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World of Propensities Paperback – December, 1997
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The book "All Life Is Problem Solving" (1999) also contains the essay, "Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge". This lecture is a classic of how to approach the topic of knowledge without getting tangled in the regress of chasing definitions. Open any dictionary on the word "knowledge", you will find all sorts of circularity and assumptions that knowledge is primarily empirically derived. Popper's starting point is a very simple proposition that animals can know something: that they can have knowledge. He elegantly proposes that knowledge is linked to expectations. These expectations express theories of reality. We as with all living things have propensities to guess reality based on largely unconscious hypotheses which both logically and psychologically precede observation. 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 initially their genes and other molecular and physiological codes.
In "A World of Propensities" Popper recounts his debt to Alfred Tarski and his view of truth as a correspondence of a statement with the facts. It is a theory of objective truth that requires us to distinguish clearly between truth and certainty. Popper also recounts his rejection of probabilistic induction and how shocked he was when Carnap followed the probability of hypotheses line in "The Logical Foundations of Probability"(1950). "I felt as a father must feel whose son has joined the Moonies; though of course they did not exist in those days."
Popper's propensity theory is an objective interpretation of the theory of probability. Propensities, it is assumed, are not mere possibilities but are physical realities. They are as real as fields of forces and vice versa. Propensities in physics are properties of the whole physical situation. Propensities, like Newtonian attractive forces, are invisible, and, like them, they can act: they are actual, they are real. However, neither our physical world nor our physical theories are deterministic, even though of course many possibilities are excluded by the laws of nature and of probability: there are many zero propensities. The future is open. It is especially obvious in the evolution of life that the future was always open.
Accidents and preferences.
"The theory of motives determining our actions, and the theory that these motives in their turn are motivated or caused or determined by earlier motives, etc., seems, indeed, to be motivated - motivated by the wish to establish the ideology of determinism in human concerns. But with the introduction of propensities, the ideology of determinism evaporates. Past situations, whether physical or psychological or mixed, do not determine the future situation. Rather, they determine changing propensities that influence future situations without determining them in a unique way. And all our experiences - including our wishes and our efforts - may contribute to the propensities, sometimes more and sometimes less, as the case may be. (In spite of the instability of the weather, my wishes do not contribute to 'sunshine tomorrow'. But they can contribute a lot to my catching the flight from London to San Francisco.)
In all these cases the propensity theory allows us to work with an objective theory of probability. Quite apart from the fact that we do not know the future, the future is objectively not fixed. The future is open: objectively open. Only the past is fixed; it has been actualized and so it has gone. The present can be described as the continuing process of the actualization of propensities; or, more metaphorically, of the freezing or the crystallization of propensities. While the propensities actualize or realize themselves, they are continuing processes. When they have realized themselves, then they are no longer real processes. They freeze and so become past - and unreal. Changing propensities are objective processes, and they have nothing to do with our lack of knowledge; even though our lack of knowledge is, of course, very great, and even though a particular lapse may, of course, be an important part of the changing situation."
All Life is Problem Solving
Realism and the Aim of Science: From the Postscript to The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Leverhulme Primary Project Classroom Skills Series)
The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism
He defends rightly Tarski's proposition that objective truth is correspondence of a statement with the facts and that absolute truth can be described as follows: if an unambiguously formulated statement is true in one language, then any correct translation of it into any other language is also true.
For Popper, it is a colossal mistake to believe that all our knowledge stems from our senses, because before our senses can tell us anything, we must have prior knowledge. In order to be able to see a thing, we must know what things are. This prior knowledge is the result of evolution by Darwinian trial and error. In this sense, all our knowledge is hypothetical, the result of error elimination.
Determinism is totally mistaken. Indeterminism and free will have become part of the physical and biological sciences, because our very understanding of the world changes the conditions of the changing world, and so do our wishes, preferences, motivations, hopes, dreams, fantasies, hypotheses, theories. The world is no longer a causal machine, but a world of propensities, an unfolding process of realizing possibilities.
Being long time a staunch anti-Darwinist (evolution could in his eyes not be tested), he finally accepted Darwin's vision. He sees evolution working along lines of inherent tendencies to produce certain statistical averages (weighted probabilities), which are the real physical realities, as real as forces or fields of forces.
All his life he remained an optimist and saw music, art and science as the greatest and most enlightening achievements of the human spirit.
These lectures by the greatest philosopher of the 20th century are a must read, not only for Popper fans.