Validity of Perception and what is reality, if there is such a thing?


Undeniably, one of the most spell-binding interviews I’ve read in mainstream internet reporting.


Donald D. Hoffman is a professor of cognitive science at University of California’s Irvine campus. In the interview, Amanda Gefter from The Atlantic, pressed Hoffman for detailed explanations of his supposition that, based on known quantum criteria and observational experience, human perception of the innate building blocks of reality itself is fluid and tenuously revealed.


“Truth,” or as I call it, validity of perception, is not so important to our evolutionary survival as “fitness functions.”



The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions—mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.


We see this at play in our daily lives. The perceptive and blindingly intelligent succumb to the pall of collective stupidity and myopia. The world, reality, sieves out those who see too clearly and rewards those who willingly oblige to conformity of limited personal horizons. It can be alleged that those who see too clearly are cast as pathological in this era of intellectual marginalization of the very perceptive. For those who see too vividly through their rare supra-human eye are operationally eschewing the road to evolutionary success built upon the illusion of hardy fitness.


Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features. The snake I see is a description created by my sensory system to inform me of the fitness consequences of my actions. Evolution shapes acceptable solutions, not optimal ones. A snake is an acceptable solution to the problem of telling me how to act in a situation. My snakes and trains are my mental representations; your snakes and trains are your mental representations.


I suspect that the utter subjective nature of reality, capriciously bending to the will of the observer, is like a fluid that engorges and distends the reality available its membrane-bound barriers. Nature is the most efficient organism in existence and we are fed as much or as little input as necessary in order to make the best survival-minded decisions possible. We don’t create more, or less, of reality than is appropriate to proliferate our existence.


Gefter: It doesn’t seem like many people in neuroscience or philosophy of mind are thinking about fundamental physics. Do you think that’s been a stumbling block for those trying to understand consciousness?
Hoffman: I think it has been. Not only are they ignoring the progress in fundamental physics, they are often explicit about it. They’ll say openly that quantum physics is not relevant to the aspects of brain function that are causally involved in consciousness. They are certain that it’s got to be classical properties of neural activity, which exist independent of any observers—spiking rates, connection strengths at synapses, perhaps dynamical properties as well. These are all very classical notions under Newtonian physics, where time is absolute and objects exist absolutely. And then [neuroscientists] are mystified as to why they don’t make progress. They don’t avail themselves of the incredible insights and breakthroughs that physics has made. Those insights are out there for us to use, and yet my field says, “We’ll stick with Newton, thank you. We’ll stay 300 years behind in our physics.”


There seems to be little in quantum physics that is not counter-intuitive. And what is intuition but our birthed and inherited estimation of perception? Quantum physics, pulling the strings of the most minute existences in this reality, is not to be excused quite so easily from influencing the flora of our mental physiological structure.



I think that’s absolutely true. The neuroscientists are saying, “We don’t need to invoke those kind of quantum processes, we don’t need quantum wave functions collapsing inside neurons, we can just use classical physics to describe processes in the brain.” I’m emphasizing the larger lesson of quantum mechanics: Neurons, brains, space … these are just symbols we use, they’re not real. It’s not that there’s a classical brain that does some quantum magic. It’s that there’s no brain! Quantum mechanics says that classical objects—including brains—don’t exist. So this is a far more radical claim about the nature of reality and does not involve the brain pulling off some tricky quantum computation.



What is our perception of reality?


Is accuracy even a concept that can be delineated and theoretically blueprinted?


As our perceptions of reality proliferate unchecked and limitless, does the nature of what we attempt to narrate slip from our view because our comprehension cannot grasp that which proportionately wiggles away from our clinical eye? Is accuracy unworthy of our consideration?


In such a quantum maelstrom of upheaval, accuracy defies our sanity. Accuracy demands a barometer, a yardstick.


Accuracy of perception. How do we discover such thing?


Until then, the chasm between the both will remain a nebulous measure of “reality.”

  • Wiless

    Bah, ‘Matrix’-y agitprop, for the likes of those like the Wachowskis who believe reality is socially constructed, and not real (both of them have gone tranny, unsurprisingly).
    I am no solipsist; when I stub my toe against the my bedframe, I know both my toe and my bed are real…

    • Haha yeah, what’s up with those Whackedowski bro’s????

      Not so sure I see this as an issue of solipsism. There are layers of environmental senses and feedback. On the surface, the shallowest layer, our 5 senses only interact with the most rudimentary feedback loops necessary for physical survival. Evolution and procreation is not concerned with the layers beyond that one – it is up to us, as sentient, intelligent beings to deconstruct the higher levels (if we so desire).

