Saturday, October 31, 2020

Prof Hoffman #7 - Virtuality - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Inflating a Holoworld

In chapter 7 of Case Against Reality, Hoffman’s “spacetime is doomed” mantra starts sounding like a hypnotist's spell, as reality fades from view.  Here we read more fascinating stories that reveal slivers of actual physics, but then contain too many important omissions to be of any constructive help.  

One way Hoffman misrepresents facts and twists conclusions is by anthropomorphizing the results and implications of quantum experiments and theory, all the while ignoring the profound difference between quantum scale experiments, and our macroscopic physical reality. 

Or, for that matter, you’ll not hear Hoffman acknowledge the profound difference between his mathematical models of idealized universes and our actual ever evolving universal physical reality.  

Of course bias comes into it.

some have the luxury of sitting back and dreaming,

Others best take reality as a given and stay focused,

and get on with it.

As a simple hands on working man, trying to follow through on Hoffman’s trains of logic leaves me overwhelmed time after time.  I don’t kid myself, with my middling layperson understanding of physics, I’m in no position to offer lectures or corrections to Hoffman’s details, nor is that my intent.  

Heck, I’ve had to do a lot of searching and additional reading these past weeks and again wrestling with this chapter, trying to grasp the various philosophical strands running through it and trying to wrap my head around the heady pipe dreams of these creative theorists.

My intention is to get through Hoffman’s book then to offer a saner down to Earth alternative.  An evolutionary perspective of our Earth and our human relationship with this physical reality we are embedded within.  Sans the religious baggage Hoffman’s theorem carries, stay tuned for more on that. 

I compensate for my mediocre mind by doing homework and knowing how to check out claims and weigh evidence.  For this chapter I’ve blown my deadline and spend a good deal of time learning more about what knowledgeable authorities have to explain.  I’ll be sharing highlights throughout this review.


A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

chapter 7, Virtuality - Inflating a Holoworld

DH:  “… But here, where I don’t expect it, science injects a profound mystery: we still don’t understand “now” and “there”.  That is, we don’t understand time and space - length, width, and depth - which we take for granted, which are woven into the very fabric of our daily perceptions, and which we assume are a true and reliable guide to physical reality.”   (¶2)

The Quantum Mechanical model of an atom

What do atoms look like? Why?

Jul 31, 2020  -  Arvin Ash

Our spacetime is not doomed, no matter what impression breathless writers fill books and magazines with, no matter how smart the scientist’s mind, or how grandiose and self-certain their pronouncements are.  

Use your critical thinking skills.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Prof Hoffman #6 - Gravity - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Spacetime is Doomed

DH:  “If our senses were shaped by natural selection, 
then the Fitness Beats Truth Theorem tells us we don’t see reality as it is.  

Interface Theory of Perception (ITP) tells us that our perceptions constitute an interface, specific to our species.  It hides reality and helps us raise kids.  

Spacetime is the desktop on this interface and physical objects are among its icons.”   (¶1)

In this chapter 6, Hoffman samples cutting edge theoretical physics to underpin his theorem.  This tour through the quantum realm, at the very boundary between atoms and universal background energy, is fascinating.  As for Hoffman’s conclusion and implications, they are fascinating science fiction for reasons I will make clear as we go through his text.

“Perceptions constitute an interface, specific to our species” is easy to explain without reaching for twinkle dust.  Every creature has a unique life style, with a unique body plan, sensing abilities, mental abilities, environmental demands and so on.

Eyes are optical instruments, they cannot help but receive the reflected light coming at them.  How well they can process, resolve and act upon those signals is altogether a different question - one that is independent of the physical reality of the object reflecting said light.

A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

chapter 6, Gravity - Spacetime is Doomed

Is spacetime threatened by the qubit?

Before we look at Hoffman's pronouncements, I want to share a talk by Sean Carroll who offers us a more scientifically trustworthy baseline of current physics understanding.

