In Defense of Scientific Realism and Down to Earth Physical Reality.
Consciousness is a Spectrum, Not a Thing.
Donald Hoffman in Case Against Reality: “The rot of entropy is an implacable enemy of life, a purveyor of decay and death.” (Chapter 10 ¶65)
Citizenschallenge: What a profoundly sad way to perceive our reality and indeed the process of life itself? As silly as having an absolute abhorrence of death. Life and Evolution couldn’t exist without death.
Why doesn't Hoffman appreciate that without entropy the engine of life could never have been created to begin with? No wonder Hoffman’s capable of dismissing physicalism, he’s never learned to appreciate real life processes! It’s ALL philosophy and math to him.
What infuriates me, and which in turn has fueled me completing this tedious project, is his glib dismissal of physicalism which is the cornerstone of sober science for very good reasons.
Why do so many stand by and enable such slander against serious science?
DH: “Conscious Realism must pay another promissory note. It must from first principles, describe precisely the dynamics of conscious agents, and show how this dynamics, when projected into the interface of Homo sapiens, appears as modern physics and Darwinian evolution.
This is a strong empirical constraint on the theory of agent dynamics: Its projected into our spacetime interface must account for all the data that supports modern physics and evolution.” (¶64)
For all his fanciful words, Hoffman never lives up to them.
Also, in real science, an author is expected to be capable of fielding questions in good faith with substantive constructive answers related to said questions.
But, from our correspondence and what I’ve read on the internet, Hoffman acts more like a politician. Consistently forces the dialogue right back onto his train track, or one’s questions are ignored altogether.
It’s supposed to be a learning process, but too often Hoffman is busy selling.
A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality,
chapter 10c, Community: The Network of Conscious Agents
DH: “A conscious agent enjoys a repertoire of experiences. It networks with may other agents, which enjoy a stupefying variety of disparate repertoires. So it cannot experience the vast majority of these exotic experiences. This holds in particular for the hierarchy of agents that constitute it own instantiation.
An agent simply lacks the resources to experience all the experiences of all the agents in its instantiation, even though those agents contribute to its very self. An agent can at best wield its repertoire of experience to paint, with broad brush, a crude leptons of its instantiation.
In our case, we paint a body, brain, neurons, chemicals, and particulars on a canvas of spacetime. Then we step back, admire our handiwork, and conclude that there’s nothing conscious to see here - a simple mistake that fosters a physicalism and turns the problem of consciousness into mystery.” (¶60)
The first sentences of that paragraph reads more like an anthropological study than anything. Formula as village. At least anthropologists are required to provide physical evidence and justify their inferences.
Second part of this paragraph boils down to a grotesque Picasso like caricature of the scientific process. The scientific process is a set of rules and expectations focused on objectively studying the physical world - while cutting human ego and bias out of the equation as much as possible.
Natural science acknowledges consciousness but it’s honest enough to admit that consciousness remains beyond science’s ability to study. Although at this point, neuroscientists are continuing a drum beat of new insights that are narrowing the gap.
DH: “A couscous agent is not just a repertoire of experiences. It decides and acts.
But its actions are, by its very definition, distinct from experiences: the diagram of an agent, for instance, has one box for “Experiences” and a separate box for “Actions.”
This entails that a conscious agent can be aware and yet not self-aware - not aware of it’s own decisions and actions. …
Its interface must have an icon, or icons, that represent the decisions and actions of the agent itself. If it sees itself at all, it sees itself through its own interface - as through a glass darkly. And, of necessity, incompletely.” (¶61)
Another side to this story,
Peter Godfrey Smith - Talks at Google - May 11, 2017
Peter Godfrey-Smith is a leading philosopher of science. He is also an accomplished scuba diver whose underwater videos of warring octopuses have attracted wide notice. In this book, he brings his parallel careers together to tell a bold new story of how nature became aware of itself.
