Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Prof Hoffman #6 - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Gravity - Spacetime is Doomed

DH:  “If our senses were shaped by natural selection, 
then the Fitness Beats Truth Theorem tells us we don’t see reality as it is.  
     
      

Interface Theory of Perception (ITP) tells us that our perceptions constitute an interface, specific to our species.  It hides reality and helps us raise kids.  

Spacetime is the desktop on this interface and physical objects are among its icons.”   (¶1)


In this chapter 6, Hoffman samples cutting edge theoretical physics to underpin his theorem.  This tour through the quantum realm, at the very boundary between atoms and universal background energy, is fascinating.  As for Hoffman’s conclusion and implications, they are fascinating science fiction for reasons I will make clear as we go through his text.


“Perceptions constitute an interface, specific to our species” is easy to explain without reaching for twinkle dust.  Every creature has a unique life style, with a unique body plan, sensing abilities, mental abilities, environmental demands and so on.

Eyes are optical instruments, they cannot help but receive the reflected light coming at them.  How well they can process, resolve and act upon those signals is altogether a different question - one that is independent of the physical reality of the object reflecting said light.


A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

chapter 6, Gravity - Spacetime is Doomed


Is spacetime threatened by the qubit?


Before we look at Hoffman's pronouncements, I want to share a talk by Sean Carroll who offers us a more scientifically trustworthy baseline of current physics understanding.


You won’t notice any of the red flags of deception that pepper Hoffman’s presentations.  Not that Carroll doesn’t present some amazing theoretical conjectures that do seem to echo Hoffman’s - thing is, Professor Carroll presents them within a more balanced framework. 


    

This is what a scientist sounds like. 

Mysteries of Modern Physics by Sean Carroll

Jan 29, 2020  -  Darwin College Lecture Series


Sean Carroll,  10:45

. . .  these are the particles that make up you and this table and me and this laptop and really everything that you have ever seen with your eyes touched with your fingers smelled with your nose in your life. 


Furthermore we know how they interact with each other and even better than that, the most impressive fact is that there will not be a discovery tomorrow or next century or a million years from now which says you know what there was another particle or another force that we didn't know about but now we realize plays a crucial role in our everyday life. 


As far as our everyday life is concerned by which I really mean what you can see with your eyes touch with your hands etc we’re done find me the underlying ingredients.  That is an enormous achievement in human history one that does not get enough credit, because of course as soon as we do it we go on to the next thing.  


Physics is not done.  I'm not saying that physics is done, but physics has understood certain things and those things include everything you encounter in your everyday life - unless you're a professional experimental physicist or unless you're looking of course outside our everyday life at the universe and other places where we don't know what’s going on. … 

DH begins:  “ITP makes bold and testable predictions. 


Testable by what?  A theorem of Hoffman’s own design.  Anything else?  


If you have his book, check the paragraphs I skip, let me know if you can spot any actual testable predictions being outlined - as opposed to what-if stories.  I can’t.


DH:  “It predicts that spoons and stars - all objects in space and time - do not exist when unperceived or unobserved.  

Something exist when I see a spoon, and that something, whatever it is, triggers my perceptual system to create a spoon and endow it with a position, a shape, a motion, and other physical properties.  

But, when I look away, I no longer create that spoon and it ceases to exist, along with its physical properties. …”   (¶2)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Prof Hoffman #5 - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Illusory - Bluff of a Desktop


“As long as our theories are stuck within spacetime, we cannot master what lurks behind.”  Professor Donald Hoffman 



DH:  “ A venerable tradition conscripts the latest technology to be a metaphor of the human mind. …”   (¶3)


... and history also shows us what a folly this venerable tradition is.  


Gary Marcus: “Science has a poor track record when it comes to comparing our brains to the technology of the day. Descartes thought that the brain was a kind of hydraulic pump, propelling the spirits of the nervous system through the body. Freud compared the brain to a steam engine. The neuroscientist Karl Pribram likened it to a holographic storage device.”


