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12. Karl Popper: Criticism of Materialism and Epiphenomenalism;

the Theory of Three Worlds

Materialism/Epiphenomenalism and Rationality

Karl Popper argued that materialism/epiphenomenalism, though it claims to be rational, makes the idea of rationality devoid of any sense.

Any discussion makes sense only insomuch as we assume that there are arguments, that they may be logically valid or invalid, more or less weighty, and that we are capable to understand arguments and to estimate their validity and weightiness. Materialists/epiphenomenalists believe that their position is rational, that is supported by rational argumentation that is weightier than argumentation of their opponents. However, if materialism/epiphenomenalism is true, this belief has no sense. For from the point of view of materialism all our thoughts are nothing but physical (chemical) structures and processes in our brains, and from the point of view of epiphenomenalism they are but passive by-products of the functioning of the brain. From both points of view, our thoughts and beliefs are entirely determined by the physical structures and processes (that occur automatically according to physical laws) of the brain; so the force of the arguments has absolutely nothing to do with it.

From the point of view of materialism, all the real difference between the materialist and the opponent of materialism is a difference of physical structures and processes in their brains. It is just that in the brain of the materialist there are some specific physical structures (there occur some specific physical processes) that are subjectively perceived as the opinion that materialism is true, that there are arguments in its favour, and that they are weightier than the arguments against it. And in the brain of the opponent of materialism there are somewhat different specific physical structures (specific physical processes) that are subjectively perceived as the opinion that materialism is false, that there are arguments against it, and that they are weightier than the arguments in its favour. And this subjective perception has no influence whatever. The situation is principally the same from the point of view of epiphenomenalism; we need only to replace physical structures and processes in the brain are subjectively perceived as an opinion with physical structures and processes in the brain generate, as a passive by-product, an opinion.

But if it is so, the idea that there are arguments logically valid or invalid, more or less weighty and that we can choose between theories by estimating the weightiness of the arguments pro and contra, is a pure illusion. In fact, all our opinions and thoughts are entirely products of automatic interactions of atoms and other microparticles of our brains according to physical laws. Physical structures and processes cannot be logically correct or incorrect, rationally weighty or weak.

Popper formulates this argument using the term "determinism" (he means physical determinism as a theory that everything in the world is causally predetermined by physical events), that can be replaced by "materialism or epiphenomenalism":

For according to determinism, any theories such as, say, determinism are held because of a certain physical structure of the holder (perhaps of his brain). Accordingly we are deceiving ourselves (and are physically so determined as to deceive ourselves) whenever we believe that there are such things as arguments or reasons which make us accept determinism. Or in other words, physical determinism is a theory, which, if it is true, is not arguable, since it must explain all our reactions, including what appear to us as beliefs based on arguments, as due to purely physical conditions. Purely physical conditions, including our physical environment, make us say or accept whatever we say or accept But this means that if we believe that we have accepted a theory like determinism because we were swayed by the logical force of certain arguments, then we are deceiving ourselves, according to physical determinism; or more precisely, we are in a physical condition which determines us to deceive ourselves.[1]


Conclusion: Materialism, epiphenomenalism, and all other philosophies which try to rescue the causal completeness or self-sufficiency of the physical world are self-defeating in so far as their arguments establish unintentionally, of course, the non-existence of arguments.[2]


The Machine Argument

Let us take a thermometer. As well as any other thing, it reacts in a certain manner on external conditions. A thermometer reacts by some changes of its own states that we interpret as showing the temperature. We need to notice at once, however, that the description of such an event as the thermometers reactions on external conditions may be misleading, because it naturally raises an association with the reaction in the human sense, that is, the conscious reaction. In fact, there is nothing of the sort in the case of a thermometer. A thermometers "reaction" is nothing but changes in physical states of the thermometer caused (according to physics laws) by physical changes in an environment.