You won’t notice any of the red flags of deception that pepper Hoffman’s presentations.  Not that Carroll doesn’t present some amazing theoretical conjectures that do seem to echo Hoffman’s - thing is, Professor Carroll presents them within a more balanced framework. 


This is what a scientist sounds like. 

Mysteries of Modern Physics by Sean Carroll

Jan 29, 2020  -  Darwin College Lecture Series

Sean Carroll,  10:45

. . .  these are the particles that make up you and this table and me and this laptop and really everything that you have ever seen with your eyes touched with your fingers smelled with your nose in your life. 

Furthermore we know how they interact with each other and even better than that, the most impressive fact is that there will not be a discovery tomorrow or next century or a million years from now which says you know what there was another particle or another force that we didn't know about but now we realize plays a crucial role in our everyday life. 

As far as our everyday life is concerned by which I really mean what you can see with your eyes touch with your hands etc we’re done find me the underlying ingredients.  That is an enormous achievement in human history one that does not get enough credit, because of course as soon as we do it we go on to the next thing.  

Physics is not done.  I'm not saying that physics is done, but physics has understood certain things and those things include everything you encounter in your everyday life - unless you're a professional experimental physicist or unless you're looking of course outside our everyday life at the universe and other places where we don't know what’s going on. … 

DH begins:  “ITP makes bold and testable predictions. 

Testable by what?  A theorem of Hoffman’s own design.  Anything else?  

If you have his book, check the paragraphs I skip, let me know if you can spot any actual testable predictions being outlined - as opposed to what-if stories.  I can’t.

DH:  “It predicts that spoons and stars - all objects in space and time - do not exist when unperceived or unobserved.  

Something exist when I see a spoon, and that something, whatever it is, triggers my perceptual system to create a spoon and endow it with a position, a shape, a motion, and other physical properties.  

But, when I look away, I no longer create that spoon and it ceases to exist, along with its physical properties. …”   (¶2)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Prof Hoffman #5 - Illusory - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - The Bluff of a Desktop

“As long as our theories are stuck within spacetime, we cannot master what lurks behind.”  Professor Donald Hoffman 

DH:  “ A venerable tradition conscripts the latest technology to be a metaphor of the human mind. …”   (¶3)

... and history also shows us what a folly this venerable tradition is.  

Gary Marcus: “Science has a poor track record when it comes to comparing our brains to the technology of the day. Descartes thought that the brain was a kind of hydraulic pump, propelling the spirits of the nervous system through the body. Freud compared the brain to a steam engine. The neuroscientist Karl Pribram likened it to a holographic storage device.”

Instead of taking the hint, Hoffman takes his cue from a Hollywood blockbuster and reduces our sensory interface with reality, down to our interface with a computer screen.  

Chapter five’s opening quote comes from Morpheus in The Matrix:  “This is your last chance . . . I (will) show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

Is Hoffman being provocative for the sake of intellectual titillation?  

Is it for the sake of constructive science?  Or what?  Is it tailored to sell to a frivolous audience?  

Can we tell the different between a constructive scientist and a devious salesman?  Lets find out as I continue my inspection of Hoffman's words and their implications.

DH:  “… I invite you to explore a metaphor of perception: each perceptual system is an interface, like the desktop computer of a laptop. A laptop shaped by natural selection, …”   (¶3)

Shaped by who’s “Natural Selection”?  It gets labeled, but never defined.

Besides, who’s kidding whom, the interface we experience with our laptops doesn’t in anyway correspond to the interface between our minds and our bodies; and then by extension through the senses, our “interface” with physical reality; which we are embedded within; as time relentlessly speeds us forward.  

A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

chapter 5, Illusory - The Bluff of a Desktop

DH:  “The blue icon does not deliberately misrepresent the true reality of the file.  Representing nature is not its aim.  Its job, instead, is to hide that nature for the complexity inside the computer. …(then into details )… The language of the interface - pixels and icons - cannot describe the hardware and software it hides. … ( and so and so forth )”   (¶5)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Prof Hoffman #4 - Sensory - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity

Fitness Beats Truth, you’ll hear it like a drum beat throughout Hoffman’s Case Against Reality. 

