All Life Is Problem Solving

Joe Firestone’s Blog on Knowledge and Knowledge Management

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Interpreting Popper’s Three Worlds Ontology for Knowledge Management: A Guest Reply by Richard Vines

August 2nd, 2008 · No Comments


I think, Joe, you have raised some very interesting and reflective comments in your two blogs on “Popper’s three worlds ontology.”


Firstly, let me state, that I think it is inevitable that some reformulation of the three worlds ontology needs to be explored and will be explored by those that see the merit in starting from this ontological framework in the first place. The reason? My pragmatic sense is that the contributions of emergent understandings of the nature of life itself, living systems and complexity theory are forcing the need for such a re-evaluation.


So, I agree with Bill, that the combined role of “knowledge” and “cognition” as it is defined by Maturana and Varela is a good starting point from which to engage in a contemporary critique of the three worlds ontology. I also think it opens up interesting possibilities with flow on (and possible) implications in relation to higher order organisational dynamics. For example, I think the idea of multiple levels of cognition occurring across multiple levels of hierarchy offers a very interesting way of accessing the complexity of the possible relationship between autopoiesis and dynamics such as those that exist in large complex enterprises.


And so, what was said is that:


we argue that Karl Popper’s evolutionary epistemology and his “three worlds” ontology, presented in its most general form in his (1972) book, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, (a) provides an alternative account for the internal construction of knowledge that dispenses with the need for a convoluted observer centric language in formulating a concept of autopoiesis and (b) highlights the fundamental and integral roles of “knowledge” and “cognition” in the formation of autopoietic systems. Thus, Popper’s philosophy is as central to our discussion as is autopoiesis itself and it should also provide a linguistic “bridge” helping to bridge the gap between constructivism and realism.”


It remains to be seen if such a linguistic bridge can withstand follow up criticisms. However, in attempting to build such a bridge, I think it is inevitable as you say that there is a need to expand the three worlds ontology to include a distinction between living and non-living. This, as others might say, is not a further regression into ontological categorization. The Popperian perspective has always been that the interaction of the different ontological domains is as important as the naming of the distinctions in the first place. In other words, emergence is the foundation of all. I had originally (and incorrectly) thought that the distinction between W1 and W2 was a distinction of non-living and living.


So … personally, I am attracted to your suggested reformulation of the four ontological domains and the interaction of these domains. And beyond, this I do agree with you that there is a problem in suggesting that “the logical content of our genetic codes, as opposed to the logical content of our theories about our genetic code, is in World 3.”


The final point I wish to respond to is that one about the body – mind problem. There is something in this question, which I still have not got to the bottom of. You state:


“…. the interaction of W2 and W3 is no longer about the impact of the conscious mind and our beliefs on W3, nor is it about whether the conscious mind grasps and understands W3 content; but is now about the impact of cognition, more generally on W3, and about whether cognition, conscious or not, “grasps” W3.”


I think this is a misunderstanding of what Bill is saying. If I am right (and I am not yet sure that I agree), I think he is saying that it is not that cognition grasps W3, but that W3 is an expression of cognition. This is, I think, fundamental to the idea that artifacts, such as documents, play a crucial role in the role of moderating the permeability of boundaries internally within organisations and at the edges of organizations. This for me extends to the possibility of distributed cognition. And, for me, this is a fundamental consideration of how a theory of autopoiesis really has something interesting to say about organization dynamics and the boundary conditions of inclusion and exclusion.


But, I still have some reservation about this idea. And, I think this reservation goes back to the point you also made namely that: … yet, the findings of neural science have not yet come close to dissolving “the hard problem of consciousness.”

Tags: Complexity · Epistemology/Ontology/Value Theory · Knowledge Making · Knowledge Management