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.
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
DH: (in letter to Crick) “Perhaps you could help me escape what seems a paradox. I agree wholeheartedly with you that “seeing is an active, constructive process,” that what we see “is a symbolic interpretation of the world,” and that “in fact we have no direct knowledge of objects in the world.” Indeed I think perception to be like science: a process of constructing theories given the available evidence. We see the theories we believe.”
As you say, “seeing is believing.” On these points, Crick and I agreed. But they conflict with common sense . . .” (¶2-3)
“Conflict with common sense?” I don’t see how. What follows is a physiological description of eye sight that descends into a comedy skirting on derision.
DH: “… But common sense is in for a surprise. Neuroscientists assure us that each time we open our eyes, billions of neurons and trillions of synapses spring into action … So what in the world is the brain computing when we look, and why? … (¶4)
… So, photoreceptors are bean counters for photons, and issue boring reports, … no dazzling waterfalls. There is just a stupefying array of numbers, with no obvious meaning. To endow this hill of beans with meaning, to understand what these lifeless numbers. … It’s more like detective work. … your brain interprets a jumble of numbers as a coherent world, and that interpretation is what you see - the best theory your brain could muster.” (¶5)
The derisive comic tone is the stuff of storytelling to fluff up your audience, not constructive science. Though, probably necessary for setting up Hoffman’s leap.
Hoffman has spent many years studying sight and perception and he’s not satisfied with current understanding and tells us about it.
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)
Where does that come from ?!?
Yeah, sure our senses and mind construct our perception of what we are looking at.
Our senses and mind does not construct the thing we are looking at - the mind builds a perception of it! No amount of rhetorical fancy dancing, no matter how sweet it sounds can change that physical reality - don’t fall for it.
In order to see an object light needs to first bounce off that object, then travel to one’s eye, 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 your eye’s to begin with, if that object didn’t already exist.
Hoffman isn’t doing serious science here. How Crick and others missed that, I can’t imagine. Though, I’m left to Hoffman's account and he’s busy trying to write a best seller, so who knows where the truth lies.
Then comes more discussion with mention of the “thing-in-itself” being “essentially unknowable,” more talk about the problem of neurons since it’s our perceiving them that creates them. Then comes the “Bridge Hypothesis” the bridge between the perceived and the unperceived.
To most perceiving and unperceiving is a matter of how well one pays attention. The thought of a bridge between the two, even a purely conceptual one. Does not compute.
I’m a retired working man, restaurants, banquet halls, carpentry, plumbing, painting and more, dealing with expectations and schedules, meeting expectations and prospering, or falling short and facing consequences. There’s no room to ponder perception, one is too busy perceiving and acting, life for creatures isn’t that much different.
Although, guess that’s not true, after hours I did take the time to reflect and absorb some lessons and pondering the creation around me and my place in it.
Succeeding or failing, or more realistically the world of circumstances in between the two - in real life, success and failing isn’t clear cut at all. The man succeeds by working to the top of his field and buys the grandest house to make his family proud, but in the process neglects and loses connection with and love of his wife and kids.
This has lead to my different way of pursuing very similar intellectual questions to Hoffman’s and why I’ve taken on Hoffman's The Case Against Reality, to serve as my framework for fully enunciating my Case In Favor of Embracing Reality which includes the distinction between Physical Reality and our Human Mindscapes.
Though for now we'll focus on understanding Hoffman's arguments and the tactics of storytelling.
DH: “… For only the idea-of-neuron is observed in experiments, not the neuron-in-itself. …
“… which, since (Bridge Hypothesis) asserts a relationship between the perceived and the unperceivable, is itself untestable and dubious… (¶18-19)
Dubious indeed. I know that there must be millions of images of neurons, perceived by tens of thousands of independent eyes, via objective instruments along a gradient of resolution abilities and human understanding. All see fundmentally the same basic structure. How's that work?
Hoffman goes on to tell us Crick was frank about the problem of conscious experiences and so on. Sure, I just don’t think it’s near as big or complicated a problem as Hoffman is painting for us. But then it doesn’t provide me a career, so there is that. In any event, now we get back to reality.
DH: “Crick assumed, however that the thing-in-itself can be described using the vocabulary of our ideas-of-things, of objects moving in space and time. …” (¶25)
Sounds fair enough. Then we come to theoretical neuroscientist David Marr whom Hoffman wound up studying under for 14 months, until Marr’s tragic and untimely death.
DH: “Marr claimed that our perception normally match reality, that our ideas-of-things correctly describe the things-in-themselves. … (¶27) … Marr concluded that natural selection had, on balance, shaped our perceptions to match reality. … (¶28)
Hoffman writes of his time with David Marr and his battle with leukemia and other university happenings. Hoffman completed his PhD in the spring of 1983. Within three years Hoffman fully doubted Marr’s claim that we evolved “to see a true description of what is there.”
DH: “I also doubted the language of our perceptions - the language of space, time, shapes, colors, textures, smells, tastes, and so on - can frame a true description of what is there. It is simply the wrong language. But was unable… to offer a good argument in 1994.” (¶35)
Think about all that Hoffman is rejected here.