DH: “No conscious agent can describe itself completely. The very attempt adds more experiences to the agent, with multiples the complexity of its decisions and actions in light of those new experiences, which requires yet more experiences to capture those more complex decision and actions, and so on in a vicious loop of incompleteness. From this limitation may arise philosophical conundrums, personal angst, and job security for psychotherapists.” (¶62)
DH: “There is, however, good reason to fabricate a self. If you experience your acts and their consequences, then you can learn, If this act leads to that noxious experience, then you can learn not to do this act. …” (¶63)
Quite the long jump. From Hoffmanian Conscious Agents to a
“good reason to fabricate a self.”
So conscious agents control what we sense, but then the mind needs to fabricate a self to decide what to do with the icons conscious agents feed us? How do we ‘fabricate ourselves’, if conscious agents are weaving our impressions?
No evidence provided; nor mechanism suggested, for this jump from conscious agents doing their thing, to humans learning and making decisions. Incoherence comes to mind.
DH: “Conscious realism advance an ontology radically different from the physicalism that dominates modern neuroscience, and science more generally. ...” (¶67)
Incidentally, I can’t finish this without pointing out the Orwellian wordsmithing Hoffman employs. For example: “Conscious realism,” more like, "Conscious Omnipotence.”
We need Scientific realism.
For an interesting tour of the variety of ideas struggling to understand consciousness, here’s a good article.
Josh Weisberg, University of Houston, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
… The usual methods of science involve explanation of functional, dynamical, and structural properties—explanation of what a thing does, how it changes over time, and how it is put together. But even after we have explained the functional, dynamical, and structural properties of the conscious mind, we can still meaningfully ask the question, Why is it conscious?
This suggests that an explanation of consciousness will have to go beyond the usual methods of science. Consciousness therefore presents a hard problem for science, or perhaps it marks the limits of what science can explain.
Explaining why consciousness occurs at all can be contrasted with so-called “easy problems” of consciousness: the problems of explaining the function, dynamics, and structure of consciousness. These features can be explained using the usual methods of science.
But that leaves the question of why there is something it is like for the subject when these functions, dynamics, and structures are present. This is the hard problem. …
DH: “Conscious Realism is described as a non-physicalist monism which holds that consciousness is the primary reality and the physical world emerges from that.”
“Consciousness” - is a spectrum, not a thing.
“non-physicalist” - physicalism is about the solid, what can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, it’s measurable.
“monism,” the doctrine that only one supreme being exists - ‘nough said.
“The physical world emerges from preexisting consciousness.” - That isn’t science, it’s theology!
Furthermore, it’s totally unnecessary. Our scientifically grounded understanding of Earth’s Evolution provides the important answers we need.
As with Evolution, emergent properties are real, so too are mind-expanding insights driven by doing the homework and learning.
Our human mindscapes, are the fantastic domain of our minds, the product of our environment-body-brain. An emergent property of complex biology and environment.
Change over deep-time enabled the human creature to achieve an awareness unlike any other. But, it’s still part and parcel of the physical whole of Earth’s biosphere.
The mysterious spark is to be found down here on Earth, not out in sterile space!
DH: “Science is not a theory of reality, but a method of inquiry. It orchestrates the better angels of our nature to promote reason, precision, productive dialog, and an appeal to evidence. It curbs our proclivity for the vague, deceptive, dogmatic and imperious.
Inquiry into any question that captures the human imagination - including meaning, purpose, values, beauty, and spirituality - deserves no less than the full benefit of this orchestration. Why deny ourselves our best chance to better understand.” (¶70)
Sounds reasonable on the surface. Sure, everybody deserves a nice ribbon and certificate just for showing up. But it ignores that not everyone is acting in good faith, nor does everyone know what they are talking about.
It’s deluded to suggest that science should be amenable to every query the mind is capable of, after all, don’t we appreciate that our mindscapes are capable of producing way more than reality is capable of delivering on?