      • Wiless

        But the material world is exactly that, the world of matter. And just because things get complicated at the subatomic level doesn’t mean at the macro level that they aren’t concrete. If I see a photo of someone, then I see that person, I can recognize them from that photo – and so can you, and everyone else, because that person has that appearance. If I step out on my balcony, unless there are very high winds, I can be confident that the law of gravity will hold, and keep me anchored to it, that I won’t suddenly drift upward and outward into the air (again, unless there are hurricane-force winds at work). Roses smell like roses; water freezes at 0 C and boils at 100 C, marinara sauce tastes like tomatoes and vinegar and oregano, cotton balls are soft to the touch if dry, etc. Our five senses work, and tell us repeatable observations that can be made over and over, and always hold true. Reality is. We don’t have to worry about de Broglie wavelengths of matter most of the time, because Newtonian mechanics hold at the macro level.
        I just think this guy is too clever, and lacking common sense, like a TED Talks twit. I once told a philosophy major who tried to argue similar nonsense that the problem with philosophy types is they get their heads so far up their asses, all they spew out of their mouths is shit.

  • That is the thing in itself. And that is a concept that is hard to grasp in all its glory. It refers to both a priori and empirical knowledge. The best treatments of this are from Schopenhauer and Dr Kelley Ross. I might try to do some thinking about this now that I see that you are interested in it.

    • >a priori vs empirical

      I think it would be extremely helpful and revolutionary if we could determine where in the continuum one gives way to the other. Or is there no continuum?

      • You essay really got me thinking so I wrote a whole essay on it. I would like to place it here and I hope you do not mind. And s for your question where one continuum gives way to the other I have to again say that I think Kelley Ross deals with these things a million times better than me. You might ask him. He has been polite enough to answer my questions. Anyway here is my essay:

        “The thing in itself.” And that is a concept that is hard to grasp in all its glory. It refers to both a priori and empirical knowledge. The best treatments of this are from Schopenhauer and Dr Kelley Ross.

        The way I see it is that Aristotle is not that far away from this concept with Prime matter being something that reason can not perceive.That is: not only do we have Plato showing there is a an aspect of reality hidden from reason but I think we have to include Aristotle in this also. For the simple reason that Reason perceives universals–not prime substance. The Gra hints to this also in his statement on the Hagada that everything has an open aspect and a hidden aspect.

        Kant’s original idea is modest: “It is easily seen that this object must be thought only as something in general = x, since outside our knowledge we have nothing which we could set over against this knowledge as corresponding to it….”[Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason translated by Norman Kemp Smith, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1965, p. 134.

        Unbelievably simple.

        But this goes further. We can check empirical knowledge. The way Kant would put it is: “We have something to set against it”. That is we have a measuring stick. A Priori knowledge has no such measuring stick for its first axioms. Thus, “How do we know synthetic a priori?”

        The “Obligations of the Heart” [The first Musar book by Ibn Pakuda] (What a name! Pakuda means an “order,” or a “command”) says it is by prophecy. That is all advances in knowledge are not by reason but by revelation.

        The Rambam also mentions this in the Guide concerning moral knowledge.

        Schopenhauer always refers to the “Ding An Sich” [the thing in itself] not the plural like Kant’s dinge an sich things in themselves. And that brings us to the First Cause and also to the sub levels of contingency.

        So then as Dr Ross puts it we do not think a bathtub full of computer chips can do any commutations.The Structures have to be already there for the mind to perceive anything.

        The way this works are by Stephen Gould, Sapolsky, and by a recent essay I saw on a nice blog.

        That is structures that stick out to perceive more than what they were designed for, {Stephen Gould}.

        Neural networks and chaos. {Sapolsky}. Quantum jumping. [by “An Unmarried Man”.] Dr Hoffman

        The way to understand this the way I usually do is by the idea of plane of existence But a more fruitful approach could be through מרחב כיסוי the covering manifold.

        That is p: C to X. That is “p” is a map from the covering manifold to the base manifold. And p^-1 maps in the opposite direction up to your C [cover]. And every point in your base {“X”} has an open area surrounding it, i.e. “U”. And every curve in X that can be mapped to curves in upper manifolds U sub Alpha. All this means is you have lots of covering spaces over one manifold. That tomy way of thinking means lots of things in planes of existence that when they get “down here” become existing things.

        [I mean this as metaphysics. Not as a biological process. But who knows?]

        Anyway the place where Hegel comes into this is in the hierarchy of his triads which really are stages of unconditioned reality becoming reality.

        You need Hegel because of this fellow The Maverick Philosopher that prime matter is not up to the job.

        • I need to dig into this. Love that one strange reference to An Unmarried Man !

        • The Gra hints to this also in his statement on the Hagada that everything has an open aspect and a hidden aspect.

          Is this a duality?

          Or maybe a succession or some other such asymmetrical affect. Space can be ultimately measured as precise coordinates and so all points in space are unique. But space, physical dis-habitation, simultaneously strikes me as amorphous.

          We vacate space in body, or perhaps a meteor or particle of dust or a wooly mammoth vacate a space. Is vacated space changed or does it resume its infinite form, precise form, pliable-like.

          Prime matter?

        • BTW, I defer to you as an understudy for it is apparent your grasp of PHI 101-410 kicks my ass.