Defending Physical Reality. Because, apparently somebody needs to.
Objections and Replies (authors conclusion)
Here we summarize helpful feedback from readers of earlier drafts, in the form of objections and replies.
(Hoffman and Prakash) Conclusion
Hoffman starts out with an example of how the framing of questions (and scenarios) limits the quantity of potential understanding.
Hoffman: Belief in object permanence commences at 3 months of age and continues for a lifetime.
Object permanence beginning at 3 months? It’s a dreadfully impoverished description of what’s happening within an infant.
An infant is born with senses in place, if under developed. With a mind like a sponge, soaking in everything it can, processing on-the-fly and waking from every nap refreshed and with senses and brain a bit better connected than before and ready to soak in yet more.
A sense of object permanence starts developing right after birth, beginning with an awareness of, and bonding with, its parents and other intimate caregivers and builds out from there.
Learning to use its eyes, focus, turn towards sounds, touch and smell, and tiny muscles always fidgeting, tiny fingers, hands, arms, the legs, feet, toes - the wonderful progression from nonstop flailing to coordination, then lifting itself, then the nose dives while figuring out the muscular choreography needed to make crawling happen. Then, it’s on to walking and potty training.
All that is part of understanding object permanence which Hoffman treats like a bad thing.
In the infant's life, physical reality makes sure that the lessons of object permanence are build into the awareness of that little body, as well as mind.
Grasping the physical reality of object permanence and then learning how to manipulate it, is a prerequisite for becoming a balanced healthy person.
Those who can’t achieve such innate understanding become helpless and useless, confined to a life dependent on others taking care of them, or left to die.
Pretending away object permanence may be a fun intellectual mind-game for the bored, but it’s no space any person wants to exist within.
It inclines us to assume that objects exist without subjects to perceive them,
“It inclines us to assume” Let's unpack that ...
In our real world we have CERN, Voyager Missions, Nuclear energy, etc., etc., etc., even beer cans and cell phones, none of it possible without assuming precision “object permanence’. (Of course, entropy, aging, degradation, changes are also real, but that’s simply the flip side of object permanence.)
Coming at it from a more down to Earth perspective, the Geologic Column, as well as the blood coursing though Earth’s varied creatures, even our amazing biosphere, all seems to stack up to extremely solid justifications for “assuming” object permanence within our realm of reality.
Rhetorical fancy dancing, brain twister logic, optical illusions, and inscrutable philosophical formulations not withstanding.
However, studies with evolutionary games and genetic algorithms indicate that selection does not favor veridical perceptions,
That should be a lesson, you can’t fool Mother Nature!
As for “veridical perceptions” it’s a smoke screen.
Space perception, Louis Jolyon West, Professor of Psychiatry, University of California at L.A.
… Such perception is called veridical perception—the direct perception of stimuli as they exist. Without some degree of veridicality concerning physical space, one cannot seek food, flee from enemies, or even socialize. Veridical perception also causes a person to experience changing stimuli as if they were stable: even though the sensory image of an approaching tiger grows larger, for example, one tends to perceive that the animal’s size remains unchanged. In other words, one perceives objects in the environment as having relatively constant characteristics (as to size, colour, and so on) despite considerable variations in stimulus conditions. …
Hoffman framed a question in mathematical terms and received a mathematical result. But, his conclusion is contrary to biological and evolutionary evidence.
Gerhard Schlosser, Author Notes
Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 58, Issue 2, August 2018, Pages 301–316, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icy024
After briefly introducing some of the major sensory cell types found in vertebrates, this review summarizes the phylogenetic distribution of sensory cell types in metazoans and presents a scenario for the evolutionary history of various sensory cell types involving several cell type diversification and fusion events.
It is proposed that the evolution of novel cranial sense organs in vertebrates involved the redeployment of evolutionarily ancient sensory cell types for building larger and more complex sense organs. …
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Darren Curnoe. Human evolution specialist & ARC Future Fellow, UNSW,
The Conversation. - July 13, 2015
The science about our special senses - vision, smell, hearing and taste - offers fascinating and unique perspectives on our evolution.