Why shouldn’t science be restricted to what can actually be observed, measured, studied and described?
DH: “I agree with Dawkins. if a system of thought, religious or otherwise, offers a claim that it want’s taken seriously, then we should examine it with our best method of inquiry. - the scientific method. That is taking it seriously. …” (¶73)
What if a claim fails all tests? What if a claim can’t even be tested?
This is crazy-making! Since when does any self-proclaimed profundity have a “Right” to be taken seriously?
An idea must EARN the ‘privilege’ of being taken seriously, there are no automatic ‘rights’ for ideas.
Professor, why do you advocate scientific chaos?
Hoffman just got through saying the “vague, deceptive, dogmatic and imperious” is to be shunned. Then I read his imaginative descriptions of conscious agent abilities and it’s astounding. Not a shred of evidence beyond suppositions and impenetrable ad hoc math formulas, to me it sounds mighty imperious and deceptive.
The cognitive dissonance is brain frying.
The quality of one’s answers is limited by the quality of one’s questions.
DH: “Can science describe who we are?
I think so,
in the sense that we can, by the scientific method, evolve and refine theories of who we are. …” (¶74)
“Who we are?”
Is Hoffman suggesting there is some accurate ideal answer that science can arrive at?
We, as individuals? We, as a collective whole? We as a physical machine evolved from billions of years of constructive change over time? We as imaginative beings confined within our individual mindscapes?
What’s wrong with all that science has already learned about our bodies and brain and mind and this Earth? Why expect everything to be spoon feed?
Who are you?
You are the sum total of all the days and experiences that have preceded this moment. Who you are is something each needs to decide for themselves, on a poetic spiritual level, beyond the grasp of science. Who you are? As much, or as little, as you allow yourself to be.
DH: “Science is not committed to a spacetime and objects that existed before first person accounts. …” (¶76)
Of course “science” is committed to a spacetime and the objects of physical reality! Nothing better has ever been seriously suggested.
Trying to imagine this Earth around me being reified by a blizzard of Hoffmanian Conscious Agents swooping in from who knows where makes zero sense.
DH: “Conscious realism makes a bold claim: consciousness, not spacetime and its objects, is fundamental reality
and is properly described as a network of conscious agents.
To earn its keep, conscious realism must do serious work ahead. It must ground a theory of quantum gravity, explain the emergence of our spacetime interface and its objects, explain the appearance of Darwinian evolution within that interface, and explain the evolutionary emergence of human psychology. …” (¶78)
And how can any of this constructively help people get through our day to days back here in this space-time reality that’s not going anywhere?
DH: “Conscious realism contends, to the contrary, that no physical object is conscious. …” (¶80)
Biological creatures are physical objects.
Hoffman thinks all of that is being controlled by outside Conscious Agents, with incredible abilities, yet no physical attributes.
These agents have never been observed. Nor been inferred via other scientific observations, the way dark energy and matter and even consciousness has.
But, it makes perfect sense in Hoffman’s math, in Hoffman’s idealized universe, and it sells.
Obviously as an Earth Centrist, who’s spent his life learning about the wonders of our physical Earth and her history, living in natural rural spaces most my adult life, working outside, I can find thousands of self-evident reasons to reject his computer driven conceit. I’ve tried to enunciate a few through these pages.
DH: “I also think that conscious realism can breach the wall between science and spirituality. This ideological barrier is a needless illusion, enforced by hoary misconception: that science requires a physicalist ontology that is anathema to spirituality, and that spirituality is impervious to the methods of science. I see ahead an uneasy truce and eventual rapprochement” (¶82)
“Hoary misconception,” more impressive wordsmithing. Consider hoary - ancient, tedious with familiarity, gray and stale with age.
Another reflection of the modern ‘too much is never enough’ state of mind.
I can suggest an easier route to rapprochement, one that has more to do with recognizing our own attitudes first and foremost; and then getting some Earth bound fundamentals straight, before proceeding back into the weeds of reality.