Instead of taking the hint, Hoffman takes his cue from a Hollywood blockbuster and reduces our sensory interface with reality, down to our interface with a computer screen.  


Chapter five’s opening quote comes from Morpheus in The Matrix:  “This is your last chance . . . I (will) show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”


Is Hoffman being provocative for the sake of intellectual titillation?  


Is it for the sake of constructive science?  Or what?  Is it tailored to sell to a frivolous audience?  


Can we tell the different between a constructive scientist and a devious salesman?  Lets find out as I continue my inspection of Hoffman's words and their implications.


DH:  “… I invite you to explore a metaphor of perception: each perceptual system is an interface, like the desktop computer of a laptop. A laptop shaped by natural selection, …”   (¶3)

Shaped by who’s “Natural Selection”?  It gets labeled, but never defined.


Besides, who’s kidding whom, the interface we experience with our laptops doesn’t in anyway correspond to the interface between our minds and our bodies; and then by extension through the senses, our “interface” with physical reality; which we are embedded within; as time relentlessly speeds us forward.  


A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

chapter 5, Illusory - The Bluff of a Desktop


DH:  “The blue icon does not deliberately misrepresent the true reality of the file.  Representing nature is not its aim.  Its job, instead, is to hide that nature for the complexity inside the computer. …(then into details )… The language of the interface - pixels and icons - cannot describe the hardware and software it hides. … ( and so and so forth )”   (¶5)

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Prof Hoffman #4 - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Sensory - Fitness Beats Truth

Fitness Beats Truth, you’ll hear it like a drum beat throughout Hoffman’s Case Against Reality. 

(last edit 11:15 am Oct 15, 2020)

In order to help it go down Hoffman dispenses with some inconvenient truths, such as: light must first bounce off an object before our eye’s, then mind* can perceive it.  Seems like solid proof that stuff exists before we perceive it!   (after appropriate processing)


Then Hoffman conflates ‘perceiving’ with ‘the perceived’ and starts down a troubling path.  

It’s no secret that our visual system edits and composes the moving images our mind’s eye perceives.  Nothing reality shattering about it.  Or is there?

Hoffman tells us something more important is going on.  That there’s a hidden reality inside of the reality we experience every day.  Something humanity really needs to tap into before we can feel whole.

Something like what?  Like inside atoms?  Is that justified?  If so?  So what? 

Or, might it simply be escapism that’s driving this Case Against Reality?

I will do my best to honestly and fairly represent Hoffman’s words and ideas.  I have exchanged some emails with Professor Hoffman, and I’ll share a couple quotes when appropriate.  My point is that Professor Hoffman is aware of my project and that I’m ready to listen to anything he has to share with me.

Review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, 

ch 4, Sensory - Fitness Beats Truth      


DH:  “Does natural selection favor true perceptions?”   (¶2)


For all of Hoffman’s use of “true” he never examines it critically, so his readers are left to their own devices.  For most of us “truth” is some sort of binary concept, it is true or isn’t it true.  That’s not how life in our natural world operates.


Hmmm, binary … well okay, the devil is in the details.  We do need to get beyond a few exceptions: is it alive or is it dead?


DH:  “Is it possible that we did not evolve to see truly - that our perceptions of space, time and objects do not reveal reality as it is? … Can the theory of evolution transform this stale philosophical chestnut into a crisp scientific claim?   (¶2)

DH:  “… This rejoinder misses a point of logic and a matter of fact.  

First logic: if we can’t test the claim that a peach does not exist when no one looks, then we can’t test the opposite and widely held claim that it does exist.  

Both claims posit what happens when no one observes.   (¶4)  


Why?  How does Hoffman figure that?  

Because we’re composing the image in our minds, he claims the object must not exist?  

What’s logical about that?  

Hoffman never does explain, we’re expected to take his word for it.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Prof Hoffman #3 - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - (objective) Reality

 I appreciate that many people including scientists use the term “objective” to mean something actually existing independent of the mind - still, if you think about it, bet you’ll admit that “objective,” or lack thereof, actually exists within our minds - as opposed to Physical Reality which simply IS.

