Home       E-mail Dutch     English

A lecture on 'life-worlds'

3 Worlds and 3 Life-worlds

In this lecture I will present an elaboration of Popper's 3Wt in a probably unexpected direction: the direction of phenomenology and existential analysis. This may lead to new ways of thinking about and conceptualizing psychosocial issues and practices in care.
My ambitions here and now are rather modest; in this short lecture I can only present a sketch with a few outlines and a few dots of color.

As you will probably all know: Popper developed his 3Wt in a number of publications over the years. This 3Wt is in my opinion an often neglected and certainly underestimated part of his philosophy. I will give you a short version of this theory: It argues that there are 3 worlds: there is a substantially homogeneous complex of connected matter-energy entities, World 1, there is an equally substantially homogeneous complex of mental entities, World 2, and finally there is an equally substantially homogeneous complex of conceptual or abstract entities, World 3.
These worlds are fundamentally different from each other and in a way autonomous; they do not form one big harmonious complex. They are connected, related, but that is another very complex subject.

I wrote a dissertation on Poppers' 3Wt with some elaborations of my own, and here I present only one of them: it is a proposal to connect this 3Wt as Popper has presented it with the concept of the 'life-world' or 'Lebenswelt', as we find it in Husserls late philosophy. As you will probably know: Husserl used this concept to refer to the Gestalt, to the whole of that part of the world that we live in, the whole of the part that we find ourselves in, as a human being.
This connection between Popper and Husserl leads us to this: what if there are not just three different Worlds, but also, as parts of, or as regions in these worlds, three diffenrent lifeworlds or Habitats?

I will use the W as an abbreviation for World and H for life-world or Habitat. So: people live in 3 life-worlds, 3 habitats.
We all live in (and we are all part of) W1 and that part is H1, we all live in (and are part of) W2 and that part is H2 in which we experience H1; we all live in (and are part of) W3 and that part is H3 in which we try to understand and analyze H1 and H2 as well as H3.
To be honest to Husserls definition of the life-world: he referred to what I would call W2.1; our experiences of the concrete world1.

Some questions may arise right now.
First: is each of these 3 worlds larger than each of the 3 human Habitats?
Or is this only the obvious case in W1, where there are so many locations where no one lives: under the ground, in the sea, in the sky, on the planet Jupiter?
A second question: animals certainly live in parts of W2; do they have a H2 of their own that is not our H2? This may lead us to an answer to the first question, by the way: W2 is most probably larger than our human H2. Are these animal habitats nevertheless anything like ours? In which ways?
Remember Nagels famous article: What is it like to be a bat? Even worse: What is it like to be a bee?
A third question: is there any animal that lives in W3 and therefor has a H3? If there are aliens out there; will they live in a H3 of their own? Different from ours? Completely different?
In my opinion it is one of the beautiful qualities of Poppers 3Wt that is has the potential to raise fundamental questions in a new way…

As a matter of fact: I am talking about 2 kinds of these 3 life worlds. It is obvious that people all over the world live under different circumstances and have different beliefs; so of course there are individual and there are collective or social life worlds.
So there are 3 Worlds, there are 3 collections of collective Habitats and in these collective Habitats numerous individual Habitats.

To be more specific: I am Dutch and we Dutch people share our common collective habitat-1 near the North-Sea which is of course different from the Austrian habitat-1 here, close to the Alps and far from any sea.
We Dutch share some beliefs and concepts (collective habitats-3) that we probably share more with each other than with non-Dutch people. We Dutch share some feelings and emotions; I had great difficulty to make my Australian brother-in-law to understand our concept of 'gezelligheid', which is close to but not quite the same as the German concept of 'Geselligkeit' oder 'Gemutlichkeit'.
So there is a 'collective Dutch habitat' in every world and likewise it is possible to find other relevant sociological distinctions in these life-worlds: academic life-worlds, the H's of the Rich and Famous.

At first it may seem that there are 'human' life-worlds that apply to all of our species. But at a closer look you might ask if this is true or that human life-worlds are always fundamentally sex-specific.
This seems obvious for H1 (the male or female body) but what about H2 (the gendered mind)? I think we have good reasons to think so; the transsexual person is a living proof of this. They 'have' a male body and they 'have' a female mind, or the other way round.
They are so much at home in a body that does not fit with their mind. I think the transsexual person forms an underestimated concrete and 'lived' source for thought about the philosophical minefields of the Mind-Body-problem.
But aside from these sociological aspects: you and me; we all live in 3 very individual habitats: I live in my own body, my very specific individual location in H1, I have my personal and private thoughts, my opinions; opinions towards which I have my very personal propositional attitude. You will never be in exactly the same place as where I am and this is probably true for all 3 worlds.

By the way: along these lines of thinking we find two meanings of the concept of subjectivity. One can be named H-subjectivity, the subjectivity of living in personal or social life worlds; the other is the common W2-subjectivity as Popper presented it; the subjectivity of being mental, of experiencing.

It is obvious that we live in various ways in our 3 habitats and this is where we start to use this combination of Poppers' and Husserls' idea. The common descriptions of ways of being in W1 can be translated to ways of being in W2 and in W3.
For instance: we are 'at home' in certain locations in W1 or we can 'travel' and stay at another location for a while. This is obvious true for W1 but I suggest that we use these descriptions in W2 and W3 as well. We may move and even migrate; this is well-known in W1 and it concerns a change in H1, but why not think in terms of moving and migrating in W2 and W3? We can 'get lost' in W1 but also in W2 and W3. I work in a psychiatric hospital and many patients there live in a hostile and strange location in H2 and cannot escape from it.
And some people are really lost in H3 and have no idea how they can find a 'home' there.

