The Case Against Reality

Hoffman: We’ve been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive, so we have to take them seriously. If I see something that I think of as a snake, I don’t pick it up. If I see a train, I don’t step in front of it. I’ve evolved these symbols to keep me alive, so I have to take them seriously. But it’s a logical flaw to think that if we have to take it seriously, we also have to take it literally.

Gefter: If snakes aren’t snakes and trains aren’t trains, what are they?

Hoffman: Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features. The snake I see is a description created by my sensory system to inform me of the fitness consequences of my actions. Evolution shapes acceptable solutions, not optimal ones. A snake is an acceptable solution to the problem of telling me how to act in a situation. My snakes and trains are my mental representations; your snakes and trains are your mental representations.

I have long pondered this. Anyone who’s taken a sense-enhancing substance can tell you that what our eyes transmit to our brains on a normal day is not the extent of what we can see. If our perception of the world can be so drastically affected, how can our everyday perception be trusted? It can’t. 🙂

Go get your mind bent. If it doesn’t make you suddenly feel the world beyond our accepted perception, you’re boring and dead.

This is beautiful:

Hoffman: Physics tells us that there are no public physical objects. So what’s going on? Here’s how I think about it. I can talk to you about my headache and believe that I am communicating effectively with you, because you’ve had your own headaches. The same thing is true as apples and the moon and the sun and the universe. Just like you have your own headache, you have your own moon.

And this is astounding:

Hoffman: I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind. Here’s a concrete example. We have two hemispheres in our brain. But when you do a split-brain operation, a complete transection of the corpus callosum, you get clear evidence of two separate consciousnesses. Before that slicing happened, it seemed there was a single unified consciousness. So it’s not implausible that there is a single conscious agent. And yet it’s also the case that there are two conscious agents there, and you can see that when they’re split.

Within our bodies, we have two separate consciousnesses. Put two people into a room and have them interact, and we form another consciousness machine from four separate consciousnesses. Perhaps all of these (all the human consciousnesses in existence) are really part of one consciousness. Perhaps this network, making up one brain, is what the world IS.

For a long time, people have been saying there’s no God because that’s ‘impossible’. The trouble is, the more we learn through turning away from God and exploring science, the more we see that there are things outside our own capacity for perception and understanding. And that’s where God probably lives.

3 responses to “The Case Against Reality”

  1. Hallucinations, drug induced or otherwise, don’t entail that we don’t directly perceive or represent objects and things in the world around us which do, in fact, have mind-independent properties. Chairs and tables still exist in the classroom even after everyone has left. I do not see what the justification for the claim that “I have my own moon and you have your own moon and we all have our own private moons” is. And it certainly doesn’t follow just from the fact we hallucinate.

    Also part of being a conscious agent is to be a subject of experience – that is, to be directly confronted by things in the world and their appearances, to feel, to be in the first-person etc… The mathematical structure of the interaction between two agents cannot capture this aspect of the mind/consciousness. For this reason the claim that there could be two consciousnesses in one body is also suspect.

    There’s an excellent literature on this topic, that I might suggest

      1. Sure. Here’s a paper I wrote responding to Russell’s skeptical argument about knowledge of the external world

        Here’s a paper I wrote explaining how perception is more rich and gives us more knowledge than we realize.

        In the world of real professionals, I’d recommend the following

        Barry Stroud (in particular, Perceptual Knowledge and the Primacy of Judgment, and also Skepticism and the Senses).

        John Campbell (who has many of his papers on his website.

        Umrao Sethi wrote “Hallucination Defanged”, which you might be particularly interested in. Here’s a link:

        Michael Martin, another UC Berkeley professor, is a great resource on this exact issue, so I’d recommend looking him up

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