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8 Responses to About

  1. Bruce Caithness says:

    This Amazon review I wrote for : All Life is Problem Solving

    Perhaps a good place to start in this review of “All Life Is Problem Solving” is to focus on one essay, “Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge” written in 1989.

    Karl Popper (1902-1994) elegantly proposes that knowledge is linked to expectations. These expectations express theories of reality. Thus knowledge expresses theories of reality. Knowledge in itself is unjustifiable. We as with all living things have propensities to guess reality based on hypotheses which logically and psychologically precede observation. Encounters with evidence are the bumps that allow continual reformulation of these assumptions. This in no way implies that the universe separate from our perceptions is illusion. Indeed only fools or sophists would deny its existence, but what is the foundation for defining a “real” world? What is the real you? What is the real anything – statistically analyzed, dissected, named, viewed under an electron microscope, blasted with x rays or gamma rays, painted by Monet? If we open any dictionary on the word “knowledge” we find all sorts of circularity and assumptions that knowledge is primarily empirically derived. Popper’s association of knowledge with expectation, or guessing, is a breakthrough in clarity. Animals and plants carry what can be defined as unconscious guesses or theories, namely their genes and other molecular and physiological codes.

    Despite perceptual and cognitive limitations, living beings do seek truth and routinely test models against facts. Truth should correspond with facts, but the degree of certainty of facts varies. Popper’s attitude to the demarcation of science from other intellectual endeavours is that scientific enquiry should have no expectation of discovering final truth but rather it is about asking things about the universe in such a way that any answer is capable of being modified (indeed capable of being falsified) if better evidence appears. Every answer is provisional. Scientism, which positively declares truths, is not science…”scientifically proven” is a nonsense phrase that is unfortunately commonly used by laypersons and academics alike and distorts the value of the scientific method. Indeed, including and beyond science, all our knowledge is uncertain. Scientific testing corroborates our tentative theories it does not confirm them.

    Still at least in our universe, the world is roughly spherical even though many of our forefathers assumed that it was flat. Evolution is similarly robust even if fine details have varying certainty. Thus some assumptions seem to be less wrong than others, i.e. have higher verisimilitude. Still, the demarcation of science and non-science hinges on phrasing any claim in such a way that it can potentially be proven wrong, not turned into an accretion of supporting premises that is unbreakable simply because it is amorphous. On this point it does not matter by which source the claim is reached e.g. inspiration might occur in a reverie, but rather how the hypothesis is expressed when presented to an audience. On a side note, I think too much criticism of Popper has been a sidetracked discussion of a straw man, Popper as barely read, rather than addressing his ethical challenge of making method accountable. This is unfortunate as it masks the value of demarcation in defending science against dogmatism. Creationism and intelligent design arguments tend to be accretions of self-supporting dogma rather than a critical and testable discourse. On a personal note I would suggest that a corollary of Popper’s thought is not cynicism but an attitude of openness to the unexpected. In narrow conceit, cynics overlook the corollary to the unprovable nature of reality namely that, precisely because we cannot prove otherwise, there is always room for surprises. Perhaps objective meaning can never be demonstrated in the deterministic (causal) world i.e. it is not found in Schopenhauer’s “World as Representation” but rather in the unexpected, the coincidental, the “World as Will”, Carl Jung’s (1875-1961) synchronicity, knowledge felt. Yes humans seek passion and energy rather than meaning for its own sake (Joseph Campbell 1904-1987) although one must add that the search for meaning is an activity that we engage in passionately. Popper recognised that meaning can be found in unscientific statements, the search for truth is another matter. The latter was his focus.

    Excessive expressions of certainty are often bred from protesting too loudly. The universe is mysterious, we do not need to invent mystery unless we want to couple spiritual sentiment to social power and we need not fear that honest engagement will destroy mystery. Even the prevailing metaphors in cosmology will have their used-by date. Any statement of belief should be capable of being modified or indeed discarded if the facts contradict it.

    Karl Popper distinguished between tacit knowledge and objective knowledge. We know there is a physical world (World 1), we know there is a mental world (tacit, World 2), and we know there is a world of codes and descriptions and formulae (World 3). Even when individuals die, worlds 1 and 3 still exist.