DH:  “If we construct everything we see, and if we see neurons, then we construct neurons.  But what we construct doesn’t exist until we construct it.  So neurons don’t exist until we construct them.”   (¶7)


Cc:  In order to see an object light needs to first bounce off that object, then travel to one’s eyes, then be processed more or less the way Hoffman described, only then can it be perceived by one’s mind.


The light beams bouncing off that object wouldn’t be entering our eye’s to begin with, if that object didn’t already exist.                             Or ?                                                         


A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, chapter 3, 

(Objective) Reality, Capers of the Unseen Sun.



I define “Objective Reality” as a product of our minds.


For me "Physical Reality” indicates the actual atoms, molecules and laws they’ve followed in order to create this Universe and Earth we are embedded within.  


The reality that simply is!  


To begin this chapter Hoffman shares this consensus view:


Palmer:  “Evolutionarily speaking , usual perception is useful only if it is reasonably accurate.  By and large what you see is what you get.  When this is true, we have what is called veridical perception… perception that is consistent with the actual state of affairs in the environment.  This is almost always the case with vision.”

Stephen Palmer, vision science


Then Hoffman recalls his questioning correspondence with Francis Crick, leading member of the Helmholtz Club, co-discoverer of DNA, and author of The Astounding Hypothesis.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Prof Hoffman #2 - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Beauty

 For his warmup Hoffman discusses visual cues and their manipulation, one of his specialities.  The problem is that he applies his lessons of vision and perception to everything, like reality and evolution.  Thing is, survival and evolution is about a great deal more than vision.


A review of Donald Hoffman’s, Case Against Reality, chapter 2, Beauty, Sirens of the Gene


If you have Hoffman’s book The Case Against Reality, great, because I’m definitely cherry picking key paragraphs and sentences, which leaves out some nuances and fascinating trivia.  If you don’t, I encourage you to get a copy to follow along and do your own examination of his rhetorical fancy dancing, because there’s plenty I’ve left on the cutting room floor.  


There’s no denying Hoffman tells a wonderful story and shares many curious, interesting and accurate facts, it’s his conclusions that get dodgy.  This study is about focusing on the tricks of the trade.  


Who’s trade? Hoffman's marketing insights and the science contrarian’s trick of confusing rather than clarifying.


I appreciate Hoffman may take umbrage at that since he spends a lot of time talking about the need for science to take over for the failed philosophical approach, if we're to tackle the perception-reality ‘problem.’  


He presents his formulas as real science, and they may be, mathematically speaking, but that is not natural science.  Nor is it bound by the constraints of physical reality.  (But than, Hoffman does reject physical reality as we know it.)


It’s an exercise of the mind and is vulnerable to the same pitfalls of human self-serving vanity as all other human endeavors, because it’s not constrained by physical reality the way the natural sciences are.  In fact, I believe calling it a “problem” to begin with is a bit contrived and has more to do with marketing and career creation than any actual “problem” we must resolve.


I’m going to be skipping a bunch of this chapter because it focuses on how visual cues can mislead the receiver of those signals.  The topic has been studied a long time now and there’s nothing reality shattering about what’s happening and why it occurs.  Interesting, but still, a distraction from Hoffman’s main supposition.


DH:  “Perhaps the universe itself is a massive social network of conscious agents that experience, decide and act.  If so, consciousness does not arise from matter and spacetime: …  

Instead, matter and spacetime arise from consciousness - as a perceptual interface” (¶26 of Preface)

Monday, October 5, 2020

Prof Donald Hoffman #1 - Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - Mystery

Visualizing the physical source of consciousness.

 

Hoffman begins by telling us about Joseph Bogen and Philip Vogel who in 1962 pioneering “corpus callosotomy” a procedure that sliced through the brain’s corpus callosum, which runs between the two hemispheres of the brain.  It’s done to short circuit the neural feedback loop that triggers extreme epileptic fits.