I myself can’t comprehend such a perspective. The sun shines down and always has or this biosphere and we wouldn’t be here to begin with. Everything flows from there, games with logic not withstanding!
Hoffman is wrestling with the same sorts of existential thoughts that drove early societies to create religion and philosophy. Hoffman has his treasure trove of understanding to enlist, but still, it’s the same old philosophical battle, dressed up in modern clothing.
Hoffman now recaps some of the historic arguments in favor, but I’ll skip them and jump to Hoffman’s astounding hypothesis.
DH: “… I doubted that natural selection favors perceptions that describe reality. …It’s not that on occasion a perception exaggerates, underestimates, or otherwise goes awry, it’s that the lexicon of our perception, including space, time, and objects, is powerless to describe reality.” (¶44)
Let that soak in.
Hoffman finds his argument for doubt from Marr himself, … “Visual systems like the fly’s . . . are not very complicated; very little objective information about the world is obtained. The information is all very subjective. It is extremely unlikely that at the fly has any explicit representation of the visual world around him - no true conception of a surface, for example.”
But is that correct?” (“¶47)
It’s not a binary world, there is a gradient of acuity because there is a gradient of life and environmental niches.
A fundamental lesson of evolution that will aid our understanding is that: We can not understand an organism (or individual) without also understanding it’s environment. Where is the philosophical/mathematical symbol for that?
From here we jump to Steve Pinker’s high flying ideas.
DH: “Pinker’s book persuaded me to study perception as a product of natural selection. He makes a surprise claim:
“Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness.”
This observation is central. Our minds were shaped by natural selection to solve life-and-death problems. Full stop. They were not shaped to commune with correctness. Whether our beliefs and perceptions happen to be true is a question that requires careful study.” (“¶49)
Pinker’s rhetorical fancy dancing is world class, but it’s another case of provocative entertainment rather than constructive evidence being presented. Pinker's concepts titillate his enquiring audience, but he provides little sustenance.
For instance, “Correctness” is a bigger gotcha laced word than “Truth” - one that has little to do with any creature’s day to days. Sans primates with their little-gray-cells and sociopolitically driven minds and the realities it creates.
This sort of anthropomorphizing is another example of storytelling, rather than constructive real world science. Even if it has a notochord of theoretical math and logic hiding within.
When we really consider what’s happening out there is our untamed world, the one where our evolution unfolded, ( As opposed to University halls, and Madison Ave, and political stages.), both the notions “correctness” and “truth” are inadequate and inapplicable. They are bound to lead to anthropomorphizing.
Evolution (nor reality) cannot be understood without taking the time to go back to the beginning and consider the overall trajectory, the parade as it unfolded.
Our modern engaged go-go mind, obsessed with career, family, sex, getting ahead, staying ahead, getting more, etc., is ill equipped for the task. We need to face our own biases if we seek objectivity and we as a people seem to have lost that ability over the past decades. With a lot of help from big money and advertising.
This is the stuff of mind games and now Donald is getting warmed up.
DH: “is it possible that there is no tomato if no one looks? No space and time? No neurons? No neural activity to cause, or be, our conscious experiences? Is it possible that we do not see reality at it is? (¶51)
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow argue for a model-dependent realism: “According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observations . . .” (¶52)
What Hoffman conveniently leaves out is that Hawking and Mlodinow were theoretical physics working at the very boundary of single atoms and energy. Inevitably Hoffman jumps to Black Holes at the other extreme of our physical reality spectrum. In addition, regarding H + M’s remarks, from what I could make out it has more to do with scientific models than with the models our perceptions are made out of.
DH: “But the model in which the neuron stay put (when you look away) has so far, …, failed to explain the origin, nature, and data of conscious experience: no theory that starts with neurons and neural activity can account for the observations about conscious experience and their correlations with neural activity.
Perhaps the model in which the origin of consciousness. (¶53)
Perhaps it’s a bad question? Perhaps we are inadequate to the task? Perhaps they’re looking at it ass backwards?
This is a good place to remember the warning:
The quality of one’s answer is limited by the quality of one’s question.
It would be fascinating to have a neurologist look at that quote and share an expert perspective.
A reminder, we can’t see neurons, or anything else, until light gets shined on it first. Only then does this light get reflected and travel to the receiver. Or?
Meaning, the object must exist before you can perceive it. Or?
Why must we play such silly mind-games?
DH: “Philosophers have, for centuries, debated the puzzle of perception and reality. Can we transform this philosophical puzzle into a precise scientific question? Can Darwin’s theory of natural selection provide a definitive answer?
“In 2007, I decided to try. It was time to see if neurons stay put, or if we should pick on them.” (¶54,55)
I will give Hoffman credit, he is a wonderful storyteller.
Still, I would think most every thinking child, (and adult who’s ever been a child), ponders the perception vs reality mystery. Is it all gone when I close my eyes, how do I know, and all that. But then we find ways to make peace with physical reality and move on.