    Let us give Popper the last word: “I shall now try to give you a list of interesting conclusions that we can draw, and partly have drawn (although so far unconsciously) from our trivial proposition that animals can know something…………”

  2. Bruce Caithness says:

    The article below is a fresh commentary on Karl Popper’s thought.

    Karl Popper: philosopher of critical realism – Column
    by Joe Barnhart

    Sir Karl R. Popper, who died in September 1994 at the age of 92, will be remembered as one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. Although German was his native language, he was accomplished in his use of English to explicate humanistic values. Many regard him as the century’s most prominent philosopher; others point to his most famous work, The Open Society and Its Enemies, an unsurpassed defense of human liberty and dignity.

    Referring to himself as an agnostic and an advocate of critical realism, Popper gained an early reputation as the chief exponent of the principle of falsification rather than verification. In the early 1930s, he set forth powerful criticisms of logical positivism’s attempt to label as meaningless all talk of ethics and metaphysics. But for almost two decades, Popper’s criticisms went either ignored or misinterpreted by all except a few careful readers. By contrast, in the past four decades, an increasing appreciation of his critique has helped us to better understand the phenomenal growth of scientific theory and the close relationship between science and the humanities.

    Myth and Metaphysics.

    In his books Objective Knowledge and Conjectures and Refutations, Popper demonstrates brilliantly the roles of myth and metaphysics in the scientific enterprise. Myths represent our human need to expand the horizon of explanation and to find our place in the vast scheme of things. Emphasizing the importance of boldness of imagination in fulfilling this need, Popper suggests that Democritus’ early theory of atoms began as a myth born of a daring imagination.

    Myths sometimes graduate to the status of metaphysics when subjected to sustained and rigorous criticism. Metaphysics is the work we do when we carry out comparative analysis of our cosmological myths and theories. It is our drive to eliminate inconsistencies, to broaden the scope of our explanations, and to provide depth of detail. If there are priests of myth who insist on perpetuating the myths without correction or revision, there are others among us who both subject the myths to criticism and offer rival theoretical explanations. Of late, the term metaphysics has been adopted and used to propagate the uncritical and highly anthropomorphic notions of pop culture. This is not the tradition of rigorous metaphysics of which Popper speaks.

    Far from being meaningless, critical metaphysics and cosmology provide the cognitive background for the growth of scientific theory. Logical positivists failed to see that, without metaphysics to work upon and to refine, science would stagnate. In some ways, science is the metaphysics that succeeded in spawning bold theories which are not only well articulated and critically debated but also observably testable–and by testable, Popper means falsifiable.


    Perhaps the major contribution made to science by Popper emerges from his argument that the job of scientific experiment is to seek evidence not to support a proposed theory but, rather, to refute it. He contends that science becomes mere ritual, making only meager progress, when it settles for testing to verify a favored hypothesis. The real task of experimental testing is that of trying to find the hypothesis’ weaknesses and flaws. One way to put a theory or hypothesis to the test is to draw from it predictions about observable events in time and space. A theory becomes scientific when it is specific enough to be falsifiable and when it covers specified events observable in time and space. It ceases to be scientific when it hides behind vagueness or risks no bold and daring predictions going beyond the general consensus.

    According to Popper, the whole point of seeking to shoot down our scientific theories is not simply to increase our supply of skepticism. Rather, the goal is to generate better theories–ones which are both bold and able to stand up under rigorous criticism without resorting to verbal tricks and vagueness. Popper’s humanism shines brightest when he urges us to seek out criticism of our theories. Intellectual courage and honesty in uncovering contradictions are thus essential to the search for both better explanations and better plans of action.

    Skeptics and Believers.

    Those who call themselves skeptics sometimes quote W. C. Clifford: “It is wrong, always and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Unfortunately, Clifford gives no rational hint as to how many pieces of evidence total up to being sufficient. Thinkers strongly influenced by Popper’s (and David Hume’s) arguments against induction will be skeptical of Clifford’s claim. Instead of advocating that we pile up sufficient positive evidence to prove or verify a belief, Popper offers an entire new way to think about testing our beliefs and corroborating them. I confess that I find Popper’s epistemology more convincing than either the verificationists and conventionalists, on the one hand, or the dogmatists, on the other hand.