(last edit 11:15 am Oct 15, 2020)

In order to help it go down Hoffman dispenses with some inconvenient truths, such as: light must first bounce off an object before our eye’s, then mind* can perceive it.  Seems like solid proof that stuff exists before we perceive it!   (after appropriate processing)

Then Hoffman conflates ‘perceiving’ with ‘the perceived’ and starts down a troubling path.  

It’s no secret that our visual system edits and composes the moving images our mind’s eye perceives.  Nothing reality shattering about it.  Or is there?

Hoffman tells us something more important is going on.  That there’s a hidden reality inside of the reality we experience every day.  Something humanity really needs to tap into before we can feel whole.

Something like what?  Like inside atoms?  Is that justified?  If so?  So what? 

Or, might it simply be escapism that’s driving this Case Against Reality?

I will do my best to honestly and fairly represent Hoffman’s words and ideas.  I have exchanged some emails with Professor Hoffman, and I’ll share a couple quotes when appropriate.  My point is that Professor Hoffman is aware of my project and that I’m ready to listen to anything he has to share with me.

Review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

ch 4, Sensory - Fitness Beats Truth      

DH:  “Does natural selection favor true perceptions?”   (¶2)

For all of Hoffman’s use of “true” he never examines it critically, so his readers are left to their own devices.  For most of us “truth” is some sort of binary concept, it is true or isn’t it true.  That’s not how life in our natural world operates.

Hmmm, binary … well okay, the devil is in the details.  We do need to get beyond a few exceptions: is it alive or is it dead?

DH:  “Is it possible that we did not evolve to see truly - that our perceptions of space, time and objects do not reveal reality as it is? … Can the theory of evolution transform this stale philosophical chestnut into a crisp scientific claim?   (¶2)

DH:  “… This rejoinder misses a point of logic and a matter of fact.  

First logic: if we can’t test the claim that a peach does not exist when no one looks, then we can’t test the opposite and widely held claim that it does exist.  

Both claims posit what happens when no one observes.   (¶4)  

Why?  How does Hoffman figure that?  

Because we’re composing the image in our minds, he claims the object must not exist?  

What’s logical about that?  

Hoffman never does explain, we’re expected to take his word for it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Prof Hoffman #3 - (objective) Reality - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Capers of the Unseen Sun.

 I appreciate that many people including scientists use the term “objective” to mean something actually existing independent of the mind - still, if you think about it, bet you’ll admit that “objective,” or lack thereof, actually exists within our minds - as opposed to Physical Reality which simply IS.

DH:  “If we construct everything we see, and if we see neurons, then we construct neurons.  But what we construct doesn’t exist until we construct it.  So neurons don’t exist until we construct them.”   (¶7)

Cc:  In order to see an object light needs to first bounce off that object, then travel to one’s eyes, then be processed more or less the way Hoffman described, only then can it be perceived by one’s mind.

The light beams bouncing off that object wouldn’t be entering our eye’s to begin with, if that object didn’t already exist.                             Or ?   

Furthermore, we don't construct everything we see!  We construct an impression of what we see.                                                      

A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, chapter 3, 

(Objective) Reality, Capers of the Unseen Sun.

I define “Objective Reality” as a product of our minds.

For me "Physical Reality” indicates the actual atoms, molecules and laws they’ve followed in order to create this Universe and Earth we are embedded within.  

The reality that simply is!  

To begin this chapter Hoffman shares this consensus view:

Palmer:  “Evolutionarily speaking , usual perception is useful only if it is reasonably accurate.  By and large what you see is what you get.  When this is true, we have what is called veridical perception… perception that is consistent with the actual state of affairs in the environment.  This is almost always the case with vision.”

