On the reality of three worlds
'A plea in favor of and a revision of Poppers Three-worlds-theory'
dissertation by Eite P. Veening, defended on thursday 10 december 1998
at 14.45 p.m. at Groningen
Promotores: prof. dr. Th.A.F. Kuipers & prof. dr. L.W. Nauta
This book is an attempt to present a coherent and relevant reconstruction, expansion and revision of Karl Popper's Three-World-Theory
(abbreviated to 3Wt). This theory is part of Popper's (rare) metaphysical work; he developed it in the sixties and he referred to it in a
number of his later publications.
Most commentaries on this 3Wt were very critical and in fact rejected the theory as such, but I argue that this judgement has been too
premature and that a 3Wt, when adjusted and expanded, is a potentially useful and relevant theory for philosophy and the sciences.
The theory states that there are three worlds, which are called by Popper World 1, World 2 and World 3 (my abbreviation: W1, W2 and W3).
Each of the three worlds contains specific 'entities'. The most obvious kinds of entities in W1 are material objects, in W2 experiences and in
W3 concepts. Popper's 3Wt states that these three worlds and their entities can never be reduced to each other, nor can the dynamics
of one world be completely explained from the dynamics of another world. So there is no 'ontological hierarchy' between the three worlds
and this means that monism and dualism are incomplete and wrong metaphysical theories because they are too reductive, and it also
means that 'triadism' is a more adequate metaphysical theory.
Part I of the book starts with an Introduction in which I attempt to demonstrate that the core questions and answers of philosophy
(and of common thinking) can be formulated in terms of this 3Wt or can be related to it. Whenever we think, we think about 'things'
and/or 'experiences' and/or 'concepts' and about the relations between the three. There is nothing that we can think of that is not a
part or about a part of one of these three worlds (or about their relations). Scientists try to find the 'fitting' concepts (W3-entities)
for the field of 'things' (W1-entities) and for the field of experiences (W2-entities) and so one could say that the purpose of science
is to find the best possible W3-entities for both W1 and W2-entities -and for W3-entities too. Philosophy itself is an important part of W3;
that part which is about W3-entities.
It is obvious that these entities and worlds are related and that these relations can be very complex.
This complexity and relatedness is also obvious from the common fact that we can be uncertain about the relationship between what we
think and what we experience and what is there ('given') in W1; we can make many mistakes in our theories and observations.
So, this introduction of the book states, following Popper's 3Wt, there are three kinds of entities and there are relations between these three
kinds of entities and all our questions and answers concern these entities and/or their relations.
After the Introduction the book continues with a presentation of Popper's theory as described in ten primary sources: books and articles
from 1967 to 1993. On the basis of citations it is shown how Popper defined the contents of the three worlds and their relations:
according to Popper the three worlds are all equally 'real' and existing (and of course the same goes for all entities in these worlds) and
they are related in a number of ways. W1 and W2 interact with each other and W2 and W3 interact with each other, but W1 and W3 are
only related by mediation of W2.
The next chapter of the book presents a first and introductory sketch of some of the issues at stake: What is a world? Worlds are presented
here as more or less coherent and related complexes of entities. What do we mean when we use the words 'being' and 'reality'?
Usually these words are interchangable. And: what is the impact of 'believing in' three worlds and why is the 3Wt an important issue?
Some of the relevance is presented preliminary in this chapter, e.g. from a 3Wt-point of view the question can no longer be
just 'to be or not to be' but will always be 'to be or not to be in which of the three worlds', and this makes a difference.
From the 3Wt it is possible to conclude that there might not be an all-embracing structure that applies to all three worlds, which means
that there is no necessary harmony in 'the universe as a whole'. Realising this, we can see how many enigmas and problems may have
their roots in the partial disharmony or non-isomorfism between the 3 worlds.
The chapter also contains a reflection on theories in general and on their 'claims'. There are three possible versions of each theory:
a 'weak' (i.c. heuristic) version, a 'middle' (i.c. epistemic) version and a 'strong' (i.c. ontic) version.
The strongest version of the 3Wt can be formulated as follows: 'There are three essentially different worlds (no more and no
less than three) and they contain related entities; some of these entities are related to and interact with entities from their own
world and with entities from other worlds; these three worlds together contain all (possible and real) entities and these entities
are all equally real in their 'own' world; there is not anything and there cannot be anything that does not exist in one of these worlds'.
