387. What You See and Feel is Not Reality | Dr. Donald Hoffman

    Our understanding of reality is shaped by consciousness, which seeks to know itself through different perspectives, highlighting the importance of independent and innovative thinking in scientific progress.

    enOctober 12, 2023

    About this Episode

    Dr. Jordan B Peterson and cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Donald Hoffman discuss what we know as reality, why space time is now being considered a “doomed” framework, and how consciousness can be understood as a vast probability space within which we orient ourselves.


    Hoffman received a Bachelor of Arts degree in quantitative psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles, and then his Doctorate of Philosophy in computational psychology at MIT. He briefly worked as a research scientist at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, before taking on the role of assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine. He is now a professor in the department of Cognitive Sciences. He has written four books (below), on the topics of human vision, perception, consciousness, and the effects of/reasons for evolution on each. He is also a key proponent of MUI (Multimodal User Interface) theory, which states that "perceptual experiences do not match or approximate properties of the objective world, but instead provide a simplified, species-specific, user interface to that world." Hoffman argues that conscious beings have not evolved to perceive the world as it actually is but have evolved to perceive the world in a way that maximizes "fitness payoffs.”


    - Links -


    For Dr. Donald Hoffman:


    "The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes" (Book) https://www.amazon.com/Case-Against-Reality-Evolution-Truth-ebook/dp/B07JR1FDXH/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1OMOD0ZGPHCT9&keywords=the+case+against+reality&qid=1697060197&s=digital-text&sprefix=the+case+against%2Cdigital-text%2C189&sr=1-1


    "Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See" (Book) https://www.amazon.com/Visual-Intelligence-How-Create-What/dp/0393319679/ref=sr_1_1?crid=QZBIXXULF7VC&keywords=Visual+intelligence+hoffman&qid=1697060273&s=digital-text&sprefix=visual+intelligence+hoffman%2Cdigital-text%2C138&sr=1-1-catcorr


    Dr. Hoffman on X https://twitter.com/donalddhoffman?lang=en


    Dr. Hoffman's Ted Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is?language=en 

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Our sensory systems prioritize efficiency and heuristics over perfect accuracy, shaping our perception of reality based on the interplay between the world, the organism, and its actions.
    • The probability of fitness payoff functions aligning with the structure of the world is low, and evolutionary theory does not provide guidance in determining their structure. The complexity of perception and various constraints shape our understanding of the world.
    • Our perception of reality is a simplified interface that serves specific goals, allowing us to navigate and make choices that contribute to our long-term survival and reproductive success.
    • Our perception of reality is a subjective and constructed version that is shaped by our motivations, needs, and pragmatic ends. It is not an objective truth.
    • While there is a causal connection between what happens inside a computer and what we perceive on the screen, there is no direct replica or homomorphism of structure between the two.
    • Physicists are proposing a new framework for physics that goes beyond space-time, while Jordan Peterson discusses the importance of understanding through manipulation and grip, highlighting the connection between mythological structures and neuroscience findings on perception.
    • Embracing the idea that consciousness is more fundamental than objective reality opens up a realm of possibilities, urging us to navigate the probability space and make choices that align with our desired outcomes.
    • Emotions like positive emotion and anxiety can be explained by the reduction or increase in entropy, reflecting the progress or obstacles towards desired outcomes.
    • Our perception of time, entropy, and reality is subjective and influenced by our goals and projections, raising questions about the nature of reality and the definition of truth.
    • Scientific theories are built upon foundational assumptions, highlighting the philosophical nature of scientific inquiry and the potential limitations of these theories themselves.
    • Scientists rely on assumptions to explore complex subjects, but challenging these assumptions can reveal hidden complexities and uncertainties. By continually refining and expanding assumptions, scientific inquiry can never reach a complete theory of everything. However, current theories have still led to significant advancements in technology and understanding.
    • Reproduction involves more than immediate sexual gratification and is influenced by a pattern of behavior, including investing time and effort in raising and nurturing offspring for successful reproduction across generations. Additionally, considering deeper spiritual principles beyond evolutionary theory is necessary.
    • Our understanding of reality is shaped by consciousness, which seeks to know itself through different perspectives, highlighting the importance of independent and innovative thinking in scientific progress.
    • Scientific theories are defined by the mathematics used to describe them, revealing their boundaries and limitations. Truth in science is relative and subject to change over time and assumptions.
    • Evolutionary game theory is a powerful tool for understanding evolution, but it is not an ultimate truth. Science constantly evolves, seeking new discoveries and expanding our understanding.
    • Embracing the idea of consciousness as more than our physical selves challenges our beliefs, raising profound questions about identity and the meaning of our existence.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Challenging the Perception of Reality

