Reality (General)

by dhw, Thursday, August 08, 2019, 13:06 (123 days ago)

A review in The Sunday Times has prompted me to write this post. The book is called
The Case Against Reality - How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

The author is Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California.
It is unfair to judge a book when you’ve only read the review, and so my comments only concern remarks made in the review.

QUOTE: “Consider a tomato. One right in front of you. Hoffmann argues that we usually believe the tomato is there because we can see, smell, taste and touch it. But if you test that belief, he says [……] you will realise you are wrong. “Something is there”, but it is certainly not a tomato, and indeed “not any object in space time”. This idea, Hoffman says, “sounds faintly mad…”

I disagree. I think it sounds totally mad. So too does the claim that “your very sense that you are living inside space and moving through time…is an evolved illusion. Space and time are not underlying realities, they are “simply the format of our interface” with whatever reality is.” This to me is all a reductio ad absurdum of the indisputable fact that perception is a subjective process. Let us take that for granted, and let us by all means conclude that we cannot know what constitutes objective reality. But firstly, that does not mean there is no such thing as objective reality: it simply means that we can never be sure that our perception of something corresponds to that reality. Secondly, the word “tomato” has been invented by us English-speaking humans to denote a particular object. The tomato could have been called peach or banana or hoffman, but we have settled on “tomato” and there is a general consensus among us that the word denotes this particular object. It most emphatically does NOT mean that the object itself does not exist, and yes indeed, all our senses and experiences tell us that it does – or did, until we’ve eaten it. Is there really some superior criterion to these that can establish the non-existence of the object, and indeed of ourselves?

Thirdly, “space” and “time” are also human terms invented to describe what we move through. If someone tells me that moving from one place to another and that movement from cause to effect are both illusions, my stock answer is to invite him/her to step in front of a bus. The fact that in time (I choose the expression deliberately) neither I nor the bus will exist does not alter the objective reality of our both having existed in the past. It simply means that objective reality is not only subjectively perceived but is also constantly changing as it moves through the phases which we humans have called past, present and future, and cause and effect.

QUOTE: “All this time we have been wondering how consciousness emerges from physical reality, he says, when the real problem is how reality emerges from consciousness.”

Does he truly believe that the sun and stars and Planet Earth did not exist until we humans arrived to perceive them? If consciousness is “real”, then is the being who has consciousness unreal, and do all the things that consciousness is conscious of have no reality? His answer is presumably yes. So why the heck did he write his unreal book to be read by unreal readers sitting in unreal armchairs and subsequently writing unreal comments about it? Sadly, this is not tongue-in-cheek philosophy. I recently went to a funeral, and after the palpable and all-too-real emotions of the occasion, I met a student who is writing a thesis on this very subject, and was wildly enthusiastic about the theory that even my proverbial bus, let alone the widow’s grief, was not real. She regaled me with computer images and technical terminology to illustrate the point that although we agreed that she was lecturing me, she was not even there to lecture me, and I was not there to listen to her.

To sum it all up, I propose that there IS such a thing as objective reality, we can never be sure of its true nature, but anyone who claims that reality is created by consciousness and has no existence outside our consciousness should step...But no, I shan’t repeat the invitation. I can only hope they won’t accept it.


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