I think that for every person every entity in all three life-worlds has a location with a degree of 'nearness', of 'homeliness'. We are bound to most of our body and to most of our mind as well; whether we like it or not. But a great deal of this living in the 3 Habitats is a dynamic process; at least for most of us. Although: some people seem to stay put in the same locations in their 3 H's for their whole life.

There is, of course, a very strong historic aspect to this dynamism of moving and staying: when I was young my homeplace in the 3 H's was different from now when I am, say, middle-aged.
Even people living very far from New York said that after 11 September 2001 'the world has changed' and by saying this they referred especially to the changes in their H2 and H3 and seldom about their H1. (But this does of course not apply to those living in New York and in Afghanistan).

There are areas where people used to live but most of them have left. This certainly applies to H3 with places where people were at home centuries ago but not now; these are the opinions and theories no one believes in any more.
Also there is this common experience of losing a certain quality, a freshness in living and feeling of our youth or of our first love: parts of H2 that had this very special quality that we can never return to.

By now it will be obvious: there is something like a positional quality in the three life-worlds. Probably all parts of the 3 worlds have a certain H-quality or a potential to be part of a human life-world. As we all know: the planets Venus and Mars are certainly part of W1 but not yet of anyone's H1; at least as long as we haven't found any alien over there.
Some parts of all 3 worlds are well known and some are only known to a few people: who is at home in the Sahara? Who is at home in that part of H3 where the proof of Fermat's theorem was found?
Who is at home where philosophers dwell?
Who has been at that place where you feel completely saved and experience a glorious cosmic Love?

To develop this idea of quality I suggest that we discriminate 2 scales, 2 kinds of quality and I think that these are the most essential for the existential position of people in their worlds.
This is about homeliness, of course. There may be alternatives, but these seem to me to be the best.
One is the scale of familiarity; from very well known (value 10) to completely un-known and strange (value –10). The other is the scale of safety; from feeling very safe (10) to very unsafe and dangerous (-10). These two can be combined to a matrix.

The possibilities are numerous; in all 3 H's. For all 3 H's we can find a location in this matrix for every entity for every person or community. Being at home: high familiarity, high safety. Getting lost: low familiarity, low safety, even fear: it is obvious in this matrix.
Any thing, any feeling, any opinion: most people will give them their own personal location in this matrix.

Some re-definitions are possible now: Human suffering can be seen and presented as suffering from being located in a specific way in one or more of the 3 Habitats. The medical professions are concerned with these sufferings in H1 and H2: the sufferings from the body and the sufferings from the mind; as I mentioned earlier: psychiatry is the science of the uninhabitable regions in H2. Consider the sufferings of a fugitive.
Empathy is essential in human contacts and in the helping professions. Empathy towards people can be seen and presented as grasping their position, their location in all 3 H's and the quality of these locations for them. Just be aware that people live in 3 worlds and that empathy is a 3-way road!
The recent issue of Globalism can now be seen and presented as the growing collective familiar and 'safe' part of all 3 H's.
The recent issue of Pluralism can now be seen and presented as the acceptance of different H's for different people and the absence of a privileged part of H2 and H3. The opposite is still common, of course: people who think that their locations in H2 and H3 are the only possible or the only legitimate. That is sectarism… Along these lines many things can be rephrased.

But although people do live in 3 separate life-worlds; it is impossible to ignore the connections between entities in H's. It is obvious that some combinations do fit better together than other combinations. I suggest that we consider these relationships as an ecological system. There may be hardly any simple causality between the worlds and between the Life-worlds, but the connections are obvious from our daily experience. Husserls concept of Life-world refers to that kind of unity or connectedness, the Gestalt, ecological system of entities in 3 worlds.
A familiar theme in the social sciences is this: my beliefs or home-locations in H3 are related to my material situation or home-locations in H1; isn't this a basic insight in Marxism?
And it is a familiar theme that my beliefs are related to my phase in life, my psychological development. We have our ideas about maturity in H2 and in H3 as well; there seem to be locations where you should not live at a certain age. And we now how people can get emotionally shaken by losing their religious faith or by leaving certain opinions; H2 and H3 are connected. Again: rephrasing questions and answers from the social sciences!
I think that this kind of ecology is very relevant for for instance psychotherapy and similar professions.

A last aspect of this ecology I am to mention is this: the connections between the material place on earth and how we experience ourselves and more. You may know from your own experience that a large trip can change your life.
The Dutch philosopher Lemaire wrote a book titled 'Philosophy of the landscape', about the connections between being in a landscape and getting used to philosophical ideas; and he illustrates this with the dramatic impact of being in Italy on Nietzsche's thinking.

I come to the end of my talk. Poppers 3Wt, in my opinion, is a fascinating and powerful tool for thought; it is one of my favorite regions in my H3. Many possibilities are as yet insufficiently explored.
One possibility has been presented in these 20 minutes: 3 individual and social life-worlds or Habitats as parts of 3 Worlds. And this is only one of the themes of the 3Wt on which I could elaborate.
I hope to have demonstrated how Popper's 3Wt can be used to clarify and rephrase issues in the psychosocial sciences and their practices. And how it can inspire us philosophers on our (to use Popper's phrase) 'Unended Quest'.

Thank you for your attention.