The Case Against Reality

When the male Australian Jewel Beetle searches for a female it follows a few very simple rules. "Look for something brown, shiny and dimpled".

It so happened that discarded beer bottles, of a certain type, had these characteristics. The species almost went extinct (before the design of the bottled was altered) as males ignored females and swarmed on the bottles - they were bigger after all!

Back when the beetle's perception system evolved there was nothing else in the environment that that had these characteristics, so additional rules such as 'look for something beetle shaped' were unnecessary.

Donald Hoffman in his book The Case Against Reality argues that our perceptions, are like this.

Do we see the world as it truly is? Hoffman says no. We see what we need in order to survive. Our perceptions are not a window onto reality, but instead are interfaces constructed by natural selection.

Just as an email icon, on our computer desktop, tells us next to nothing about the processes going on inside the computer, so if we look at - say a bottle - what we perceive is an icon constructed by the brain and with equally little to do with the underlying reality.

We could never write an email by manipulating ones and zeros inside the computer, so we're presented with a very much simplified representation - the email icon.

And similarly, according to Hoffman, evolution has hidden 'truth' from us and provided us with a user interface. Time and space don't exist 'out there' - they are the desktop. Neither do objects exist 'out there' - they are icons.

Our perceptions have not been shaped to make it easy to know the true nature of the world but instead to hide its complexity.

This, of course, leaves open the question - so what is the nature of this underlying reality?
...which, according to Hoffman at least, is where it gets even stranger...

Donald Hoffman's Ted talk

The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

Get this