Part II of the book presents the major adjustments to Popper's 3Wt and expansions thereof. The first chapter presents a number
of distinctions that I consider essential for a relevant 3Wt and this leads to my formulation of a 3Wt-R, a Revised version of Popper's 3Wt.
Because it is obvious that parts of worlds are 'about' and therefore related to specific parts (or sub-worlds) of other worlds, I introduce
the use of compound notations, thus I call that part of W2 that is about W1 (i.c. observations of things etc.) 'W2.1' and that part of
W3 that is about W2 (i.c. psychological concepts and theories) 'W3.2' and therefor that part of W1 that is about W1 (photographs and
descriptions of things etc.) 'W1.1', and so on. Because of the fact that every sub-world is a collection of related entities, it is possible
to give every possible entity its specific 'sub-worldly' notation. E.g.: a concept about an observation or a remembrance of a thing is
a 'W3.2.1-entity' or a e3.2.1 etc.
We know of relations and connections between entities in different worlds. So we could ask ourselves how (in what way) a
W1-entity is connected to its counterpart or so-called 'pendant entity' in W2.1. Is it 'mirrored', for instance? The 3Wt theory
gives us the opportunity to rephrase a number of common philosophical and scientific questions and answers about 'the world'
and about 'being and appearance'.
It is true, of course, that there are many entities (in each of the three worlds) that have no pendant entity in any other world.
I call them 'solo-entities'. Accordingly, we know of 'bi-entities' (with a pendant entity in only one other world). Finally, we are
very familiar with 'tri-entities' (often referred to as the standard or 'normal' entities) with pendant entities in two other worlds;
the three related and pendant entities are the thing 'as such' as one entity in W1, our observation of that thing as its pendant
entity in W2 and our concept or 'universal' as the third entity in W3.
We are familiar with the fact that there is a connection between entities and in some cases this connection will be weak and in
other cases it will be strong. To distinguish between weak and strong connections, I introduce the 'connection coëfficient' C,
which has a value between zero (absent) and 1 (as strong as possible) and this C is relevant for bi- and tri-entities and for other
kinds of relations and connections as well. Considering the fact that some entities are as such 'about' specific other entities or
about a relationship between entities, I introduce 'meta-entities' and a specific notation for these meta-entities, so that, for
instance, a concept about perceptions of a thing is a (e2.1)3 .
Then I discuss an important issue that has been ignored untill now: language; where in the 3Wt does it belong? I conclude that
words, written or spoken, are W1-entities, because they are either sounds or signs ('tokens'). Since they are connected to
entities in all three worlds (their 'types'), it is obvious that words are 'meta-entities par excellence' and this goes for statements
as well. It is a well-known fact that very often one word can refer to a W1-entity as well as a (pendant) W2-entity as well as a
(pendant) W3-entity. This is an important source for many misunderstandings, but also for creative insights: metaphors are based on it.
In the second chapter of part II (chapter 4) human existence is described by distinguishing between 'worlds' and 'live-worlds'
(or habitats) in the three worlds. I call these habitats H1 and H2 and H3, dependent on which worlds they are a part of.
It will be obvious that we are able to reside and dwell in parts of all three worlds and that we can travel and get lost in all of
them and that parts of the worlds are more or less familiar and 'present' to us. The idea of living in different 'life-worlds' can
be a powerful tool for analysing existential questions and dynamics. People and societies inhabit and live in their H-'regions'
in each of the three worlds and these regions are more or less 'paradigmatic' and specific in all three worlds for its inhabitants.
Many conflicts between people are about their presumed 'rights and duties' to stay in certain regions in one or more of these
worlds, or about someone's refusal to do so (as in the cases where people try to set up a 'counter culture'.)
In part III of the book the critical reception of Popper's 3Wt is discussed and the position of the 3Wt in the tradition of Western
philosophy. In the introduction I distinguish between the various kinds of criticism and their potential impact: there is 'primary criticism',
which is aimed at the central ideas of a theory; there is 'secundary criticism' which is aimed at a specific version of a theory and
finally there is 'tertiary criticism' which is aimed at a specific textual representation of the theory. Only the first kind of criticism is
considered relevant for the acceptability of the 3Wt; the other two are only relevant if they can be translated to a kind of primary criticism.
