Is reality like your computer desktop?

Donald Hoffman is a psychologist, philosopher and professor at the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California. He is also author of a book: The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes.

Professor Hoffman is another scientist who is exploring the possibility that the consensus reality we take for granted as the solid reliable world we inhabit, is far from what is actually going on.

Hoffman uses the metaphor of a computer desktop or interface to help explain his theory.

Now, this can be complex and challenging stuff to get your head around (at least it is for me) so let me try to simplify it:

…he argues that if we were to apprehend the full content of reality, it would be so overwhelming that we simply could not process the information in ways that would help us survive. Like standing under a powerful waterfall with your mouth open to get a drink.

Over thousands of years of evolution we have developed senses that filter and re-represent that reality in ways that provide the maximum ‘fitness benefits’ (evolutionary speak for ability to reproduce) and allow us to navigate and make sense of our environment.

If you had to control and understand all the computations and processes and voltage manipulation, and circuit pathways of your computer to open up a document and edit it, you would never be able to do so. There would be just way too much going on.

Instead, computers have evolved to present you with an interface of simple icons (folders, apps etc) that are easily manipulated and understood. Meanwhile what is really going on is totally hidden from view.

When you open a folder and drag and drop a document into it, there is no physical folder and no real document. Yet in our daily workflow, we sorta think there is.

This is what evolution has done. It has endowed us with senses that hide the truth and display the simple icons we need to survive long enough to raise offspring…You may want truth, but you don’t need truth. Perceiving truth would drive our species extinct

Donald Hoffman

The reality we inhabit is the interface. The things we see are icons.

So what is the real truth? What is really out there?

Well much like Bernardo Kastrup (see: is our world made of matter, or consciousness) and other idealists, Hoffman proposes that it is consciousness that is the fundamental reality.

Again, this is pretty heavy philosophical stuff. But, wow…if true…well, mind blown. It fundamentally changes the way you think and view this world.

If this sort of stuff resonates with you, I encourage you to explore it all in little chunk-lets, taking time to chew over each piece (as I have done…and sometimes that is a lot of chewing) and decide if it makes sense to you.

You can listen to Donald Hoffman in conversation here:

Or you can check out his book: The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes.

Photo by Green Chameleon 

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