Yet it remains patchy; we know surprisingly little for example about how our sense of hearing has evolved since we shared an ancestor with chimpanzees some 8 million years ago.
In contrast, understanding of the evolution of human vision and smell, including new developments in ancient DNA research, offers great promise in answering some long standing questions about our uniqueness as a species …
The answers lie within understanding Earth’s evolution.
Everything points at sense organs being specifically evolved to receive signals from the outside physical world, for the benefit of said creature.
The outside physical world is doing the projecting, the senses do the receiving - regardless of how a perceiver processes their particular snapshot.
and that therefore the objects of our perceptual experiences are better understood as icons
Icons have no substance. Icons are signs, pointers to something that does have substance. Why confuse the picture with inappropriate terms?
We understand the stuff that we experience in our lives, and it is built up of atoms and molecules forming folds within folds of cumulative harmonic complexity, cascading down the constrained arrow of time.
Telling people to imagine that stuff isn’t real, is simply crazy making, even darkly predatory in some respects.
of a species-specific interface rather than as an insight into the objective structure of reality.
No! Creatures are species specific because they are products of varied speciation that occurs in diverse environmental niches, by different lineages of creatures. Who wouldn't be here in the first place, if not for the "object permanence" of DNA and ancestors and the reality of evolution.
Life fill’s the available niches by experimenting with variation, it’s pretty straightforward.
Interfaces are species specific and offers no insight into the structure of reality beyond how that specific creature deals with its specific environment.
Try a different perspective and imagine an ever changing Earth, with time shepherding life through the generations, with a creature’s generational survival requiring successful adaptations that improve accuracy and linkages between sensing, computing, reacting abilities.
This requires a fundamental reformulation of the theoretical framework for understanding objects.
“This”? Seriously? No case has been made for “this” to justify any such radical descent into scientific chaos.
Hoffman’s presentation is a story teller's tale, freedom to weave any world his mind can conjure. But it isn’t science, even if it appears in Frontiers in Psychology.
This reformulation cannot assume that physical objects have genuine causal powers,
Which is what makes it philosophy and disqualifies it from consideration as serious science.
nor that space-time is fundamental,
Nor that space-time is fundamental? So what? What's that even mean?
Please appreciate that even should space-time not be the ultimate fundamental, all it would mean is that there is another dimension of structure within space-time, as we know it.
It wouldn’t change a thing about our space-time, as we know it!
Remember, Einstein's deeper understanding didn’t alter the applicability of Newton's physical equations which continue to describe the rules of physics that dictate our day to day world. You have to get into space travel or climb down into micrometers and microscopic circuitry before Einstein’s equations come into play.
Screaming at people that Space-time is doomed is disingenuous sensationalism, no matter how many letters behind the name. It's a bait-and-switch sales tactic.
Space-time and the Laws of Nature as we understand them aren’t going anywhere, no matter what might be imagined within them.
Cc: Professor Hoffman, aren't too many people already disconnected enough from Earth's physical facts and why it matters?
They are having a tough enough time coming to grips with the world and time we find ourselves trapped within. One that looks to be unraveling.
Now you come along with this notion, tell everyone who will listen that spacetime is doomed, and that our senses, thus our thinking is dominated by outside conscious agents zipping around interpreting reality for us.
What good are they? Beyond relieving people of personal responsibility for our thinking and actions? Seriously, what's the point?
Worse, how can you so casually dismiss all the medical/physical understanding that doctors and scientists have achieved? All those procedures, the seeming magic they are capable of, as demonstrated by restoring broken links in the chain of eye sight and hearing for thousand of people, restoring functioning limbs control by thoughts.
Stuff that was utterly unthinkable, just a few years back. But it's not enough. Why is that?
I would suggest it’s a reflection of a society that has been seduced, and thoroughly permeated, by a too-much-is-never-enough attitude towards life and living. Even into science and philosophy and religion.
since objects and space-time are simply species-specific perceptual adaptions.
Science reveals that sense organs record incoming images of our environment. Those impulses must be processed according to a creature’s species specific suite of sense organs. Where’s the mystery?
What’s resolved by imagining objects themselves as species specific shapeshifters?
Makes no sense and there is no need for it. Current understanding is amazingly deep and fascinating and fruitful. What’s the point of creating impossible expectations?
