake. Are you Dr Harry McKenzie, the philosopher from the University of Sydney?
Bazza. You must be talking about my poofter brother. He took a different flight.
Reporter. I am supposed to take him to lunch with Sir Karl.
Bazza. Well cheer up, as long as the keg lasts I'll stick around to help you out. Just hang on while I splash my boots.
Reporter. What was that?
Bazza. I just need to point Percy at the porcelain. Jeez, that beer has agitated the old gut, I may not make it to the snake's house. Look out!!!!
~At the Club~
Reporter. Here we are Sir Karl. Mr McKenzie had a rather rough trip and he might not be on his best form today.
Bazza. Had a technicolour yawn on the way over but now I've got a thirst you could flamin' photograph.
Reporter. There is a table booked for four people.
Bazza. Why is that old geezer coming after us?
Sir Karl. He is just wanting to take your hat and coat.
Bazza. Oh well, He just looks a bit odd in that monkey jacket.
Sir Karl. Are you in England for long Mr Mackenzie?.
Bazza. Jeez this is a fancy carpet. Must be a fair cow to clean up after the boys have been through after the footie.
Reporter. Mr McKenzie, a word in your ear. What if you just drink and don't bother about talking at lunch?
Bazza. Chug-a-lug, I'll be in that mate. Don't know why you guys bother with all that stuff anyway.
Reporter. As Lord Halifax used to say, the struggle for knowledge has a pleasure in it like that of wrestling with a fine woman.
Bazza. Give me a jam tart any day. Can't wait to get down to Earl's Court to see if there's any decent sheilas around.
Reporter. Sir Karl, you spent many years as Professor of Logic and Scientific Method but you did not restrict yourself to those topics.
Sir Karl. I want to learn something about the riddle of the world in which we live, the riddle of man's knowledge of that world. And I believe that only a revival of interest in these riddles can save the sciences and philosophy from narrow specialisation and from an obscurantist faith in the expert's special skill.
Reporter. So over-specialisation results in the worship of the expert, especially the scientific expert?
Sir Karl. I suggest that much confusion is due to the tendency of attributing to Science (with a capital S) a kind of omniscience and I suggest that this theological view of science ought to be replaced by a more humanistic view, by the realization that science is the work of ordinary humans, groping their way in the dark.
Bazza. HEY! You call this a drink?
Reporter. What's the matter, it is just a rather nice dry red.
Bazza. Dry red?! You mean all the beer and sweet sherry are gone. Jeez, you have to be really pissed before you start on the dry red!
Reporter. Sir Karl, you reject the materialist theory of the mind. Don't you think this is an unlikely position for a humanist to adopt?
Sir Karl. Without taking the words "world" or "universe" too seriously, we may distinguish three worlds or universes: first the world of physical objects, secondly the world of states of consciousness, or mental states, and thirdly, the world of objective contents of thought, especially of scientific and poetic thoughts and works of art. Further, I suggest that the traditional epistemology, of Locke, Berkely, Hume and Russell, is irrelevant, in a pretty strict sense of the word. Classical epistemology, which takes our sense perceptions as "given", as the "data" from which our theories have to be constructed by some process of induction, can only be described as pre-Darwinian.
Reporter. Where does language fit into your "three world" picture.
Sir Karl. In so far as language consists of physical actions it belongs to the first world. In so far as it expresses a subjective or psychological state it belongs to the second world. And in so far as language contains information it belongs to the third world.
Enter Dr Harry McKenzie, philosopher and seldom-mentioned brother of Barry.
Bazza. Hi Harry, you old bastard, you finally made it to the Old Dart.
Harry. God help us, who let you in here?
Bazza. Well I met this pommy at the airport and he invited me to lunch. What if we shoot through to the Court, if I don't demolish a few ice colds soon I'll really go crook.
Reporter. We were talking about language and I was just about to ask Sir Karl about Wittgenstein.
Sir Karl. There are those who feel the urge to solve a problem, those for whom a problem becomes real, like a disorder that they have to get out of their system. But there are others who are luring philosophy into a bog of pseudo-problems and verbal puzzles; either by offering us pseudo-problems for real ones (the danger which Wittgenstein saw) or by persuading us to concentrate upon the task of unmasking pseudo-problems or "puzzles" (the trap into which Wittgenstein fell).
Reporter. I want to go back to the danger of Science with a capital S. A lot of people are afraid that science offers us nothing but a mechanical picture of the world, with no place for the imagination or the rich fabric of myth which is the lifeblood of literature, art and culture at large.
Sir Karl. Science, after all, is a branch of literature. And what we call "science" is differentiated from the older myths not by being something distinct from a myth, but by being accompanied by a second-order tradition that of critically discussing the myth. Scientific theories are not just the results of observations, they are, in the main, the products of myth making and of tests. And so science grows by a method far more revolutionary than accumulation.
Reporter. So science uses myths after all. But what does science have to say about traditions, values, purposes, and aims? To what extent can sociology, history and psychology be called sciences?
Harry. The division between the natural and the social sciences is bullshit.
Bazza. Talking about bullshit, when are you bastards going to stop all this talk and get stuck into some tucker.
Reporter. When he comes back I had better take him away.
Bazza. Fair crack of the whip. Here I am bursting to water the horses and none of these stuck-up bastards will tell me the way to the utensil. If I don't get to the snakes house soon I'll have to flash my nasty in the corner and point Percy at the carpet.
Harry. Just ask the waiter to show you the way to the Gentlemans.
Bazza. Damn the gentlemans, any tin shed will do me at the moment. Stone the crows, look at all these poofters in their monkey jackets, is it a wedding or a funeral or what? Cripes, I could do with a liquid laugh, I never should have got into that red stuff without some prawn patties or a floater in the old Ned Kelly. Stand back!!!!!!!!!!!
By Rafe Champion. Originally published in Honi Soit at the Uni of Sydney, 1971. A small prize (a dozen frosties) was offered for the first person to identify the source of the Popper quotes. This has not yet been claimed. Relatives of Popper and his research assistants are not eligible to enter the competition.