    Dr. Donald Hoffman's research challenges the notion that our sensory systems are shaped by evolution to perceive reality as it truly is. While many believe that seeing aspects of reality accurately would increase our fitness and likelihood of reproduction, Hoffman's findings suggest otherwise. Using evolutionary game theory, he and his team analyzed fitness payoffs, which are the points organisms gain for being in certain states and taking certain actions. They discovered that the chance of perceiving reality as it is, according to Darwinian principles, is essentially zero. This surprising result implies that our sensory systems prioritize efficiency and heuristics over perfect accuracy. Ultimately, our perception of reality is shaped by the interplay between the state of the world, the state of the organism, and its actions, rather than reflecting an objective truth.

    Alignment Between Fitness Payoff Functions and the Structure of the World

    The probability of a generically chosen payoff function preserving a structure like a metric or a total order is very low. This means that most fitness payoff functions do not align with the structure of the world. Evolutionary theory, which is indifferent about the shape of payoff functions, does not provide any guidance in determining their structure. To assess the likelihood of preserving a structure, certain equations must be satisfied by the payoff function. However, these equations are highly restrictive and most functions do not meet the criteria. Additionally, the complexity of perception should not be underestimated, as there are numerous assumptions and constraints that shape our understanding of the world. This includes both practical considerations, like building a bridge, as well as Darwinian constraints related to shared perceptions and motivations.

    The Constructed Interface of Reality

    Our perception of reality is not a direct reflection of the objective world, but rather a simplified and purposefully constructed interface that allows us to navigate and interact with our environment effectively. Evolution has shaped our sensory systems to provide us with this user interface, much like the desktop on a computer. Just as we don't need to understand the intricate workings of our computer's circuits to use it, we do not need to comprehend the complexity of reality to function in it. Our perception is optimized to serve specific goals and functions, translating the external world into manageable and meaningful information. This understanding helps us navigate the inherent conflicts and constraints that arise from our various motivational systems, enabling us to make choices that contribute to our long-term survival and reproductive success.

    The Constructed Nature of Perception

    Our perception of reality is not a direct representation of objective truth. Instead, we perceive a low-resolution version of reality that is shaped by our motivations and needs. Just like the icons on a computer screen or animated characters in a show, our perception is a functional tool that helps us navigate the world. This idea is analogous to the concept of kenosis, where a low-resolution representation of God is used to establish a relationship between the infinite and the bounded. Similarly, our perception of objects contains an unbiased sampling of reality, although it is bent towards pragmatic and motivational ends. Ultimately, our perception is a constructed version of reality rather than an objective truth.

    Causal Connection vs. Homomorphism: Exploring Supercomputer Architecture

    There is a distinction between causal connection and homomorphism in the supercomputer architecture. Donald Hoffman argues that although there is a causal connection between what happens inside the computer and what we perceive on the screen, there is no direct replica or homomorphism of structure between the two. The pattern of electrons in the computer, for example, has no color, yet the programmed sequence generates specific colors on the screen. Jordan Peterson suggests that there may still be a pattern or homomorphism at certain levels of multi-level patterning, even if it is not present throughout the entire system. The analogy of the immune system further illustrates the idea of generating a sufficient homolog to accomplish a specific goal. However, Hoffman maintains that we cannot rely on homomorphism and that what we perceive is akin to a headset, separate from the underlying reality.