    Furthermore, Popper’s epistemology makes no fetish of either skepticism or faith. I know of no one who practices either wholesale skepticism or wholesale faith. All believers in certain claims are skeptics about rival claims. And all skeptics regarding some claims are believers regarding other claims. All of us, however, have pockets in our lives in which we would be better off if we showed more faith or trust. At the same time, there are pockets in which we would be better off if we trusted less–or at least shifted our faith to something or somebody more trustworthy. Trust and faith, like skepticism, are essential ingredients to human living. Skepticism per se is neither the enemy nor ally of faith per se, for the simple reason that neither exists.

    Errors and the Search for Better Explanations.

    If to err is human, then Popper’s philosophy may be regarded as perhaps the most thoroughgoing attempt to humanize the learning process, for he regards all learning as trial and error. Our mistakes in solving problems need not be viewed as failures but as a means for spawning still better solutions. This is especially true both when we try to learn how our mistakes were made and when we free our imagination to try out new conjectures.

    Imagination and Intuition.

    The beauty of Popper’s evolutionary theory of knowledge lies in its insistence that imagination and speculation are essential ingredients of the thinking process. Intuitions become a part of every variety of genuine thinking, including science, because they are accepted as trials rather than dogmas.

    Most of our scientific intuitions and conjectures have proved to be unsatisfactory. But Popper argues that some falsified theories have contributed more to the growth of science than have safe, shallow theories that no one has bothered to falsify. Science needs fruitful and falsifiable hypotheses that not only venture into new territory but seemingly go counter to common sense. “Let your hypotheses die for you,” Popper proclaimed. His epistemology is truly liberating, saying in effect that we should not worry about our theories cracking or collapsing because there are always more where they came from.

    Creationism and Evolution.

    Creationists who insist on classifying their views as “scientific creationism” may not know what they are getting into. Do they really want to assert that creationism is falsifiable? Do they want to try to expose its weaknesses and flaws? Do they seek to correct and revise the doctrine? As is well known, creationists take great delight in pointing out that the theory of evolution is, after all, a theory. But this should pose no problem. All scientific theories are theories. Do creationists want to say that creationism is a theory? Do they want to say that the notion of the Bible as inerrant revelation is a theory?

    If Popper’s analysis is correct, then both evolution and creationism are theories. The real question has to do with how well they are articulated, how well they serve to advance further research, and how well they survive rigorous criticism. The overwhelming majority of biologists and anthropologists have found creationism to be a poor rival to evolution in the attempt to expand our knowledge. Contrary to what some creationists claim, scientists tend to favor evolution as an explanatory theory not because of some presupposition that blinds them to the truth but, rather, because it is scientifically more fruitful than creationism and enjoys greater explanatory power.

    Biases and Presuppositions.

    One of the significant advantages of Popper’s philosophy is found in the way it handles biases and presuppositions. In effect, it says that we always start with biases. Furthermore, we can never free ourselves of biases for the simple reason that they are essential to thinking. It is good to have biases, for they provide us with the raw material to examine, criticize, and revise or replace with new and (we hope) better biases.

    Some evangelical theologians make a great deal out of presuppositions. They charge that evolutionists presuppose from the start a naturalistic rather than theistic framework. This charge is not entirely accurate, for there are theistic evolutionists. But according to Popper’s epistemology, since a presupposition is only a conjecture or conclusion used to help spawn other conjectures, there is no reason why presuppositions cannot be debated and criticized. They have no diplomatic immunity.

    According to Popper, objectivity is, therefore, not a psychological state of mind purified of all biases and presuppositions (he never confuses an open mind with a blank mind) but, rather, a two-pronged openness: openness to severe criticism and openness to look into alternative or even rival theories.


    Popper’s theory of learning not only allows for indoctrination but requires it. Many humanists have been perpetually ambivalent about whether or not to indoctrinate the young into humanistic views and values. Indeed, some humanists in the past seem to have believed that objectivity or openness of mind required weak indoctrination. From the perspective of Karl Popper, by contrast, indoctrination should be thorough, not in the sense of shutting off all criticisms but in the sense of being done competently and by someone who is informed and articulate.

    Popper sees the importance and necessity of indoctrination. Without it, there could be no education or objective inquiry. Humanists need to understand more clearly that each generation needs to be indoctrinated in humanistic values if these values are to be improved and passed on from generation to generation.