Another question is: how and on which grounds can we criticise a metaphysical theory?
There may be three strategies:
1) a theory is supposed to be wrong when it is inconsistent,
2) a theory is supposed to be wrong when there are too many anomalies and
3) a theory is supposed to be irrelevant when it is superfluous. In this part of the book I deal with the most relevant commentaries and (primary)
criticisms of the 3Wt. In most commentaries on Popper's theory World 3 is considered to be superfluous, because its contents are seen
as a 'function' of W2. My objection to this argument is basically that even if entities in W3 can be considered in some ways as a function
of entities in W2, they can still form a real world because they cannot be ignored as W3-entities. In most commentaries, the difference
between my W2.3 and W3 is ignored.
Chapter 6 presents some support for the 3Wt from the tradition of Western philosophy. Popper himself found inspiration for his 3Wt in
for instance Plato and Frege and we can find arguments in other philosophers that are in some way analoguous to Popper's.
Therefore this chapter consists of a number of remarks on Plato, the Stoa, medieval philosophy, Hegel, Bolzano, Peirce, Frege,
Husserl and even Russell and Carnap.
The next step in my argument is presented in part IV which contains an effort to present a fairly systematic and sub-complete version
of the 3Wt-R. Chapter 7 presents the 3Wt-R as a philosophical theory and a coherent conceptual framework for many issues in and
outside philosophy. The presentation is not complete, because it could be expanded in several ways, for instance on the issues of the
complicated questions of the relations and 'interactions' between entities from different worlds. This incompleteness is, among other
things, the inevitable result of a lack of adequate concepts: we have not yet been able to find and explore 'the proper place in W3'
for an adequate analysis and representation of what goes on between the worlds -which is a 3Wt-way of saying that we just don't
know what to make of it....
The remaining chapters of the present book are intended to give further evidence for the 'power' and usefulness of this 3Wt-R.
Part V contains four chapters in which I try to demonstrate this relevance and present some directions for further research.
Chapter 8 is about some historic and recent discussions on 'realism'. First I deal with the historic issues of Realism vs Nominalism or
Realism vs Idealism and then I focus on some of the actual discussion by Putnam, Dummett, Goodman ('irrealism') and other recent
thinkers. In this chapter I try to show how these recent discussions could change when the 3Wt-R would be applied to them.
Chapter 9 is about the famous Mind-Body-problem. Following the argument from earlier chapters I conclude that we should stop
talking about a MBP; there are patterns and puzzles here, but there is no problem, because mind and body belong to different
worlds and their relation is always an open one. Besides, we seem to lack the concepts for a better understanding of this issue.
It is argued that we should look for piece-meal theories on the connections between specific mind- and specific body-entities.
Chapter 10 is about a number of issues on the quality of (human) life from a 3Wt-R-viewpoint. There are subchapters on ethics
and human rights (in all three worlds), rights of non-humans, psychiatric issues, artificial experiences, gender-issues (for instance:
how can a person have a male body and a female mind?), memes (which can be seen as intentional entities in W3), 'health' and
well-being (in three worlds), practices (for H1 the doctor, for H2 the psychologist and for H3 the philosophical consultant) and
post-modernism (seen as the acceptance of the possibility or the necessity to live a nomadic life, especially in W3).
Chapter 11 contains small paragraphs on a large number of subjects; it was written solely to demonstrate the potential usefulness
of the 3Wt(-R). I use some ideas of Descartes, Spinoza, Rorty, Feigl, Wittgenstein, God, Truth, ET's, parapsychology, Malebranche,
Pirsig, Tarski and many more to prove this.
The final chapter formulates a number of conclusions. Once again I deal with the question (and now for the last time): why three worlds?
The arguments from earlier chapters are summarized and then the conclusion is unavoidably that there are these three worlds;
no more and no less. And even though many words (‘tokens') seem to suggest that most entities belong to all worlds, because
we often use the same word for the three related but substantially different entities, we should realize that all entities are entities
of just one world and that there is no entity that doesn't belong to a world or that belongs to more than one world.