There are more complicated devices that may not only show temperature, but write it down. But it is clear that the thermometer, as well as the more complicated device, has no intention to do this and is not aware of what it does it has no consciousness. So, we dont attribute the responsibility for the description to it; we attribute it to its maker. Once we understand this situation, we see that it does not describe, any more than my pen does: like my pen it is only an instrument for describing.[3]

It is important to note that the situation is fundamentally the same for all physical machines, however complicated[4]

We can imagine a machine-computer that can be asked various questions and can answer them. We can even imagine a supercomplicated machine-computer with which it is possible to have a "discussion": when it receives, as an input, our arguments, it generates, as an output, some counterarguments. But can we argue with such a machine in real earnest? We can, but only if we mistakenly take it for a being with consciousness a being that understands the meaning of what we are saying and what it says, and that has the intention to understand and to explain us something. If we understand that it only reacts on an input according to some very complicated program, without any understanding and intention, the discussion will at once lose any serious sense for us. We can, of course, continue the "discussion" for the sake of fun or out of curiosity to know what the answers and arguments are on which the machine is programmed. But we would not try to persuade it on something and would not attribute to it the responsibility for the answers and arguments it generates. We will attribute this responsibility to the author of the program.

No degree of complexity will make a machine different in kind from a thermometer. Just as with a thermometer, all that a machine can do is determined by its physical structure and physics laws. We dont argue with a thermometer.[5] But from the point of view of materialism we are ourselves but very complicated thermometers.

The Higher Functions of Language and Intentionality

Popper has developed Karl Bühler's theory that distinguished three major functions of language expressive, signal, and descriptive. The expressive function consists in that a speech act expresses physical or mental states of a speaker. The signal function consists in that a speech act can influence behaviour of others, serve for them as a signal. The descriptive function consists in that a speech act can describe certain situations, facts, states of things, to make statements about something. (Let us recollect the concept of intentionality, Section 5.) Popper has added to this list the argumentative function: we can state different arguments, adduce reasons for or against a certain idea, theory, decision, etc.

The main functions are divided into the lower (expressive and signal) and the higher (descriptive and argumentative). As statements fulfil the descriptive function, they are characterized as true or false. As statements fulfil the argumentative function, they are characterized as weighty or weak, logically valid or invalid, sound or unsound.

Various changes in physical systems, the modes of behaviour of living beings, can be considered as a language that fulfils the lower functions. For example, the fact that a thermometer shows a certain temperature expresses its physical state (the expressive function) and influences behaviour of people (the signal function). A cry of an animal expresses some its physical and mental state, and can serve as a signal (e.g., for a flight) to other animals. If a fan at a stadium shouts Hurrah!, this expresses her mental state (joy) and can affect behaviour of surrounding people; however, this exclamation does not fulfil the descriptive and argumentative functions, that is, it does not describe any facts or events and does not contain any arguments. It cannot be characterized as true or false (as about the descriptive statement), or as argumentatively weighty or weak. It makes no sense to describe it as true or false, argumentatively weighty or weak.

Popper argued that a purely physical realization of the higher functions of language is impossible. Any theory of language based on materialistic assumptions should neglect all that is characteristic of human language in contradistinction to animal language: its ability to make true and false statements, and to produce valid and invalid arguments.[6]

The reason is the property of meaningful statements we are already familiar with intentionality (aboutness). This does not mean that physical models of the descriptive function are impossible. Such models are possible, but they do not realize the descriptive function completely.

Let us consider the simplest case of a realization of the descriptive function naming: we see some thing or being and we utter its name. A physical model of this process can be a computer connected with a system of light sensors and a loudspeaker, and programmed so that when a cat known as Mike passes before it, the loudspeaker produces the sounds 'm'-'a'-'j'-'k'. This will be a physical model-imitation of the descriptive function. But Popper contended that this will not be a physical realization of the descriptive function. For this, the described physical system (the computer, the light sensors, and the loudspeaker) lacks one "trifle" understanding (awareness) that the succession of states of the physical system (of sounds) that a person comprehends as the word "Mike" is the name of the cat. Realization of the descriptive function is possible only if the physical states and processes are supplemented with their interpretation in this case, the mental state of understanding (awareness) of the meaning of the succession of sounds, for example, when a person who watches the experiment understands that the sounds produced by the loudspeaker mean the name of the cat that has passed in front of the computer.[7]

The Nightmare of Physical Determinism

If materialism/epiphenomenalism is true, then all that occurs in the world and, in particular, with our bodies is either entirely determined by physical causes and laws (this point of view is called physical determinism) or is partially determined by physical causes and laws, and partially is not caused by anything at all, is just fortuitous (indeterminism). Materialism/epiphenomenalism excludes the possibility of any other kind of causality except the physical. Popper describes this as the nightmare of physical determinism:

I have called physical determinism a nightmare. It is a nightmare because it asserts that the whole world with everything in it is a huge automaton, and that we are nothing but little cog-wheels, or at best sun-automata, within it.