    Exploring new frameworks in physics beyond space-time and quantum theory, and the debate between structure, function, and consciousness.

    Physicists, including Donald Hoffman, are suggesting the need for a new framework for physics that goes beyond space-time and quantum theory. They are exploring structures like decorated permutations that exist outside of space-time. Hoffman also aligns this view with Darwin's theory, stating that space-time is not fundamental, but rather just a headset. On the other hand, Jordan Peterson brings up the concept of homology and the importance of understanding through manipulation and grip. While Peterson acknowledges the possible limitations of homology, he still sees some indication of it, especially when it comes to the relationship between cause and effect. Ultimately, a debate arises between the concepts of structure and function and their connection to consciousness. Peterson also highlights the idea of three fundamental causal agents or structures found in mythological stories, which can be related to neuroscience findings on perception.

    Consciousness as the Fundamental Reality: Exploring the Nature of Space-Time

    Consciousness is more fundamental than objective reality, according to the views of Jordan Peterson and Donald Hoffman. They argue that space-time, which has long been considered the fundamental reality, is actually just a trivial headset. Scientists are now searching for structures beyond space-time, and consciousness is seen as a fundamental reality outside of it. Hoffman's theory of conscious agents proposes a probability space as a realm of potentiality, similar to Peterson's concept of a probability landscape. Both suggest that the world should be understood as a place of possibilities and differing probabilities, rather than a fixed and deterministic system. The key question then becomes how to best orient ourselves to navigate this probability space and contend with the potentialities it offers.

    Understanding Conscious Experiences and Emotions through Probability Spaces and Entropy

    Conscious experiences can be represented by a probability space, where different agents may have different sets of possible experiences. The simpler an organism is, the more limited their probability space becomes, collapsing into a few choices. Emotions, such as positive emotion and anxiety, can be understood in terms of reducing or increasing entropy in relation to desired outcomes. Positive emotion arises when steps are taken towards a goal, reducing the number of potential pathways. Anxiety, on the other hand, emerges when the probability space expands, making desired goals more difficult to achieve. Additionally, it is possible to model a reality outside of space-time where entropy does not increase, but when projected onto our world, the arrow of time and increasing entropy emerge.

    The Subjective Nature of Time and Reality

    Our perception of time and reality may be subjective and influenced by our goals and projections. Entropy, or disorder, is often defined in relation to a posited state of order, making it subjective as well. Our perception of objects is based on conditional probabilities and the likelihood of certain outcomes. We interact with the probability space around objects, shaping our perception and actions. The concept of entropy and natural selection in Darwinian theory may be artifacts of projection rather than fundamental insights into reality. Time, considered a limited resource, may also be an artifact of projection, making the arrow of time subjective. This raises questions about the nature of reality and the definition of truth.

    The Role of Assumptions in Scientific Theories

    Scientific theories rely on certain assumptions, or axioms, that cannot be proven within the framework of the theory itself. Jordan Peterson and Donald Hoffman discuss how scientific theories, such as Einstein's theory of special relativity or Darwin's theory of evolution, start with these foundational assumptions and build upon them. Peterson raises the idea that the practice of science itself requires faith in certain beliefs, such as the existence of objective truth and the discoverability of that truth. These axioms are essential for scientists to make progress and communicate their findings. However, there is a recognition that these assumptions may not be universally true or supported by empirical evidence. This highlights the philosophical nature of scientific inquiry and the potential limitations of scientific theories themselves.

    The importance of assumptions in scientific theories and the need for continual refinement and exploration.

    Scientific theories are built upon assumptions or axioms that serve as the foundation for further exploration and understanding. These assumptions can be seen as the starting point for scientific discourse, allowing researchers to delve into the complexities of a particular subject. However, challenging these axioms can lead to the release of hidden complexities and uncertainties, which many people may find uncomfortable. It is important for scientists to explicitly state their assumptions so that the scope and limits of their theories can be understood. This process of continually refining and broadening assumptions ensures that scientific inquiry never reaches a complete theory of everything, providing infinite job security for scientists. Despite the limited certainty provided by current theories, they have still allowed for remarkable advancements in technology and understanding, proving their practical value. Ultimately, the pursuit of knowledge involves continually aiming upwards, making sacrifices, and exploring new pathways for maximum understanding and progress.

