Popper’s Three Worlds and Meaning/Meta-Rationality

This post is a short response to Christofer Lovegren’s podcast episode 28.1: Meaning and Meta-Rationality. Had Christofer invoked Popper’s 3 worlds, he could have discovered that Jake Orthwein’s views aren’t truly at odds with Popper’s epistemology. (At least not in the first interview…)

Take the example of a cup that Jake raised in the interview. When Jake makes the claim that a cup doesn’t fully exist in the physical world, Christofer thinks there is a disagreement because he (Christofer) is a realist and thus he believes things exist in the “real world.” If the cup doesn’t “fully exist in the physical world,” Christofer reasons that Jake must be an instrumentalist instead of a realist and that they are disagreeing.

What Jake is actually saying is that the physical particles that make up the cup fully exist in Popper’s world 1 (the physical world). But that your understanding of the concept of a “cup” entirely in World 2 (knowledge in the mind), that is to say, in your mind. Think of it this way: if every living person in the universe disappeared tomorrow, is a cup still a cup? Or is it just a group of particles? Isn’t, even for a Popperian (I’d even say especially for a Popperian!), part of what makes it a “cup” the knowledge in your mind about how the conventions of a cup make it useful for drinking?

The view that Jake is expressing isn’t at odd with Popper’s realism. Indeed, Christofer is mistaking “the real world” for “the physical world.” The “real world” of Popper’s realism are Worlds 1, 2, and 3 combined–not just the physical world (i.e. World 1.) So Jake’s views can be fully subsumed in Popper’s realism without a problem.

Jake’s view is that a cup is at once both a physical construct in World 1 and a mental construct in World 2. He is correct. This was the necessary piece of knowledge that would have allowed Christofer and Jake to find common ground and to realize that Jake’s views are at least consistent with Popper’s epistemology.

Incidentally, when you grab a cup and use it to hold down a piece of paper so that it doesn’t blow away, you are for that moment conceptually using it as a ‘paper weight’ instead of a ‘cup.’ Whether that group of particles is a ‘cup’ or a ‘paper weight’ is deeply tied up into the state of your mind (world 2.) None of this is particularly mysterious. In Popper’s epistemology, World 2 interacts with World 1 but they aren’t the same world.

However, I think we’re not quite done yet.

Here is what I think Christofer was really trying to get at: that a cup is in some sense a cup even if all humans die out. Why? Because a cup has a certain shape that contains knowledge and is that knowledge is part of World 3, which is the world of objective knowledge. Since world 2 and world 3 can also interact it should be possible for alien minds to recreate the world 2 knowledge of a cup out of a world 1 object that is shaped in a way that demonstrates world 3 objective knowledge. This is what is missing from Orthwein’s philosophy that Popper’s contains.

Example: Let’s say aliens showed up after all humans went extinct and found this cup. Would they recognize it as a cup or would it just be a group of particles indistinguishable from a rock? My guess is that they’d recognize it as a cup (perhaps after doing some archeology to understand humans better.) Why? Because the cup’s shape contains the necessary objective knowledge in world 3 to allow them to regain the knowledge of what a world 2 concept of a cup is.

My view then is that while Jake’s philosophy is compatible with Popper’s epistemology in that it recognizes worlds 1 and 2 and how they differ, but Jake’s philosophy is missing a part of Popper’s epistemology because it lacks an understanding of world 3.

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