It thus destroys, in particular, the idea of creativity. It reduces to a complete illusion the idea that in preparing this lecture I have used my brain to create something new. There was no more in it, according to physical determinism, than that certain parts of my body put down black marks on white paper: any physicist with sufficient detailed information[8] could have written my lecture by the simple method of predicting the precise places on which the physical system consisting of my body (including my brain, of course, and my fingers) and my pen would put down those black marks.

Or to use a more impressive example: if physical determinism is right, then a physicist who is completely deaf and who has never heard any music could write all the symphonies and concertos written by Mozart or Beethoven, by the simple method of studying the precise physical states of their bodies and predicting where they would put down black marks on their lined paper. And our deaf physicist could do even more: by studying Mozarts or Beethoven's bodies with sufficient care he could write scores which were never actually written by Mozart or Beethoven, but which they would have written had certain external circumstances of their lives been different: if they had eaten lamb, say, instead of chicken, or drunk tea instead of coffee.

And this could be done by our deaf physicist if supplied with a sufficient knowledge of purely physical conditions. There would be no need for him know anything about the theory of music though he might be able to predict what answers Mozart or Beethoven would have written down under examination conditions if presented with questions on the theory of counterpoint.

I believe that all this is absurd; and its absurdity becomes even more obvious, I think, when we apply this method of physical prediction to a determinist. a well-trained physicist who does not know any French, and who has never heard of determinism, would be able to predict what a French determinist would say in a French discussion on determinism; and of course also what his indeterminist opponent would say.[9]

This fragment talks about physical determinism. Let us note that materialism is, in principle, also compatible with indeterminism as the supposition about the existence of genuine fortuity (that is supported in modern science by quantum mechanics). But if the only alternative to physical determination is sheer chance, this alternative is hardly any better: it means that the acceptance of these or those ideas and theories, our thoughts and actions are insomuch as they are not determined physically just fortuitous. For example: as a matter of sheer chance, Mozart has written some sequence of musical signs, although he could have written some other sequence instead; I have written this text because my hand has put down (or because my brain has made it to put down), as a matter of sheer chance, this, and not some other, sequence of ink marks on a sheet of paper, etc.

To avoid this absurdity, we need to suppose that besides physical causality and chance there is also a third alternative nonphysical causality (more precisely, situations when a nonphysical cause evokes physical effects[10]). But this supposition means the negation of materialism and other theories that assume the causal completeness (self-sufficiency) of physical reality.

The Solution of "the Problem of Interaction

See subsection Karl Popper about the Problem of Interaction in Section 10.

The Theory of Three Worlds

Popper argued that the idea of rationality makes sense only if we admit the existence of at least three realms of reality: 1) the physical world (World-1); 2) the mind, the world of human subjectivity, of thinking and emotions, a mental inner world of a person (World-2); 3) the world of ideas, theories, arguments, meanings, and logical relations (World-3).

World-3 is the world of ideas and meanings expressed in language and culture (in particular, the content of scientific theories). Popper's important thesis is that World-3 is irreducible both to World-1, as it has to do not with physical objects, but with meanings and logical relations, and to World-2, as these meanings and logical relations are independent of any mind, that is, objective.

For example, Einstein's theory (World-3) and my understanding of Einsteins theory (World-2) is not the same thing. Einstein's theory has a certain meaning irrespective of whether I understand it, and whether I understand it correctly (the very possibility of incorrect understanding of a theory proves the difference between a theory and its understanding); it stands in certain logical relations with other theories irrespective of whether someone (anyone) knows about these relations or not. My understanding of Einsteins theory can be correct or incorrect, that is, to stand in the relation of (full or partial) conformity or discrepancy with Einstein's theory. Moreover, a theory (objectively) contains (as its logical consequences) many implications of which even its author was (subjectively) unaware. Or the author could mistakenly draw from the theory some conclusions that really do not follow logically from it. So there is a difference also between a theory (its objective content) and understanding of this theory by its author.