    Although indoctrination is an absolutely essential ingredient of education or objective inquiry, it is never a sufficient ingredient. Indoctrination moves toward education only as it is combined with openness to criticism and to rival indoctrinations, views, conjecture, theories, and doctrines. Such openness of inquiry gives humanists hope that their humanistic convictions, commitments, and beliefs will in the future be even more profoundly articulated and more effectively communicated.

    The Human Community.

    I close with a quotation from the last paragraph of John Dewey’s little book, A Common Faith. It gives voice to much of the thrust of Karl Popper’s work and life:

    We who now live are parts of a humanity that extends into the remote past, a humanity that interacts with nature. The things in civilization we prize most are not of ourselves. They exist by the grace of the doings and sufferings of the continuous human community in which we are a link. Ours is the responsibility of conserving, transmitting, and expanding the heritage of values we have received [so] that those who come after us may receive it more solid and secure, more widely accessible and more generously shared than we have received it.

    COPYRIGHT 1996 American Humanist Association
    COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

  3. Rafe says:

    Thanks John, a great call!

  4. Rafe says:

    Correction, thanks Bruce!!

  5. Geof Jones says:

    The article states:

    “If Popper’s analysis is correct, then both evolution and creationism are theories. ”

    Actually you know, Popper recanted on Darwin. He said:

    “I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation.”

    And by the way, Dewey was a pragmatist in the mode of CS Peirce. He would never had agreed with indoctrination. He described himself as a socialist too! Not a critical rationalist or rationalist of any description. And the better for it.

  6. Bruce Caithness says:

    Popper did at one point express a view that “the theory of natural selection is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme; and although it is no doubt the best at present available, it can perhaps be slightly improved” (1974). Not a big deal, even though evolution-deniers have cherry picked it. He later articulated that there are falsifiable assertions within the research programme.

    All scientific theories are theories i.e. falsifiable statements. Evolution as Joe Barnhart indicates has been corroborated extensively whereas creationism has not.

    All education programmes involve teaching core knowledge and attitudes to students. There is nothing controversial in labelling this as indoctrination. Just because the tentative nature of knowledge is recognised does not imply that highly corroborated knowledge should not be taught as well as the meta-skills of critical thinking and logic.

  7. Bruce Caithness says:

    Falsifiability is a logical property of a proposition that is vulnerable to refutation by a true existential statement. The propositions of concern to Popper were universal laws in the form: all swans are white. This is falsified by the statement (if true): here is a black swan.

    Falsification is the process of demonstrating that a proposition has been falsified. Unlike the decisive logic of the process, the real-world process of falsification can never be decisive due to the Duhem problem, the uncertainty of observations and the many more or less disreputable ways that people can protect their views.

    Even though falsification cannot be decisive it is still an essential mode of criticism (with various other forms of criticism: does the theory solve the problem, is it internally consistent, is it consistent with other well-tested theories etc ?).

    (from Rafe Champion, Critical Rationalism Blog)

  8. N. Coppedge says:

    I think it’s suitable to introduce readers of philosophical materials to the not-well-known book I have published recently, titled The Dimensional Philosopher’s Toolkit. The position I take bears some similarity to Popper in the sense that I see knowledge as a contingent, applicational tool. If there is some way or form of being fully qualified to a position, that way or form is a thing in itself, with its own unique optimal properties. However, it may be said that there are also optimal forms of the conflagrations of knowledge, one being the idea of categorical deduction presented in the book. The purpose is of a general, qualia-based approach to language statements, essentially dispensing with epistemology (treating it as a domain of psychology).

    The categorical deduction (importantly distinguished from the categorical imperative made famous by Kant) allows comparisons between ethical, material, and abstract relationships. The theory is that providing good reasons for non-arbitrary relationships requires significant simplicity, and also significant ingenuity. Opposites bridge the gap between conceptual infinities, eliminating the necessity for a concept of zero. Instead, the ‘second zero’ or source of dimension, is the ability to translate categories forwards and backwards, or else to consider them fully descriptive, within some degree of specialized understanding (namely the simple, formalized system of categorical deduction). In this system, new dimensions are comparable to hyper-extension, but the platform is easily usable in two-dimensional space, using lists and a Cartesian Coordinate System.

    For more about the book, see my Amazon profile, at: Nathan Coppedge’s Author Profile

    As an added note, I think coherent philosophy of this type could be highly influential in the development of virtual reality systems, and generating electronic literature. There is an opportunity for a more ersatz, meaningful human environment.

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