Memorial Celebration

Professor Sir Karl Popper
Monday December 12 1994

David Miller
University of Warwick

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David Miller
Department of Philosophy
University of Warwick

About 150 invited guests attended the Memorial Celebration of the life and work of Karl Popper in the Founders' Room at the London School of Economics and Political Science [LSE]. Among those present were past students, colleagues, and friends of Sir Karl's from France, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the USA, and Hong Kong. The meeting was not publicly advertised.
Sir Karl was born on July 28 1902, and died on September 17 1994 at the age of 92, following a brief illness. After his stay in New Zealand from 1937-1945, he had spent his entire academic career in Britain at the LSE, where he was Professor of Logic and Scientific Method from 1949 to 1969.
Dr John Ashworth, the Director of the LSE, welcomed the guests. The audience heard spoken tributes from Sir Hermann Bondi FRS, Mr Bryan Magee, Professor John Watkins, Professor Dr Gunter Wachtershauser, Mr David Miller, Professor Julien Musafia, and Professor Pedro Schwartz OBE. Musical tributes were paid by Sir Claus Moser and Mr Gordon Kirkwood, who played the slow movement from Mozart's piano sonata K448, and by the cellist Julius Berger and pianist Julien Musafia, who played a number of pieces, culminating in the Catalan Song of the Birds [Cant de ocells], a favourite of Casals's, and the last piece of live music that Sir Karl heard. There was also a piano performance by Mr Musafia and Lory Wallfisch of Sir Karl's youthful fugue in Fq for organ, here transcribed for four hands. (This fugue was first played in public on the organ in St George's Chapel, Windsor in 1991 by Gillian Weir.)
Bondi spoke on Sir Karl's impact on the science community, and stressed how important Popper's thesis of the power of imaginative thought in science, promulgated especially by Peter Medawar, had been for the proper understanding amongst scientists of how science works. Magee recorded his pleasure and astonishment that, on the day after Popper's death, three of the four serious Sunday newspapers in England [The Independent on Sunday, The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times], had described him as the greatest philosopher of the century; for although he had long believed this himself, he had usually found his opinion questioned by professional philosophers, if not ridiculed. Magee expressed the hope encapsulated in his title, Sir Karl Popper -- a philosopher for tomorrow, that Popper's philosophy would eventually be received with the seriousness and respect it deserved. Watkins, who had been Popper's colleague at the LSE for many years, recounted in Sir Karl Popper at LSE 1946-1969 some stories of his time there, especially of his famous seminar.
One of Sir Karl's profoundest preoccupations in the last years of his life was the new surface-metabolism theory of the origin of life propounded by the German patent attorney Gunter Wachtershauser. In his moving talk on Sir Karl Popper, mentor of science -- a personal view Wachtershauser reported how the inductivist attitude pervading chemistry had discouraged him from further scientific work after his PhD, turning him to the law. Problems in the objective sense play an important role in German patent law, and a search for some discussion of their status led him to his first meeting with Popper, on a bookshelf, later to a real meeting at Alpbach, and then to a reunion with real science. Popper's enthusiastic support at every level in the development of his new theory was vividly and appreciatively described.
In his talk entitled Sir Karl Popper on Logic and Scientific Method Miller interspersed personal reminiscences of his time as Popper's research assistant in the 1960s, and of his later collaboration with Popper on various problems of probability theory, with a defence of the fundamental doctrine of critical rationalism that logic is the organon of criticism, not of proof. Musafia (Sir Karl Popper and music) spoke of Popper's intellectual love for music and introduced the fugue that he had written in his early twenties. Finally Schwartz spoke on Sir Karl Popper - the man, telling of the warmth and generosity of the lovable person behind the sometimes combative and forbidding philosopher.
A booklet containing texts of these speeches is to be published at a later date by the LSE. Plans were announced also for an annual or biennial lectureship on Sir Karl's philosophical ideas, to be instituted at the School with the support of the newly created Sir Karl Popper Memorial Fund. Details of the Fund may be obtained from The LSE Foundation, Room H810, PO Box 3, LONDON WC2A 2AL.

D. W. Miller 1994