Hans-Joachim Niemann

Karl Popper and the Two New Secrets of Life, including Karl Popper's Medawar Lecture (1986) and three related texts,

Tübingen (Mohr Siebeck), Juli 2014, 157 p., ISBN 978-3-16-153207-8.



   See Physiology News: http://www.physoc.org/magazine.

   See also: youTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpmjZ61BjKQ (end of the lecture and the subsequent discussion).

The story of how humans and all living things came into existence is told in two widely believed versions: the Book of Genesis and Darwin’s Origin of Species. It was the philosopher Karl Popper who presented us with a third story, no less important. His New Interpretation of Darwinism denies the creative power of blind chance and natural selection and establishes knowledge and activity of all living beings as the real driving forces of evolution. Thus, spiritual elements are back in the theory of evolution, and in Popper’s view “the entire evolution is an adventure of the mind.”

In this book, Hans-Joachim Niemann establishes Karl Popper as an eminent philosopher of biology. In the first chapter, biographical details are unearthed concerning how Popper’s biological interests were inspired by a biological meeting in the old windmill at Hunstanton in 1936. The second chapter focusses on the year 1986 when Popper, in several lectures, summarized the results of his life-long biological thinking. The most important of these, the Medawar Lecture given at the Royal Society London, was lost for a long time and is now printed in the Appendix. A new world view begins to emerge that is completely different from Creationism or Darwinism.

Twenty years after Popper’s death, the last chapter looks back on his biological thoughts in the light of new results of molecular biology. His then attacks on long-lasting dogmas of evolutionary theory turned out to be largely justified. The new biology seems even well suited to support Popper’s endeavour to overcome the gloomy aspects of Darwinism that have made organisms passive parts of a machinery of deadly competition. Neither blind chance nor natural selection are the creative forces of all life but knowledge and activity. How they came into existence is still a secret and a worthwhile research programme.

Karl Popper’s lecture A New Interpretation of Darwinism given at the Royal Society London in 1986 is here printed for the first time in the original. In it, Popper denies the creative power of blind chance and natural selection. Instead of these two Darwinian dogmas he establishes knowledge and activity of all organisms as the creative driving forces of evolution. Hans-Joachim Niemann unearths biographical details about the year 1936 when Popper’s biological thoughts were inspired by a meeting with some scientists of the avant-garde of molecular biology. He then focusses on the year 1986 when Popper, in several lectures, summarized the results of his life-long biological thinking. After that Niemann discusses Popper’s philosophy of biology in the light of new results of molecular biology that apparently supports his endeavour to overcome some gloomy aspects of Darwinism. How the new creative forces knowledge and activity came into existence is still a secret and a worthwhile research programme.

Niemann had already established Karl Popper as an eminent philosopher of biology in his long afterword to Popper's Wissen und das Leib-Seele-Problem (2012), p. 510-546, a German book which contains his translations of Popper's Knowledge and the Body Mind Problem (1969, 1994) and The Self and Its Brain (1977). Joining these two books with Popper's Objective Knowledge (1972) Niemann refers to the three of them as Poppers 'third major work', which after his renown Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934, engl. 1959) and his The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) gains nowadays new importance, especially due to the many novel results of modern biology (Denis Noble, James Shapiro, Eva Jablonka, and even earlier: Conrad Waddington, Barbara McClintock, and Lynn Margulis).

  1986 hielt Karl Popper einen Vortrag, der erst vor kurzem auf Deutsch veröffentlich wurde (Aufklärung und Kritik 1, 2013, 7-20). Er ist hier zum ersten Mal auf Englisch abgedruckt, zusammen mit drei anderen, bisher unveröffentlichten Texten Poppers. Popper bestreitet darin zwei Dogmen der Neo-Darwinisten: (1) das so genannte 'central dogma of molecular biology' und (2) die kreative Kraft von blindem Zufall und natürlicher Selektion. Er zeigt, dass die eigentlich kreativen Kräfte der Evolution vom Wissen und der Aktivität der Organismen herrühren und, ganz anders als bisher geglaubt, die Selektion ('natürlich Zuchtwahl') nichts Kreatives beiträgt. Popper widerspricht damit auch der gen-zentrierten Weltsicht. Hans-Joachim Niemann führt uns in Kapitel I in das Jahr 1936 zurück, als Popper sich von einer Gruppe avantgardistischer Molekularbiologen zu seiner bisher wenig beachteten Philosophie der Biologe inspirieren ließ. In Kapitel II konzentriert er sich auf das Jahr 1986, in dem Popper die Ergebnisse seines lebenslangen Nachdenkens über Biologie und Evolution in mehreren Vorträgen zusammenfasste. Zuletzt, im Kapitel III, diskutiert Niemann diese Ergebnisse im Zusammenhang mit der neueren Biologie: Blinder Zufall und tödliche Selektion scheinen einem neuen Blick auf die Kreativität der Organismen und der Zelle Platz zu machen, eine Sicht, die Poppers geistvolles, biologisch inspiriertes Weltbild unterstützt.

Schon in seinem langen Nachwort zu Poppers, Wissen und das Leib-Seele-Problem (2012), hatte Niemann die darin enthaltenen zwei Bücher Die sechs Kenan-Lectures 1969 (Knowledge and the Body Mind Problem) und Das Ich und sein Gehirn, zusammen mit Popper Objekte Erkenntnis (1972) als Poppers 'drittes Hauptwerk' aposthrophiert, dessen Bedeutung erst in unsere Tagen neben seiner Logik der Forschung und seiner Offenen Gesellschaft erkannt wird, seit die neuere Biologie (Denis Noble, James Shapiro, Eva Jablonka, und davor schon Conrad Waddington, Barbara McClintock, Lynn Margulis) Poppers Denken, direkt oder indirekt, bestätigt.

What amazon.co.uk readers wrote:

CASTELEIN LUC on 2 Sep 2014:

Great book!

Without doubt the most important book about and from Karl Popper since years... HJN is a great explainer.
What is so important about this book? First of all, it shows that Popper had a new theory about how evolution works. And one of the things Niemann does is show that all the newest research points in one direction: that Popper was right. If that doesn't make this an important book, I don't know what could ever make a book important.

DENIS NOBLE on 29 Nov 2014:

Absolutely fascinating story based on a previously unpublished lecture by Popper to the Royal Society. Popper spotted two major problems with neo-darwinism. He called it Darwinism in the title of the 1986 lecture on which this book is based, but he clearly meant neo-darwinism. (Darwin was never a neo-darwinist). The first is the distinction between active causation by organisms compared to the passive causation by their genes, which leads to the idea of genes as followers rather than leaders in evolution. The second is the realisation that the discovery of reverse transcription was a far more serious blow to the central dogma of molecular biology than was acknowledged at the time. Niemann is a clear expositor of Popper's lecture and how it fits with his work on the logic of scientific discovery.