Contents of theories are irreducible both to their material carriers (World-1) and to mental states, thinking of persons (Worlds-2). Despite both materialism and a more usual commonsense (basically, dualistic) understanding (Popper calls it mentalism), Popper argues that cognitive problems, ideas, and theories should be considered as specific semantic realities, such that their contents are neither in books (as paper bearers), nor in heads (materialism), nor even in minds of persons (mentalism), but ... in the ideas and theories themselves. Although ideas and theories (World-3) are created by people, by human thinking (World-2), but once created, they obtain to a great extent independent (autonomous) existence and objective properties. Objective properties of a theory its meaning, contents, internal logical relations, and logical relations with other theories are neither physical properties (World-1) nor subjective states of minds (World-2); they are something of a third kind that demands entirely different ways of understanding World-3.

Theories created by people get embodied in books and other material bearers (World-1), but they are not identical with these bearers and are not reducible to them. These bearers are just things in which contents of theories, existing before and independently of these bearers, are "encoded", represented symbolically. To understand some idea or theory we should in our thinking (World-2) comprehend its content, and we do this with the help of material bearers (first of all, books) that symbolically represent this content; but this content is autonomous both from our thinking that strives to comprehend it and from material bearers that symbolically represent it. If content of ideas and theories was identical with our thinking, there would be no problem of its comprehension, no possibilities of (partially) mistaken or incomplete understanding of ideas and theories. This problem and possibilities exist only so far as our thinking and its content is one thing, whereas the content of the ideas and theories that we try to comprehend in our thinking is another thing. Content of ideas and theories is also something different from their physical bearers (World-1): it is not contained in them physically, but is represented in them symbolically; the process of comprehension of a books meaning is not a processing of physical information about the book, but a process of interpretation of symbols; if we do not know the language in which the book is written, no amount of physical information about the book and no analysis of such information will help us.

Popper emphasizes that without the assumption of the autonomy of World-3 relative to World-1 and World-2, it is impossible to understand the scientific activity. In particular, it is impossible to understand this activity in keeping with behaviourism: behaviour of scientists may be understood only as aimed at the understanding and discovery of objective relations that hold in World-3 (the abstract world of theories):

if we do admit problems and theories as the objects of study and of criticism, then we shall never understand the behaviour of scientists. Admittedly, of course, theories are the products of human thought (or, if you like, of human behaviour I will not quarrel about words). Nevertheless, they have a certain degree of autonomy: they may have, objectively, consequences of which nobody so far has thought, and which may be discovered; discovered in the same sense in which an existing but so far unknown plant or animal may be discovered. One may say that World-3 it man-made only in its origin, and that once theories exist, they begin to have a life of their own: they produce previously invisible consequences, they produce new problems.[11]

Any number of examples may be adduced from different sciences. For example, from arithmetic:

A number system may be said to be the construction or invention of men rather than their discovery. But the difference between even and odd numbers, or divisible and prime numbers, is a discovery: these characteristic sets of numbers are there, objectively, once the number system exists, as the (unintended) consequences of constructing the system; and their properties may be discovered. ... The situation with respect to every scientific theory is similar. It has, objectively, a huge set of important consequences, whether or not these have as yet been discovered. ... It is the objective task of the scientist an objective World-3 task which regulates his "verbal behaviour" qua "scientist" to discover the relevant logical consequences of the new theory, and to discuss them in the light of existing theories. In this way, problems may be discovered rather then invented... Examples are Euclids problem whether there is a greatest prime; the corresponding problem for twin primes; whether Goldbachs conjecture that every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes is true; the 3-body problem (and n-body problem) of Newtonian dynamics; and many others. ... These considerations seem to me decisive. They establish the objectivity of World 3, and its (partial) autonomy.[12]

An important argument in favour of the thesis about the autonomy of World-3 is the existence of objects of World-3 that are neither physically embodied (have no correspondence in World-1), nor present in minds (have no correspondence in World-2). Such objects are problems, logical consequences, proofs, methods, solutions that exist, objectively belong to World-3 (the world of contents of theories, logical relations between them, problem situations, states of discussions), although noone has discovered them as yet:

It is important to realize that the objective and unembodied existence of these problems precedes their conscious discovery in the same way as the existence of Mount Everest preceded its discovery; and it is important that the consciousness of the existence of these problems leads to the suspicion that there may exist, objectively, a way to their solution, and to the conscious search for this way: the search cannot be understood without understanding the objective existence (or perhaps non-existence) of as yet undiscovered and unembodied methods and solutions. Mathematicians think in terms of discovered, and thus pre-existent, and also of undiscovered problems and solutions of problems and solutions yet to be found.[13]

Popper adduces a characteristic example of an eminent philosopher-logician, G.Frege, who, after he had written one of his books and it was partly published, has discovered that it is based on a self-contradictory assumption. It was an objective logical fact that existed long before its discovery. The self-contradictory assumption did underlay the theory of Frege from the moment of its (the theorys) creation, but this objective fact was not realized by anyone throughout several years and was physically unembodied − no representation of this fact existed whether in the physical World-1 or in any persons mind (in one of personal Worlds-2). This fact, unembodied and of which no mind was aware, had place only in World-3.[14] Frege could just as well discover this fact many years after the publication; or some other philosopher could discover it 100 years after the publication of the book; or it could so happen that nobody would ever discover this fact. Independently of which of these possible scenarios (belonging to Worlds-2 and World-1) would be the case, it would be (is) an objective fact that the theory is based on the self-contradictory assumption.



The idea of rationality makes sense only if human minds (Worlds-2) are capable to comprehend objective (i.e., independent of these minds) meanings of ideas, theories, and the objective logical relations between them, and to judge validity and weightiness of arguments. In turn, we (minds) can invent new ideas, theories, and arguments that, when expressed in language, get objectivated ("get alienated" from our minds) and become parts of World-3. That is, the idea of rationality necessarily presupposes the interaction between World-2 and World-3.

On the other hand, the mind influences the physical world, by evoking movements of the human body. And vice versa, the physical world, through mediation of the human body, influences the mind. So the interaction between World-2 and World-1 has place.

Also, through mediation of the human mind (World-2), ideas and theories (World-3) get embodied-represented in physical bearers (World-1) books, electronic bearers, sound vibrations of air, radio signals, neural networks of the brain.

So the physical world is not self-sufficient: some its events have non-physical causes: If we act through being influenced by the grasp of an abstract relationship,[15] we initiate physical causal chains which have no sufficient physical causal antecedents. We are then first movers, or creators of a physical causal chain.[16]

Substance Dualism and the Talk of 'Substances'

Popper's views about the nature of consciousness can be qualified as quasi-substance dualism-emergentism. In his intellectual autobiography, Unended Quest, Popper writes: It seemed to me quite obvious that we are embodied selves or minds or souls[17]. At the same time, Popper repeatedly stated his aversion to the talk of 'substances', and suggested that we are psycho-physical processes rather than substances[18]. Popper considered as mistaken the very idea of substance as some constant base that "stands behind" those processes and changes that occur to it and between it and other substances; he contended that all existing are processes.

On the other hand, Popper pointed out an important feature that makes his views close to substantial dualism: I nevertheless believe in something that may be called the quasi-essential (or quasi-substantial) nature of the self. The self is linked with what is usually called character or personality.[19] When discussing Gilbert Ryle's views[20], Popper states his disagreement with Ryles denial of the (Socratic and Platonic) idea of the mind as the pilot of a ship − the body; a simile which I regard as in many ways excellent and adequate; so much so that I could say of myself: I believe in the ghost in the machine.[21]

In the section Of Clouds and Clocks of the book Objective Knowledge (1972), Popper explains his position so: I am almost a Cartesian[22], in so far as I reject the thesis of the physical completeness of all living organisms (considered as physical systems), that is to say, in so far as I conjecture that in some organisms mental states may interact with physical states. however... I have no sympathy with the Cartesian talk of a mental substance or thinking substance no more than with his material substance or extended substance. I am Cartesian only in so far as I believe in the existence of both, physical states and mental states (and, besides, in even more abstract things such as states of a discussion).[23]

He confirms this position in Unended Quest (1974): I think that I was always a Cartesian dualist (although I never thought that we should talk about 'substances'); and if not a dualist, I was certainly more inclined to pluralism than to monism.[24] The talk of 'substances' arises from the problem of change (What remains constant in change?) and from the attempt to answer what-is? questions. What is mind? What is matter?.. Better ask: What does mind?[25]


In this respect, my position essentially diverges from Popper's. The divergence concerns not so much with the evaluation of the talk of 'substances' (in Section 9, I discuss negative aspects of this terminology, although I think that we have no better), as with the motives for such an evaluation.