    The complexity of reproduction goes beyond sex and lust, involving long-term investment and a pattern of behavior that ensures reproductive fitness.

    The drive for reproduction is more complex than simply sex or lust. Evolutionary biologists like Dawkins have often made the mistake of closely equating reproduction with short-term sex, overlooking the long-term investment required for successful reproduction. Human beings, for instance, not only rely on sex for reproduction but also invest significant time and effort in raising and nurturing their offspring for many years. This shows that reproduction extends beyond immediate sexual gratification and is influenced by an ethos or pattern of behavior that ensures reproductive fitness across generations. Moreover, when considering deeper spiritual principles, evolutionary theory alone may not be sufficient as it is limited to the framework of space-time projection. Consciousness, which is primary, operates within this framework but is not confined by it.

    Consciousness and reality: exploring the interconnectedness and infinite perspectives.

    Reality and consciousness are deeply intertwined. Donald Hoffman suggests that consciousness is the primary reality, and it uses projections to navigate and survive in the world. He proposes that there is one ultimate infinite consciousness that seeks to know itself. However, due to certain theorems, no system can fully know itself. So, the infinite consciousness looks at itself through different perspectives, like putting on different headsets. This perspective, like space-time, gives rise to our experience of reality, including evolution and quantum field theory. Jordan Peterson adds that different perspectives and narratives in various traditions all point to the same underlying reality. This exploration of consciousness and reality ties into the scientific enterprise and the pursuit of comprehensive understanding. Although Hoffman's ideas may face resistance, the progress of science often comes from independent and innovative thinking.

    The Scope and Limits of Scientific Theories

    Scientific theories, including Darwin's theory of evolution and Einstein's theory of gravity, have both a scope and limits that are defined by the mathematics used to describe them. The equations reveal the boundaries of our concepts and assumptions, showing us how far they can go and no further. This understanding of science tells us that truth is not a fixed, all-encompassing definition, but rather a reflection of what works within a specific timeframe and set of implications. It aligns with the idea that truth is more like the functionality of a bridge, determined by whether it can withstand the weight of a hundred cars crossing it. Therefore, while science is valuable, we should always acknowledge that our theories are not a final or complete representation of reality.

    Evolutionary game theory: Exploring the dynamics of evolution and truth.

    Evolutionary game theory is a valuable tool within the field of evolutionary theory, as it helps us understand various phenomena. While there is always debate and ongoing research, evolutionary game theory is widely accepted as the best mathematical framework for analyzing Darwin's theory of evolution. It allows scientists to rigorously examine the concept of truth within this theory. However, it is important to note that evolutionary game theory is not the final word or ultimate truth. It is simply the current state of play in the scientific community. The goal of science is to continually push the boundaries of current theories and find their limits, ultimately transcending them. As we make new discoveries, our understanding expands and the patterns of science continue to evolve.

    Donald Hoffman's Mind-Expanding Journey to Transcendent Consciousness

    Donald Hoffman's radical conception of consciousness has forced him to confront his own self-image and contemplate the purpose of his life. Rather than seeing himself as a purely physical being confined to space and time, he now perceives his body as just an avatar in a larger network of conscious agents. This realization has challenged his beliefs as a physicalist and materialist, causing a significant shift in his existential understanding. While he acknowledges the rules of morality within this avatar projection, he ultimately views himself as the transcendent consciousness that exists beyond space and time. This perspective raises questions about the true nature of identity and the significance of individual existence.

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    Peterson Academy https://petersonacademy.com/  



    For Tor Nørretranders:


    The User Illusion:



    The Generous Man:



    Wild food and agriculture:





    Website https://www.tor.dk/


    Article “We Are Waking Up” : https://www.tor.dk/2019/05/06/we-are-waking-up/