Karl Popper’s the Three Worlds of Knowledge
“What is the object of knowledge?” asks young Grasshopper. “There is no object of knowledge,” replies the old Shaman, “To know is to be able to operate adequately in an individual or cooperative situation.” “So which is more important, to know or to do?” asks young Grasshopper. “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing,” replies the Sage, and then continues, “Knowing is an effective action, that is, knowledge operate effectively in the domain of existence of all living creatures.” (paraphrased from Maturana & Varela, 1992).
Maturana & Varela wrote that the observers’ cognition is a process involving the entirety of their interactivity, not just abstract thinking; thus, cognition cannot be segregated from what they actually put into practice.
One of the most popular epistemology models (except for perhaps in the behavioral sciences) is Sir Karl Popper’s writings on the Three Worlds of Knowledge. The behavioral sciences (knowledge/learning/management professions) seem to prefer and stay within the realm of Michael Polanyi’s concept of personal and tacit knowledge. However, Polanyi’s epistemology is narrower and has a limited basis for understanding knowledge as compared to Popper’s work, which provides a broader epistemological foundation.
Karl Popper theorizes that there are three worlds of knowledge:
- World 1 is the physical universe. It consists of the actual truth and reality that we try to represent, such as energy, physics, and chemistry. We may exist in this world, however, we do not always perceive it and then represent it correctly.
- World 2 is the world of our subjective personal perceptions, experiences, and cognition. It is what we think about the world as we try to map, represent, and anticipate or hypothesis in order to maintain our existence in an every changing place. Personal knowledge and memory form this world, which are based on self-regulation, cognition, consciousness, dispositions, and processes. Note that Polanyi’s theory of knowledge is based entirely within this world.
- World 3 is the sum total of the objective abstract products of the human mind. It consists of such artifacts as books, tools, theories, models, libraries, computers, and networks. It is quite a diverse mixture that ranges from a claw-hammer to Maslow¹s hierarchy to Godel’s proof of the incompleteness of arithmetic. While knowledge may be created and produced by World 2 activities, its artifacts are stored in this world. Popper also includes genetic heredity (if you think about it, genes are really nothing more than a biological artifact of instructions). And of course, there are various relationships between these three worlds:
World 1 drives and enables world 2 to exist, while world 2 tries to control and regulate world 1.
World 2 produces world 3, while world 3 helps in the recall and the training/education/development/learning of world 2.
World 3 describes and predicts world 1, while world 1 is the inferred logic of world 3. In addition, since world 2 is composed of people, we can use our senses to cut across boundaries and observe and test the exchanges and relationships of worlds 1 and 2.
Thus, knowledge surrounds us (world 1), becomes a part of us (world 2), and is then stored in historical contents and contexts by us (world 3 artifacts).
In this framework are two different senses of knowledge or thought:
Knowledge in the subjective sense, consisting of a state of mind with a disposition to behave or to react [cognition].
knowledge in an objective sense, consisting of the expression of problems, theories, and arguments. While the first is personal, the second is totally independent of anybody’s claim to know — it is knowledge without a knowing subject.
A T T H E F I S H H O U S E S
by Elizabeth Bishop
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be: dark, salt, clear moving, utterly free, drawn from the cold hard mouth of the world, derived from the rocky breasts forever, flowing and drawn, and since our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
Thus, knowledge goes far beyond the knowing/doing dichotomy. . . it is drawn, derived, flowing, historical, and forever.
- Maturana, H.R., and F.J. Varela. The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA, 1998.