In particular, I do not consider as an argument against the talk of 'substances' the fact what it arises from the problem of change (What remains constant in changes?) and from the attempt to answer the what-is? question What is mind?. I do not see anything bad in such an origin. For the mind to be able to do something, there must be a mind. The problem of change (What remains constant in changes?) is a real and important problem, even more so in the case of "a thinking substance than in the case of a material one.

Even more so, I think that no problem is more real and important for a person than the problem of his self as something that remains the same (his own) self throughout (at least) life (and, perhaps, beyond this life). There should be something that makes someone's subjective experiences and thoughts (mental states) someone's. I think that it is absolutely nonsensical to talk about noone's experiences and thoughts. It is absolutely nonsensical to talk about mental and physical states as states of nothing/noone. There should be something or someone, which/whose states they are. If there is a Cheshire cats smile, there should be a Cheshire cat. As far as I understand it, this is what is meant by the concept of substance.

The problem of change (What remains constant in changes?) with respect to our own selves is exactly what imparts the discussions about the relation of the mind and the body with such vital importance. I would say that of all philosophical (worldview) issues, the most naturally exciting and vital is this: what is that something

  that we call I, me, myself, self;

  that experiences and has awareness of all my (your) sensations, emotions, thoughts, desires throughout my (your) life as his own;

  in virtue of which, all my (your) sensations, emotions, thoughts, and desires throughout my (your) life (and perhaps also beyond) are mine (yours), not someone elses;

  that must remain the same thing, the same self in order that all that I experience and am aware of as my sensations, emotions, desires, and thoughts throughout my life were really mine;

  that is me throughout my life, despite all the changes in my body, mental states, memories, etc.?


Popper was ill-disposed to questions of the form what-is? because they associated for him with repugnant essentialism, disputes about words and their meanings instead of discussions about real things. In The Self and Its Brain, Popper writes that questions of the form what-is? are connected with the idea of essences ... and so with the very influential philosophy which I have called 'essentialism' and which I regard as mistaken. What is questions are liable to degenerate into verbalism into a discussion of the meaning of words or concepts, or into a discussion of definitions. But, contrary to what is still widely believed, such discussions and definitions are useless.[26]

In my opinion, here Popper confuses different questions:

(1) What is ? in the essentialist sense What is the essence of X? (that implicitly presupposes the metaphysical theory that names of things represent some special metaphysical realities essences something of the kind of Plato's Ideas-Forms);

(2) What is ? in the purely verbal sense (disputes about meanings of words and definitions);

(3) What is ? in the sense of questions about the identity/nonidentity of with some Y, the commonness/difference of their natures, etc.; in most general cases, such questions are ontological ("metaphysical") questions about the general nature and structure of reality.

It seems that with Popper, the defensible rejection of (1) and repugnance for (2) passes into a mistaken bias against (3).

It is worthy to pay attention also to Popper's interesting remark about the idea of essence: the idea of an essence is indeed taken from our idea of the self (or the soul, or the mind); we experience that there is a responsible, controlling centre of ourselves, of our persons; and we speak about essences (the essence of vanilla) or spirits (the spirit of wine) by analogy with these selves. These extensions may be rejected as anthropomorphisms. But there is no objection to being anthropomorphic in discussing man (as Hayek has reminded us).[27]

In the context of the mind-body problem, the what-is? question has a quite "legitimate", important, nonverbalist sense[28] as the question about the nature of reality and its most important (for people) elements our selves, I-s: whether I, my self, my mind as a subject who subjectively experiences sensations, emotions, and desires, and who thinks and is aware of himself and his sensations, emotions, desires, and thoughts is the same thing as my body (brain)? Or they are two different "things" of entirely different nature (a soul and a body)?


I think that Popper's objections against the talk of 'substances' has also a deeper motive than the repugnance for verbalism; it displays certain views about the nature of mind (self) viz., emergentism and a certain attitude toward the prospect of personal immortality.

