Do Our Eyes Deceive Us?

©Fernando Caracena 2019

Consciousness becomes a central concept in the theory of Quantum Mechanics. Previous posts have discussed the issue of human consciousness, see for example, The Physical World and the Human Mind. In this post we explore some new ideas about the subject in greater depth.

Donald Hoffman (a neuro-scientist of the University of California at Irvine) proposes that reality consists of intereacting conscious agents. These agents are organizied into various levels of consciousness that developed vis a vis the real world by natural selection. This Darwinian mechanism has been modeled algoritmically on digital computers using evolutionary game theory (see video), the scientists involved have concluded that the conceptual interface of an organism is shaped by evolution to the point of maximizing the chances of survival and reproduction, but by using the cheapest computational scheme on its own neural network. This is because timely presntation of sensual data is also important to an organism's survival. The conceptual interface of conscious agents is therefore not evolved to see the world as it really is, but rather, to generate an appearance that is just fit enough for Darwinian purposes. Further, sensual interfaces consist of neural networks that processes hard coded algorithms developed by natural selection and are encoded genetically.

As a result of neural processing, organisms perceive a world of sensual objects that is a fit but a much simplified version of the world, which hides its complexity behind mental objects created and presented to the mind by the neural network of the senses. As a result of neural processing, the world that we perceive through the senses is a virtual reality. Numerical experiments using evolutionary game theory suggest that humans have a vanishing chance of seeing the world as it really is. Our three dimensional space plus time is just one aspect of the user interface between us and the real world. People who believe that they are seeing reality through the senses as it really is, are deluding themselves into a false sense of reality. The world that we see is more like icons on a desktop that serve as simplified interfaces for us to control very complex processes.

Each species has its own perceptual interface. Birds have four color receptors. Humans have only three.

Consciousness at all levels acts through different species-specific conceptual interfaces.

As a result of seeing the world through a neural computational network, there is a slight delay owing to the time it takes to process raw sensual data into our evolved conceptual interface structures. Visual processing, for example, uses about one third of our cerebral cortex, and delays about a tenth of a second in presenting our most recent experiences in terms of our conceptual user interface. Although he argues that physical reality is more like a computer desktop interface, Hoffman is not a solipsist. He acknowledges that there is a reality, but in a sense, our own sensed reality is a virtual reality no matter how much we are convinced that it is reality itself.

Yet the way our mind works is mathematical, we have been given enough bits of mathematical logic to supply the mathematics one needs to understand the nature of our own experiences and of objective reality. Hoffman argues that mathematics is a key to gaining some understanding the reality beyond sensual limitations. To do this he has constructed a theory of reality based on quantum Baysian inference that involves Hilbert space to specify states in a reality that consists of a mathematically infinite network of interacting conscious agents, each having its own limiting conceptual interface. In addition to being conscious of its environment, each agent has a set of responses to a given event in its conceptual interface, and the freedom to choose that response. Based on on any given input, it can respond to such an event by acting back on that environment in its own chosen way. Through this postulated mechanism, Hoffman begins with consciousness and tries to derive all of physics and solve the mind-body problem. He says that that problem, no reductionist theories of neurons, microtubules, etc. can come near solving.

There are a number of major philosophical implications of Hoffman's ideas that should be discussed in a future post.

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