The Missing Key to Stephen Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magisteria”
At Confronting Science Contrarians - September 1, 2018
“… missing was a much more fundamental division crying out for recognition. Specifically, the magisteria of Physical Reality vs the magisteria of our Human Mindscape. …”
DH: “I mentioned that conscious agents combine to create more and more complex agents. This process eventuates in infinite agents, with infinite potential for experience, decisions, and actions. The idea of an infinite conscious agent sounds much like the religious notion of God.” (¶83)
Gotta love the fancy rhetoric, “eventuates”: to occur as a result.
Infinite agents and infinite potentials, again that sort of talk puts all of this outside the purview of serious science and into spiritualism, philosophy, religion - which are fine topics, but keep them on their side of the fence, they aren’t approachable through science. Hoary as that truth may feel to some.
DH: “The theory of God that emerges from a scientific theology need not posit a magician that floats the laws of physics. These laws do not describe an unconscious reality; they describe the dynamics of conscious agents, finite and infinite, projected into the language and data structures of the spacetime interface of Homo sapiens.
This is poetry, far removed from the rough and tumble of serious science.
The laws of physics describe a “machine” in which consciousness is an emergent proper of complex architecture with amazing chemistry & physics going on, and some wonderful mysteries remaining. It’s okay. Relax. No need to jettison spacetime and physical reality.
Glory in all we do know, rather than focusing on the chump change of other dimensions well beyond our grasp.
Consciousness need not flout scientific laws that are themselves projected descriptions of the dynamics of consciousness.” (¶84)
Next paragraph goes to virtual reality land and more dog chasing tail.
DH: “When you die, do we simply slip out of the spacetime interface of Homo sapiens? I don’t know.
Why do people still flog themselves with such questions?
“I don’t know,” is a trick shot.
I don’t know that the sun will rise outside my bedroom window tomorrow morning. On the other hand, it is self-evident to me from all I’ve learned that the sun will indeed rise exactly where I expect it to - and I’d bet my life on it.
In the same, vein, I don’t know what happens after my body dies, but from all I’ve learned about biology, evolution, my own living soul and all the things going on inside of me, it’s very self evident that only through my body moving through this world, can my consciousness be aware of anything.
When I die, the engine driving my consciousness breaks and won’t be producing any more consciousness. That’s the end of “me”. Of course, I also know there are other aspects of myself, that will certainly live on in the world I’ve “left behind.” For a while at least, but like all else, fading, then disappearing with time. That too is okay. Today gives us plenty enough to think about and do.
This sort of appreciation gives me all the foundation, security, inner peace my living soul needs. It is also why I find myself living in the present, absorbing every moment as best one can.
Develop who you are, live your short ride best as you can. For soon your one gift from the universe will be taken away and there will be nothing for you. It’s okay, this too shall pass.
… But we have the theory of conscious realism, and the mathematics of conscious agents. Let’s do some science.” (¶86)
What stagecraft, almost has me calling out, bravo. I freely admit, Hoffman tells a great yarn.
Still Hoffman’s starting point seems to be a fundamental belief that religion should be folded into science.
That is profoundly misguided no matter how well he writes.
The call to “do some science” is a rhetorical trope, not supported by anything else in this book. It takes more than fancy math to make it science!
Humans would do better to slow down and absorb what scientists have learned and stop pretending we can make it up as we go along!
DH: “… Galileo claim, there are no tastes, odors, or colors in objective reality. These are just features of our perceptions.”
“Galileo got the message, took a giant leap in the right direction, and then stopped. …”(¶88/89)
Got the message? Say what? Where did the message come from?
Fact remains, the message he received was wrong. As it turns out, tastes, odors and colors are actual physical substances that can be observed, measured, studied, explained, learned about, duplicated.
How each of us individual human creatures decodes and perceives those entities varies slightly, but the objects themselves don’t shape-shift.