Popper believed that nature creates genuinely new phenomena that are irreducible to what existed earlier. In this respect, his treatment of the nature of mind is somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, it may suggest that the mind is one of the many natural emergent phenomena. However, on the other hand, it is not accidental that Popper distinguishes the mind into a separate nonphysical "world" (World-2), whereas all other natural phenomena remain within the physical realm. The reason of this ambiguity is easy to understand if we take into account what was explained in Section 6 about the difference between quantitative (nomic) emergence and radical qualitative emergence: even if we assume (and this assumption is debatable) that in nature, at higher levels of the organization of physical systems, really new (more precisely, structurally dependent) laws of nature come into effect, and new properties appear that correspond to these laws and are logically irreducible to properties at the lower levels; then, all these laws and properties, at all levels, are conceptually reducible to externally observable physical movements, the spatial dynamics of various physical bodies in space. In these cases, emergence-irreducibility, if it has a place, is but quantitative.

Unlike this, the mind (consciousness) is, relative to the physical, something radically qualitatively different (irreducible) a personal realm of subjectivity. If the concept of mind (consciousness) meant only some new aspects of the dynamics and the laws of physical movements, it would belong to the realm of the physical, but this concept means something entirely different, and this "something" (the mind as a personal realm of subjectivity) exists alongside the physical world, interacting with it.

From Poppers point of view, the mind (self) is an emergent nonphysical quasi-substance (process) that emerges ("pops up into existence") when certain physical conditions hold out of nothing.[29]

For me, this idea does not seem plausible (see Section 6). I am more prone to think that if something appears and disappears in the perspective accessible to our cognitive possibilities, this does not mean that it first emerges out of nothing and then becomes nothing. Rather, it appears from somewhere no one knows where (i.e., from somewhere outside the limits of the perspective that is accessible to us) and disappears somewhere no one knows where. That is, it does not "pop up into existence" and does not become nonexistent but passes from some beyond relative to the perspective that is accessible to us reality into this reality and vice versa. (For the human self, the beyond reality may be some parallel world or a reincarnation in this world.)

I have already explained (Section 6) that in the case of so-called emergent laws and properties within physical reality, if they exist, (quantitative emergence), the situation is entirely different. In this case, "novelty" is not quite genuine because the so-called emergent laws, that is, structurally dependent laws of nature, do not emerge with the formation of corresponding structures but come into action. Hence, the so-called emergent properties, although they are irreducible to the basis of lower-level laws and properties, are reducible to the broadened basis that includes, besides the lower-level laws and properties, higher-level structurally dependent laws. Thus, in the sense of the reduction to something already existing, nothing principally new emerges in such cases.

In fact, we can find, in what modern physics tells us about physical reality, closer analogues to the radical (qualitative) emergence of the mind. Thus, modern quantum mechanics tells about appearance and disappearance of microparticles in vacuum. Moreover, modern astrophysics tells about the beginning of our whole universe at the moment of the Big Bang. However, on my opinion, it is very doubtful whether in these situations something emerges out of nothing.

As for microparticles, we need to notice that their purported appearance and disappearance occur in such a manner that the total amount of matter (mass-energy) remains constant; therefore, these occurrences are some transformations (that we do not understand well enough) rather than the emergence/annihilation of matter. Also, all microparticles may be considered as specific physical states of microscopic areas or points of space; in that case, everything that occurs in the physical universe (including what, at a certain level of scrutiny, looks as the emergence and the disappearance of microparticles) will be but the dynamics of changes of properties of different areas and points of space. Besides, quantum mechanics is a domain in which there is no clear understanding and agreement between scientists (including the most eminent ones) about the physical character of explored phenomena (to be distinguished from the corresponding mathematical equations, which work very well but need physical interpretation). In fact, what really happens on this level is unknown; it cannot be directly observed. It is just that certain theoretical models thought up by physicists well agree with the observable results of complicated experiments and enable physicists to predict these results with sufficiently (often wonderfully) high accuracy.