Then onto the Helmholtz Club, a small group of neurosurgeons, cognitive scientists, and philosophers that met to,


DH:  “explore how advances in neuroscience might spawn a scientific theory of consciousness.”   (¶7)


DH:  “The mystery of consciousness, which was the focus of the Helmholtz Club … is quite simply the mystery of who we are.  Your body, like other objects, has physical attributes such as position, mass, and velocity… (just like a rock)”   (¶7)


DH:  “Like a rock, we have bona fide physical properties.  But, unlike a rock, we have conscious experiences and propositional attitudes.  Are these also physical.  If so, it’s not obvious”   (¶10) 


DH:  “So, what kind of creature are you?  How is your body related to your conscious experiences and propositional attitudes?  How is your experience of a chai latte related to activities in the brain?  Are you just a biochemical machine?   (¶11)


“Just a biological machine”?  What does that mean?  What’s Hoffman trying to imply?  What’s Hoffman expecting?  


What’s wrong with inhabiting the most amazing biological creature that the pageant of Evolution has ever produced?

Friday, October 2, 2020

Prof Donald Hoffman Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity - the prelude.

An unauthorized critical review.

If Donald Hoffman had categorized his book “The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid The Truth From Our Eyes” as new age literature, metaphysical intellectual entertainment, I’d have no complaints.  It’s his insistence on passing it off as a serious scientific effort that begs a frank detailed response, (even if I’m only a thoughtful spectator and no academic myself.) 

Science is a set of rules and an attitude for observing and striving to understand our physical world, it’s about atoms and molecules, all they create, including biology and our planet’s biosphere, along with the rules all of it follows.  Science strives for objectivity, it demands facts and rejects ego driven conclusions.


All of us view the world through our own unique perspective, which of course is the product of genes, upbringing, environment, cumulative learning and experiences that produce inevitable biases in how we perceive the same bits of information.  Admittedly, there’s an ocean of difference between the professor and myself.


Donald David Hoffman (12/29/55) is a cognitive psychologist and popular science author. He is a Professor in the Dept of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, with joint appointments in the Dept of Philosophy, the Dept of Logic and Philosophy of Science, and the School of Computer Science.


Hoffman studies consciousness, visual perception and evolutionary psychology using mathematical models and psychophysical experiments. His research subjects include facial attractiveness, the recognition of shape, the perception of motion and color, the evolution of perception, and the mind-body problem. (wiki)


Me, I’m on the outside looking in on academia.  Born the same year as Hoffman, mine was a skilled working-man’s life with a passion for learning about Earth’s story through science, personal observation, thinking, reading quality popular publications and books, visiting libraries, museums, then the internet and always pondering the fundamental questions, fitting together pieces of the puzzle, and being astounded at all science was learning and sharing.  


In particular, I’ve been impressed that even with all the unexpected surprises over these decades, there remains an underlying harmony and consistency that’s amazing.  Our understanding has been like an image coming into better focus as more pixels of information are gathered.  Seems like proof that we’ve developed a reasonably accurate understanding, even if some mysteries and surprises remain.  We shouldn’t glibly turn our backs on all we've learned.  


To hear someone of Hoffman’s stature simply dismiss it all and replace our day to day reality with imagined icons replacing material stuff; reduce Evolution to a computer interface & game theory analogies; topped off with “conscious agents” zinging around like so many photons.  It’s mystifying, disconcerting, crazy-making, and a hell of challenge for me to get to work on enunciating a more down to Earth perspective on the Evolution of perceiving the reality we are embedded within.


Hoffman begins his book with a quote from a founding father of science,


I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on . . . 

reside in consciousness.  Hence if the living

creature were removed, all these qualities

would be wiped away and annihilated. 


In fairness, that was penned a life time before people started understanding the light spectrum, hundreds of years before we started understanding biochemistry and learning about the molecular structures that make up odors and tastes.