Stephen Palmer, vision science

Then Hoffman recalls his questioning correspondence with Francis Crick, leading member of the Helmholtz Club, co-discoverer of DNA, and author of The Astounding Hypothesis.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Prof Hoffman #2 - Beauty - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Sirens of the Gene

 For his warmup Hoffman discusses visual cues and their manipulation, one of his specialities.  The problem is that he applies his lessons of vision and perception to everything, like reality and evolution.  Thing is, survival and evolution is about a great deal more than vision.

A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

chapter 2, Beauty - Sirens of the Gene

If you have Hoffman’s book The Case Against Reality, great, because I’m definitely cherry picking key paragraphs and sentences, which leaves out some nuances and fascinating trivia.  If you don’t, I encourage you to get a copy to follow along and do your own examination of his rhetorical fancy dancing, because there’s plenty I’ve left on the cutting room floor.  

There’s no denying Hoffman tells a wonderful story and shares many curious, interesting and accurate facts, it’s his conclusions that get dodgy.  This study is about focusing on the tricks of the trade.  

Who’s trade? Hoffman's marketing insights and the science contrarian’s trick of confusing rather than clarifying.

I appreciate Hoffman may take umbrage at that since he spends a lot of time talking about the need for science to take over for the failed philosophical approach, if we're to tackle the perception-reality ‘problem.’  

He presents his formulas as real science, and they may be, mathematically speaking, but that is not natural science.  Nor is it bound by the constraints of physical reality.  (But than, Hoffman does reject physical reality as we know it.)

It’s an exercise of the mind and is vulnerable to the same pitfalls of human self-serving vanity as all other human endeavors, because it’s not constrained by physical reality the way the natural sciences are.  In fact, I believe calling it a “problem” to begin with is a bit contrived and has more to do with marketing and career creation than any actual “problem” we must resolve.

I’m going to be skipping a bunch of this chapter because it focuses on how visual cues can mislead the receiver of those signals.  The topic has been studied a long time now and there’s nothing reality shattering about what’s happening and why it occurs.  Interesting, but still, a distraction from Hoffman’s main supposition.

DH:  “Perhaps the universe itself is a massive social network of conscious agents that experience, decide and act.  If so, consciousness does not arise from matter and spacetime: …  

Instead, matter and spacetime arise from consciousness - as a perceptual interface” (¶26 of Preface)

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Prof Hoffman #1 - Mystery - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - The scalpel that split consciousness

 Visualizing the physical source of consciousness.


Human Connectome Project - Harvard

A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

Chapter 1, Mystery - The scalpel that split consciousness

Hoffman begins by telling us about Joseph Bogen and Philip Vogel who in 1962 pioneered “corpus callosotomy” a procedure that sliced through the brain’s corpus callosum, which runs between the two hemispheres of the brain.  It’s done to short circuit the neural feedback loop that triggers extreme epileptic fits.

Then onto the Helmholtz Club, a small group of neurosurgeons, cognitive scientists, and philosophers that met to,

DH:  “explore how advances in neuroscience might spawn a scientific theory of consciousness.”   (¶7)

DH:  “The mystery of consciousness, which was the focus of the Helmholtz Club … is quite simply the mystery of who we are.  Your body, like other objects, has physical attributes such as position, mass, and velocity… (just like a rock)”   (¶7)

DH:  “Like a rock, we have bona fide physical properties.  But, unlike a rock, we have conscious experiences and propositional attitudes.  Are these also physical.  If so, it’s not obvious”   (¶10) 

DH:  “So, what kind of creature are you?  How is your body related to your conscious experiences and propositional attitudes?  How is your experience of a chai latte related to activities in the brain?  Are you just a biochemical machine?   (¶11)

“Just a biological machine”?  What does that mean?  What’s Hoffman trying to imply?  What’s Hoffman expecting?  

What’s wrong with inhabiting the most amazing biological creature that the pageant of Evolution has ever produced?