DH: “What is spacetime? This book has offered you the red pill. Spacetime is your virtual reality, a headset of your own making. The objects you see are your invention. You create them with a glance and destroy them with a blink.
You have worn this headset all your life. What happens if you take it off?” (¶91/92)
I keep rereading that and the outcome remains the same: heads I lose, tails he wins.
Spacetime is not a virtual reality that twinkles on and off for my benefit. It’s self-evident that the space-time we’re embedded within did exist before the first person imagined it, or the first person could never have arrived to perceive it!
Furthermore, it’s self-evident Spacetime and Earth and life will keep on keeping on. No matter how hideously we humans manage to degrade our biosphere and annihilate ourselves off this amazing cornucopia planet we were gifted with, all the while lost in our self-indulgent, self-glorifying, self-certain pipe-dreams.
Professor Hoffman has made claims based on various theoretical physics ideas as though they were settled science. Forty years of failed experiments, tells a different reality! To set the record straight I've invited a genuine expert, the physicist Dr. Hossenfelder, to illuminate the situation.
Sabine Hossenfelder at Brookhaven Lab, April 29, 2019
Physicist and author of "Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray," describes how arguments of beauty—simplicity and naturalness, in particular—have led to a dead end for physics, and what can be done about it.
In the final installment we'll be looking at the proverbial blood and guts of these Hoffmanian Conscious Agents as Hoffman brings out his mathematical "proof." We'll also take a look at the Hoffman and Prakash 2014 paper, "Objects of consciousness" where his formulas take full flight.
It would be nice to know if anyone's looked through all these installments, and even better to know what you thought of them.
I appreciate I'm self-schooled, so flawless it isn't by any stretch, still if you believe in Earth and Physical Reality and are tired of the crazy-making, I know there's plenty of value for you in here.
Public notice to W.W.Norton Co and Donald Hoffman:
Donald Hoffman Playing Basketball in Zero-Gravity,
a critical review:
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
Cc’s Students’ Study Guide for The Case Against Reality.
(Titles are linked)
Frontiers in Psychology - June 17, 2014
“Probing the interface theory of perception: Reply to commentaries, by Donald D. Hoffman, Manish Singh & Chetan Prakash"
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. volume 22, pages1551–1576(2015)
We propose that selection favors nonveridical perceptions that are tuned to fitness. Current textbooks assert, to the contrary, that perception is useful because, in the normal case, it is veridical. Intuition, both lay and expert, clearly sides with the textbooks. We thus expected that some commentators would reject our proposal and provide counterarguments that could stimulate a productive debate. … (HSP)
(3.02) Barton Anderson - Where does fitness fit in theories of perception?
(3.03) Jonathan Cohen - Perceptual representation, veridicality, and the interface theory of perception.
(3.04) Shimon Edelman - Varieties of perceptual truth and their possible evolutionary roots.
(3.05) Jacob Feldman - Bayesian inference and “truth”: a comment on Hoffman, Singh, and Prakash.
(3.06) Chris Fields -Reverse engineering the world: a commentary on Hoffman, Singh, and Prakash, “The interface theory of perception”.
(3.07) Jan Koenderink - Esse est Percipi & Verum est Factum.
(3.08) Rainer Mausfeld - Notions such as “truth” or “correspondence to the objective world” play no role in explanatory accounts of perception.
(3.09) Brian P. McLaughlin and E. J. Green - Are icons sense data?
(3.10) Zygmunt Pizlo - Philosophizing cannot substitute for experimentation: comment on Hoffman, Singh & Prakash.
(3.11) Matthew Schlesinger - Interface theory of perception leaves me hungry for more.
Student Resources - Background info:
Dr. Mark Solms deftly demystifies Chalmers’ “Hard Problem” of Consciousness, while incidentally highlighting why Hoffman’s “Conscious Agents” are luftgeschäft.
My homemade philosophical underpinnings.
Feel free to copy and share
Email: citizenschallenge gmail com
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. …