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
. . . 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)
I find it beyond incredible to imagine reality jumping to for my sake. If it does so for me, it must be doing it for every person. What about all the other layers of life - were they all created to fool me. What for? What about each other? How could these forms have popped into existence without some provenance, such as the unfolding of wet evolution over the expanses of deep time?
DH: “ITP predicts, for instance, that a photon, when unobserved, has no definite value of polarization. It predicts that an electron . . .” (¶3)
DH: “ITP predicts that spacetime does not exist unperceived. … spacetime varies from observer to observer, … Reality whatever it is escape the confines of spacetime.
Hoffman ignores an important detail.
“Of course, we need the usual caveats: this is happening in mathematical spacetimes that are not like our universe.” (Jesse Stone, 2018)
These are, as I said, bold predictions. but are they really testable? Can they be ruled out by modern physics? I might boldly predict that the moon …" (¶4-5)
Red Flag: “Interface Theory of Perception predicts that . . .”
Is Hoffman claiming originality? Does he claim this is an outcome of his ITP formula?
A review of the literature makes it obvious it’s more a case of Hoffman retinkering ideas that have been floating and bouncing around and evolving for generations?
Hoffman even evokes the theoretical physics of the early days Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli Max Born, then onto the experiments of John Bells in the early sixties who blew open the quantum entanglement question. He knows the history and he spins it to his advantage.
DH: “(Bells experiments) would have stunned Einstein: there are experiments for which quantum theory predicts outcomes that contradict local realism.” (¶7)
Hoffman shares further scientific vignettes about the fascinating and confusing quantum world and the investigations at the Delft University of Technology into the strange world of electron entanglement, then on to Anton Zeilinger with his photon entanglement.
DH: ITP predicts that realism is false, and physics does not contradict this prediction.
Red Flag: Hoffman switches terms on us. “Local realism” is a quantum effect - “realism” is a generic term that implies our macroscopic day to day realism.
Which is profoundly different. Although be aware, to a quantum physicist it only takes 1 gram of hydrogen to start getting labeled macroscopic, creating yet more opportunities for confusing the curious layperson.
Instead, each test of local realism, in defiance of our intuitions, confirms the predictions of ITP. Experiments such as Zeilinger’s are tightening the noose around the neck of realism.” (¶ 12)
Humans. Our hubris knows no bounds. Experiments with electrons and photons defying our intuitions? How dare they! ;-)
DH: “(The Kochen-Specker Theorem.) It says that no property, such as position or spin, has a definite value that is independent of how it is measured. … The KS Theorem say that non contextual realism is false.
But noncontextual realism is precisely what we espouse in saying the moon is there when no one looks. It’s the realism that Francis Crick had in mind … ” (¶13-14)
Here’s some context, ~5,000,000,000,000 atoms can dance on the head of a pin. Electrons are pretty near as fundamental as it gets. You can’t simply scale quantum weirdness up to the moon, that’s science fiction.
Kochen–Specker theorem tells us, it says that such a new theory must be contextual. The values you measure for a particle's properties — speed, position, spin, etc — those values must somehow or sometimes depend on how you try to measure them. (M. Freiberger and R. Thomas)
Where does the moon fit into that? Scientist have all that information down to a tee.
Here’s a link to a short video that offers a taste for the grand scale of our physical reality.
Then, it’s on to Adán Cabello, Josè Estebaranz, Guillermo Garcia-Alcaine,
DH: “… they prove that the value cannot exist independent of the measurement.” (¶17)
DH: “Most of us believe deeply in a physical reality consisting of objects in spacetime that existed prior to life and observers; no observer is needed, we believe to endow any object with a position, spin, or any other physical property.
But as the implications of quantum theory are better understood and tested by experiments, this belief can survive only by clinging to possible gaps in the experiments, and those gaps are closing. …” (¶18)
In researching for this chapter, I've been reading many breathless articles about the implications of local realism, electron/photon entanglement, superposition, ideas of contextuality and such. Then I think about the actual physical foundations for all of this. That is, the experiments that support these theoretical musings.
Here’s a look at a cutting edge experiment apparatus being used for their tests:
Figure 1: C-shunt flux qubit. ( A speck, embedded within a 2.5 x 5.0 mm2 chip)
I don’t question the validity of what these physicists are doing.
I question the casualness with which Hoffman translates tests at this atomic level, (now building up to tiny collections of atoms), into our macroscopic reality. It is not that scaleable!
On to Carlo Rovelli’s ideas, then quoting the work of Chris Fields, Chris Fuchs, David Mermin, Rudiger Schack …
DH: “A measurement does not, as the term unfortunately suggests, reveal a pre-existing state of affairs. It is an action on the world by an agent that results in a creation of an outcome - a new experience for that agent. ‘Intervention might be a better term.” (¶21)
What’s going on here? Is this a sociological experiment, or are they discussing the results of atom smashers and sophisticated manipulation of atoms? I did find this worth considering:
… the QBism of N. David Mermin, Ruediger Schack, and the present author, as acceding to the pressure. These views have lately been termed "participatory realism" to emphasize that rather than relinquishing the idea of reality (as they are often accused of),
they are saying that reality is more than any third-person perspective can capture.
