EPISODE RELEASED 1st OCT 2022
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF US NOT SEEING THE WORLD AS IT TRULY IS? IS IT COHERENT TO USE AN INTERFACE ANALOGY TO UNDERSTAND OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE TRUE NATURE OF REALITY?
In this episode we explore a User Interface Theory of reality. Since the invention of the computer virtual reality theories have been gaining in popularity, often to explain some difficulties around the hard problem of consciousness (See Episode #1 with Sue Blackmore to get a full analysis of the problem of how subjective experiences might emerge out of our brain neurology); but also to explain other non-local anomalies coming out of physics and psychology, like ‘quantum entanglement’ or ‘out of body experiences’. Do check the devoted episodes #4 and #28 respectively on those two phenomena for a full breakdown.
As you will hear today the vast majority of cognitive scientists believe consciousness is an emergent phenomena from matter, and that virtual reality theories are science fiction or ‘Woowoo’ and new age. One of this podcasts jobs is to look at some of these Woowoo claims and separate the wheat from the chaff, so the open minded among us can find the threshold beyond which evidence based thinking, no matter how contrary to the consensus can be considered and separated from wishful thinking.
So you can imagine my joy when a hugely respected cognitive scientist and User Interface theorist, who can cut through the polemic and orthodoxy with calm, respectful, evidence based argumentation, agreed to come on the show, the one and only Donald D Hoffman.
Hoffman is a full professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine, where he studies consciousness, visual perception and evolutionary psychology using mathematical models and psychophysical experiments. His research subjects include facial attractiveness, the recognition of shape, the perception of motion and colour, the evolution of perception, and the mind-body problem. So he is perfectly placed to comment on how we interpret reality.
Hoffman has received a Distinguished Scientific Award of the American Psychological Association for early career research into visual perception, the Rustum Roy Award of the Chopra Foundation, and the Troland Research Award of the US National Academy of Sciences. So his recognition in the field is clear.
He is also the author of ‘The Case Against Reality’: Why evolution hid the truth from our eyes', the content of which we’ll be focusing on today; ‘Visual Intelligence’, and the co-author with Bruce Bennett and Chetan Prakash of ‘Observer Mechanics’.
What we discuss:
05:30 Belief VS questioning
11:20 Seeing the world for survival VS for knowing reality as it truly is
13:30 Competing strategies to maximise ‘fitness’ in the evolutionary sense
15:22 Fitness payoff’s can be calculated as mathematical functions, based on different organisms, states and actions
17:00 Evolutionary Game Theory computer simulations at UC Irvine
21:30 The payoff functions that govern evolution do not contain information about the structure of the world
25:00 The world is NOT as it seems VS The world is NOTHING like it seems
29:30 Space-time cannot be fundamental
32:30 Local and non-contextual realism have been proved false
34:00 Symmetries beyond even the Hilbert space of quantum theory
37:45 A User-Interface network of conscious agents
41:30 A virtual reality computer analogy
43:30 Space and time and physical objects are merely a user interface
45:30 Beyond space and time are conscious entities
47:20 We can’t explain conscious experiences by neural activity
49:30 Reductionism is false
51:30 Do we need a new post-reductionist paradigm?
53:30 User Interface theory VS Simulation theory
56:30 Panpsychists are fundamentally physicalists
57:30 Making mathematical predictions about conscious agents
59:30 Like space and time maths are invented metrics, so must we start with consciousness metrics
01:03:30 Experiences lead to actions, which affect other agent’s conscious experiences
01:08:00 The notion of truth is deeper than the notion of proof and theory
01:10:00 Consciousness projects space-time so it can explore infinite possibilities
01:13:00 ‘Not that which the eye can see, but that whereby the eye can see’, Kena Upanishad
01:14:00 Asymptotic dynamics: Back to mathematical predictions about conscious agents
01:17:30 Is nature written in the language of Maths?
01:25:30 ‘Silence is the language of God, all the rest is just poor translation’, Rumi
01:27:00 Consciousness is like the living being, and maths is like the bones
01:27:45 Maths is how consciousness can understand itself
01:34:50 Don Hoffman on Max Tegmark’s ‘Everything that is mathematically possible is real’
01:38:30 Don on George Ellis’ downward causation
01:44:00 Being and experiencing being may co-arise
01:48:00 Different analogies for different eras
Nima Arkani-Hamed - ‘Space-time is dead’: Public Lecture at PSW
Nima Arkani-Hamed - ‘Reductionism is dead’. Lecture at Harvard
‘Not that which the eye can see, but that whereby the eye can see’, Kena Upanishad
‘Silence is the language of God, all the rest is just poor translation’, Rumi