I certainly did. All this has brought back one particular ancient memory that’s making me smile right now. It’s a variation on this theme.
It goes way back to my Chicago, N. Bell Ave days, ( <10 years old ), when I had a friend, a kooky guy, but we got along and they had a TV, while we still didn’t, so I’d occasionally go to his place after school or for the annual, to my eyes, creepy Wizard of Oz broadcast. It was a narrow apartment, but his parents owned all three floors. They had these metal military surplus wardrobes, three of them absolutely identical to our eyes. In three rooms, on two floors.
Joey loved telling me all about how there really was just one and it would move from room to room. It could even transport him to the other two rooms (mind you, this was years before StarTrek). But, of course, only family could use it, and his parents would never allow me to try, he told me. Heck, they’d get mad if they even knew he’d let me in on the family secret: so don’t say anything! Though once I did, his mom laughed and shoo’d me away.
I never believed it, though I could be mighty gullible other times, still he kept trying to convince me, and he challenged me to prove that it wasn’t so. Can’t remember if I suggested making a mark on it, but we had strict parents in those days, so it probably never entered my mind. Nor did my skepticism shake him. So there. It wasn’t a big deal. It’s no surprise that he was also the first science fiction and comic book loving kid I knew.
These days I understand how the eyes work, how the visual system composes the moving image, I appreciate my blindspots, real and perceptual, but all that stuff is about this particular “instrument” that is my eyes, mind and body. It’s not about the physical reality I’m embedded within.
The one that Hoffman is going to try and convince me to discard.
Some sixty years of curiosity and pro-active learning have developed a deep understanding for our Earth's Evolution, not in fancy philosophical concepts or theoretical reductionism, but simply by spending my decades always learning a little more about what has actually unfolded upon this planet, based on the evidence at hand.
It’s been a wonderful profound pageant that has taught me more about myself (and my place in the world) than all the professional talking heads put together. Hoffman’s is a performance that idolizes disconnect from the basic reality we’re embedded within. It’s sexy and it sells. I myself believe what Hoffman is doing, is a mental health menace, with current event’s being exhibit #1 for it’s results - but that’s just me.
I sincerely believe a pragmatic down to Earth perspective of Evolution and Reality deserves quite a bit more attention and appreciation and respect than it receives. It’s a shame I can’t seem to find anyone who agrees.
In the next chapter Sensory: Fitness beats Truth, Hoffman asks: Does natural selection favor true perceptions? To make his case Hoffman wants us to jettison our language of perception, that is space, time, and physical objects. Come along for the wild ride.
Bring your book since I can only sample it. There’s plenty more examples of rhetorical fancy dancing intent on confusing rather than informing and clarifying.
It will be slow going, but I’ll keep plugging away at his chapters as I can and share my results.
Cc’s Students’ Guide, a work in progress.
Frontiers in Psychology - June 17, 2014
Student Resources - Background:
More to come . . .
Feel free to copy and share
Email: citizenschallenge gmail com
Public notice to W.W.Norton Co and Donald Hoffman:
Donald Hoffman Playing Basketball in Zero-Gravity,
a critical review:
The Case Against Reality :
Why Evolution Hid The Truth From Our Eyes
By Donald Hoffman
Published August 13th 2019
Publisher: W.W. Norton Company
©all rights reserved
I hereby claim FairUse on the grounds that Donald Hoffman’s “The Case Against Reality” is part of an ongoing public dialogue which Hoffman explicitly encourages others to join. He invited critique and I accept his challenge.
I intend to be a witness for a fact based DeepTime, Evolutionary perspective on our “human mind” -“physical reality” interface.
To do Hoffman’s arguments justice I’m compelled to reprint quite a few of them as I go through his book and I appreciate both W.W. Norton Company and Donald Hoffman’s understanding, and I hope for their consent.
email: citizenschallenge at gmail
Students Introduction to Reality Based Brain/Consciousness Research
Consciousness: here, there and everywhere? Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch
The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness, Dr. Christof Koch,
Allen Institute for Brain Science, Coding & Vision 101, 12-part undergraduate-level lecture series
Some Elements of an Evolutionary Theory of Perception
Perceptual Systems, Historical Background, Innate And Learned Classical perceptual phenomena, Broad theoretical approaches, Current research/future developments.
Agnes Szokolszky, Catherine Read, Zsolt Palatinus, et al., 2019
Eric P. Charles, 2017,
Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, Sergio Rojo, et al. PNAS 2020
doi.org/10.1146/annurev-earth-082517-010120, March 21, 2018
Eve R. Schneider, Elena O. Gracheva, and Slav N. Bagriantsev, 2016
Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, Handbook of Emotions, 2000
Simon Neubauer, Jean-Jacques Hublin and Philipp Gunz, 2018:
Rainer Mausfeld, PhD.
By: Stephen Burnett, PhD, Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):75
H. Clark Barrett
by: Andrea Korte, February 19, 2017
The bottom line:
Mysteries of Modern Physics by Sean Carroll
Jan 29, 2020 - Darwin College Lecture Series
. . . 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’redone finding 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. …