Without introducing biological evolution, Hoffman suddenly makes it a character.
DH: “ Quantum Theory and evolutionary biology, so interpreted ( No interpretation was offered.) together weave a remarkably consistent story. Quantum theory explains that measurements reveal no objective truths, just consequences for agent of their actions."
Red Flag: Assumption - no supporting evidence is offered.
No objective truth when measuring atomic particles and such. What of it? There’s a mountain of difference between that reality and objective truth in our macroscopic reality.
“Evolutionary biology” - ironically Hoffman never discusses it beyond using it as a term in his formula. I'm starting to think he doesn't have any conception of deep time and the pageant of evolution.
Evolution ( That is, Hoffman’s Evolutionary Theorem.) tells us why natural selection shapes the sense to reveal fitness consequences for agents of their actions. We are surprised that measurements and perceptions are so personal. …” (¶24)
DH: “This confluence of physics and evolution has not been obvious.” (¶25)
Confluence of notations in formulas and theorems.
What about considering Evolution itself? It’s confluence with quantum reality happened long ago, and evolution built around that. No doubt its echo can be found at all scales. Though, that’s very different from Hoffman’s proposal.
DH: “Bartley tells us what the biologists were thinking: ‘Sense perceptions or sensations are themselves only more or less accurate symbolic representations of the external reality formed through the interaction between that external reality and organ senses. One sees local reality, more or less accurately ” (¶26)
William W. Bartley, Fundamental Science, Vol 3. No.1, pp 55, 1982
No one present meant to suggest that the reported facts of physics and biology were in conflict - nor even that physical and biological theory were in conflict.
Rather, it was meant that the interpretation (or philosophy) of physics was incompatible with fact and interpretation in the life sciences.
Behind Popper's remark, unstated on this occasion yet lending it bite, was yet another contention:
that the interpretation of physics that had been presented did not apply to physics either.
Hoffman tells us about Wheelers view of reality, as an “elaborate papier-mâché” and so on.
Then we’re back down in the itty bitty quantum realm and variations on the venerable double-slit experiment.
(DH: “No one really knows what a proton or electron does when both slits are open. …” (¶30)
At the risk of being impertinent: So What?
What’s it have to do with the price of tea in China, or the two-by-four I’m going to cut after I measure the space it needs to fit into, snuggly, but not too snug?
Okay, it does matter to physicists and their amazing instruments and sensors and theorems. It matters with weirdly surprising applications and it matters to billions of dollars worth of a college industry dedicated to dreaming of and dabbling with quantum computers - because, of course, too much is never enough.
But to seriously tell regular people to think beyond spacetime, yodeling to all who'll listen, your space and time is doomed, you don't even know what a stupid spoon is, now that is another matter altogether.
Aren’t people already way too disconnected from Earth’s reality without pushing them over the edge?
DH: “This raises the stakes. Quantum theory smashed our intuitions about objects, by denying that they have definite values of physical properties that are independent of whether, or how , they are observed. Now it smashes space and time. …” (¶34)
Red Flag: Atomic particles are not objects! They are bundles of energy. The head of a pin is an object and it contains ~5,000,000,000,000 atoms
Our minds are embedded somewhere within our brains and bodies, and the whole package is embedded within this space and time we already know. No new theory about the inside of spacetime will change any of our physical reality, or our human condition.
DH: “Wheeler: ‘No space, no time. Heaven did not hand down the word ‘time’ man invented it. …” (¶34)
So what! That is being trapped within one’s anthropomorphic pipe dreams. Time existed long, long before anything capable of dreaming up words appeared!
When Richard Feynman drew his revolutionary diagrams describing aspects of the quantum world, an interesting artifact was that the arrow of time disappeared. It disappeared into these formulas describing the tiniest bundles of energy imaginable.
But that didn’t mean time disappeared from driving our reality.
Time IS. Even without a name.
Need proof of time? Think about Earth’s evolution. Go to a beach watch the waves, listen to your heart beat. For a more dramatic lesson, hold your breath long as you can, then some more.
Jesse Stone: … Let me try to clarify a bit what some physicists mean when they say “spacetime is doomed.” Their eschatological rhetoric aside, they aren’t actually claiming that space and time will soon cease to exist as we know it.
No, what these physicists are suggesting is that space and time may not be as fundamental as we think. That there might be a theory of physics where space and time emerge as some higher level phenomena, rather than existing as fundamental structures in the theory. …
DH: “Wheeler, wielding his delay-choice experiment as a weapon of commonsense destruction … he proposes the doctrine of ‘It from Bit’ : information, not matter is fundamental, …” (¶35)
Next comes talk about information and how much you can cram into a region of space. Though I’m still waiting for an explanation for what this information is actually supposed to be, beyond a bit. Even more important what’s it have to do with our day to days?
(DH: “We have strong convictions about space and time. Mine were stunned by the holographic principle ” (¶40)
Then paragraphs worth on the holographic universe. Makes my head spin, but we'll have an entire chapter on that.
