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#29 Don Hoffman Youtube Cover - DEF.jpg



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:

00:00 Intro

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



Donald Hoffman - ‘The case against reality: Why evolution hid the truth from our eyes’

John Maynard Smith - Evolutionary Game Theory

Nima Arkani-Hamed - ‘Space-time is dead’: Public Lecture at PSW 

Nima Arkani-Hamed - ‘Reductionism is dead’. Lecture at Harvard

Local Realism is false

Noncontextual realism is false

Don Hoffman and Chetan Prakesh - Objects of Consciousness paper

A Markovian Kernal

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem

‘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

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