The theory about the beginning of the universe at the moment of the Big Bang, if it is understood in the radically literal sense that the universe did emerge out of nothing is even more dubious. First, the Big Bang theory is a result of rather unreliable extrapolations of the theories of physics that were developed for the explanation of modern observable phenomena on events that are supposed to happen billions years ago in conditions that were very radically different from any conditions that exist in the modern universe or can be created experimentally. When the Big Bang theory is discussed, the question inevitably arises: what has exploded and why? The answer according to the radically literal interpretation of the Big Bang theory is: nothing without any cause. This answer can hardly be acknowledged satisfactory. It is better to admit that we do not know, and modern science has no satisfactory answer to this question. (In more details, this theme is discussed it Section 7, subsection Colin McGinn's Idealistic Hypothesis.)


Incidentally, it may be said about the mind (the self) as it was said about the emergent laws: that it does not emerge but "comes into action", that is, gets embodied, when certain conditions hold; however, this would be not emergentism but eternalism (the supposition about the eternal existence of the soul as the process of reincarnations) or creationism (the supposition about the creation of souls by God).


For a final touch, I think that motives why Popper prefers emergentism and objects against the talk of 'substances' have a psychological foundation. The key may be found in the attitude that Popper confesses to share with John Beloff, who wrote: I have no craving for personal immortality; indeed I would think the poorer a world in which my ego was to be a permanent fixture.[30]

Well, tastes are not things to debate about. Nevertheless, I think that it will not be superfluous to remind another utterance that Popper adduces, by his namesake Josef Popper-Lynkeus: every time a man dies, a whole universe is destroyed. Karl Popper adds to it: (One realizes this when one identifies oneself with that man.) Human beings are irreplaceable...[31]

If so, the question seems appropriate: Which world would be better: a world where human universes are routinely destroyed and irreplaceable human beings are routinely replaced, or a world where they continue to exist in some way of which we do not know?

[1] Popper K. Of Clouds and Clocks. pp. 223-224.

[2] Popper K. Language and the Body-Mind Problem. pp. 398-399.

[3] Popper K. Language and the Body-Mind Problem. p.399

[4] Popper K. Language and the Body-Mind Problem. p.399

[5] Popper K. Language and the Body-Mind Problem. p.401

[6] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. p. 59.

[7] Popper K. Language and the Body-Mind Problem. pp.401-402

[8] and powerful enough means of computing D.S.

[9] Popper K.Of clouds and hours. p.222-224

[10] Compare with Poppers quotation below (in the subsection The Theory of Three Worlds) about physical causal chains which have no sufficient physical causal antecedents that we initiate if we act through being influenced by the grasp of an abstract relationship.

[11] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. . 40.

[12] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. . 40-41.

[13] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. . 41-42.

[14] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. . 56-57.

[15] for example, influenced by our understanding of some theory

[16] Popper K. Language and the Body-Mind Problem. p. 402.

[17] Popper K. Unended Quest. p. 219

[18] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. . 105.

[19] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. . 105.

[20] G.Ryle was the most influential philosopher-behaviourist who strived to release psychology and the philosophy of mind from the idea of self, which he dubbed the Cartesian myth.

[21] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. . 105.

[22] Cartesians followers of Descartes, who was the author of the classical theory of substance dualism.

[23] Popper K. Of Clouds and Clocks. p. 231.

[24] Popper K. Unended Quest. p. 218.

[25] Popper K. Unended Quest. p. 278.

[26] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. .100.

[27] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. p.105.

[28] Although I also think that materialism is based on ignoring or forgetting the major subjective aspect of the meanings of such concepts as 'mind', 'consciousness', 'thinking', 'sensation', 'pain', and so on. However, this does not make the mind-body problem linguistic. The problem is ontological, even although it has linguistic aspects how certain (mistaken) semantic strategies are often used for the defence of unsatisfactory theories. Using certain words with the loss of essential aspects of their meanings is in fact the strategy of ignoring or negation of the reality that these words usually mean. Hence, clear definition of the meanings of the concepts and appeal to them can counteract such strategies. It can also help to elucidate and put in order our ideas, and to avoid considerable part of confusion in our theories confusion that is quite usual in discussions about the mind-body problem.

[29] Let us pay attention to the statement of one of the most prominent followers and a close collaborator of Popper, W.W.Bartley: the basic theme of Karl Poppers philosophy that something can come from nothing. (Popper K. Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics. p. xiii)

[30] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. p. 101.

[31] Popper K., Eccles J. The Self and Its Brain. p. 3.

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