It’s a wonderful exercise in theoretical math as this sentence reveals:
“The (generalized second law) GSL has passed a large number of stringent, if purely theoretical, tests. …” Jacob D. Bekenstein on April 1, 2007
I’m not here to argue against top shelf theoretical physics that’s focuses on the extremes of our imagination - tiniest and the largest.
I’m here to defend our every day human macro world and the Physical Reality we must learn to navigate - against being dismissed with nothing more than self-certitude and rhetorical fancy dancing.
DH: “… If we relinquish the divine view from nowhere, then quantum theory and general relativity can peacefully coexist. …” (¶53)
We can rest assured tonight.
DH: “According to quantum field theory, the vacuum is not just a big nothing. It is seething with pairs of virtual particles. Each member of an evanescent pair is entangled with its partner and has opposite properties. …” (¶55)
Fine, it’s weird and the first time one hears about it and thinks about it, your head will spin. But, learn some more, absorb it some and it starts makes sense - also it’s at the very limits of tininess, far, far removed from our live’s.
I’ll skip the horizon complementarity, and the AMPS “firewall paradox’ that has caused consternation and many efforts to resolve it.
DH: “Some physicists counsel avoidance of a god’s-eye view by restricting physics to there “causal diamond of an observer - the portion of spacetime that may interact with the observer.” (¶60)
DH: “… The classical premise of a unique primeval state for the universe is inapt: ‘if one does adopt a bottom-up approach to cosmology, one is immediately led to an essentially classical framework, in which one loses all ability to explain cosmology’s central question - why our universe is the way it is?” (¶66)
Science isn’t about “why,” that’s the realm of religion and philosophy.
The quality of one’s answers is directly related to the quality of ones questions. Perhaps it’s as simple as impossible expectations. Or looking through the microscope from the wrong end.
I find plenty of peace in accepting reality the way it is here in our macroscopic realm and I’ll leave the tiny stuff to the experts, it has no bearing on my life.
Physical Reality simply IS, regardless of what’s playing out within our individual or collective mindscapes.
DH: “This chapter began with the prediction of ITP that spacetime and objects do not exist unperceived; they are not fundamental reality. I asked whether this prediction has been ruled out by physics in the quest for a theory of everything (TOE). We have a clear answer: it has not. Instead it has remarkable support. …” (¶70 )
But, only when professor gets to set up the parameters and make the rules.
DH: “If spacetime is doomed, then so are its physical objects. They must be superseded by more primitive building blocks. But if spacetime is not the bedrock of reality, not the preexisting stage for the drama of life, then what is it? It is, I will suggest a data-compressing and error-correcting code for fitness.” (¶73)
Red Flag: Donald Hoffman makes no distinction between philosophy/theory, its mathematical strategies, or the fact of the artificial parameters that allow this math to succeed, and such. That’s an important failing.
Manipulating what real physicists are saying into pipe dreams makes for great intellectual entertainment and careers and profits, but it isn’t honest constructive science, nor is it healthy for society.
Hoffman’s next chapter, Virtuality: Inflating a Holoworld, dives into another layer of confusion, and more opportunities to examine the art of Rhetorical Fancy Dancing for fun and profit.
“The (generalized second law) GSL has passed a large number of stringent, if purely theoretical, tests. …” Jacob D. Bekenstein
"Let me try to clarify a bit what some physicists mean when they say “spacetime is doomed.” Their eschatological rhetoric aside, they aren’t actually claiming that space and time will soon cease to exist as we know it." Jesse Stone
"No one present meant to suggest that the reported facts of physics and biology were in conflict - nor even that physical and biological theory were in conflict." William W. Bartley
"These views have lately been termed "participatory realism" to emphasize that rather than relinquishing the idea of reality (as they are often accused of), they are saying that reality is more than any third-person perspective can capture." Christopher A. Fuchs
“Of course, we need the usual caveats: this is happening in mathematical spacetimes that are not like our universe.” (Jesse Stone, 2018)
I'll keep plugging away at his chapters as I can and share my results.
Appendix, Precisely: The Right to Be Wrong
Feel free to copy and share.
Public notice to W.W.Norton Co and Donald Hoffman:
Donald Hoffman Playing Basketball in Zero-Gravity,
a critical review:
The Case Against Reality :
Why Evolution Hid The Truth From Our Eyes
By Donald Hoffman
Published August 13th 2019
Publisher: W.W. Norton Company
©all rights reserved
I hereby claim FairUse on the grounds that Donald Hoffman’s “The Case Against Reality” is part of an ongoing public dialogue which Hoffman explicitly encourages others to join. He invited critique and I accept his challenge.
I intend to be a witness for a fact based DeepTime, Evolutionary perspective on our “human mind” -“physical reality” interface.
To do Hoffman’s arguments justice I’m compelled to reprint quite a few of them as I go through his book and I appreciate both W.W. Norton Company and Donald Hoffman’s understanding, and I hope for their consent.
email: citizenschallenge at gmail