What does Hoffman’s rhetorical broadsides against current physics achieve byway of answering any questions or improving understanding?
If we assume that conscious subjects, rather than unconscious objects, are fundamental,
You can assume what you want within philosophy, in science you need to produce evidence!
then we must give a mathematically precise theory of such subjects,
Mathematically precise doesn’t mean it’s applicable to our real world conditions.
and show how objects, and indeed all physics, emerges from the theory of conscious subjects.
This is, of course, a tall order. We have taken some first steps by
- proposing the formalism of conscious agents,
- using that formalism to find solutions to the combination problem of consciousness, and
- sketching how the asymptotic dynamics of conscious agents might lead to particles and space-time itself. Much work remains to flesh out this account.
Not a word about fundamental science, making observations, coming up with measurements.
Not a word about how these Agents of Consciousness interact with our senses and brain to produce thought. No explaining how something that doesn’t experience life can weave consciousness.
After all, isn’t the basis of awareness, interacting with an environment?
Increasing awareness, at some point, achieves an escape velocity so to speak, emerging into something called consciousness. Consciousness likewise consists of its own levels of depth, depending on complexity of organism and direction of its particular evolutionary progression.
These Objects of Consciousness acting as agents to reinterpret the world for us never reaches beyond ego-centric philosophical musings. Deeply intellectual, obscure, complex, impressive sounding, but useless when it comes to helping us with our actual day to day lives.
Worst, it's about escapism rather than learning and taking responsibility.
But if it succeeds, H. sapiens might just replace object permanence with objects of consciousness.
We are familiar with object permanence measured in the hundreds of millions of years, and beyond, why would we want to jettison that for objects of our own invention that only reside within our short lived Mindscapes? The real world out here is so much more fascinating.
Conflict of Interest Statement
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
In light of the cottage industry Hoffman’s book, Case Against Reality, How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes, has evolved into it seems a fairly disingenuous reassurance.
Conflict of interest is one thing, how about self-promotion and profiteering as a motivation for misleading and overstating one’s case?
Specifically, masquerading philosophy as sober science, and worse the gratuitous melodramatic attack against the foundation of a sane appreciate for this physical world we live in, for fun and profit.
The media sensation of Hoffman and his “Case Against Reality” reveals a passion for escapism. This stuff is so much easier than the nitty gritty of evolution and biology and taking responsibility for ourselves.
I believe that Hoffman and his crusade against reality is a prime example of the dangers of failing to appreciate the divide between our imaginative limitless Human Mindscape and the constraints of the Physical Reality we're embedded within.
People (especially the intellectually gifted) seem to easily get lost within the wonder of their own minds, their beautiful insights, the striving to impress and outperform other imaginative smart minds. It's too easy for the idea to become the most important thing going on.
It is such ego driven traps that dissolve the foundation of reality from under one’s feet, leaving one playing basketball in zero gravity.
To steal a metaphor from the closing in Hoffman’s book, I myself recommend staying away from that author's pills.
Physical Reality has plenty to offer, we just need to get over our egos, and learn to better appreciate our Mother Earth and her story, only then can we truly start to understand ourselves.
click for clearer image view
I found a fascinating comment written by Rainer Mausfeld who earned his doctorate in 1984 at the University in Bonn, Germany and who's established himself as a leading figure in perceptual psychology. I admit, it's gratifying to find this expert’s writings support my appraisal of the situation.
Title: “Notions such as “truth” or “correspondence to the objective world” play no role in explanatory accounts of perception” - Rainer Mausfeld - Psychonomic Bulletin & Review volume 22, pages1535–1540(2015) - September 18, 2015
¶01. ... Hoffman, Singh, and Prakash (HSP) intend to show that perceptions are evolutionarily tuned to fitness rather than to truth. I argue, that issues of ‘truth’ or ‘veridicality’ have no place in explanatory accounts of perception theory, and rather belong to either ordinary discourse or to philosophy.
¶24. Needless to say, in certain contexts of ordinary discourse, the general question that seems to motivate HSP’s endeavour, namely whether perception mirrors the ‘true structure of the objective world,’ can be a meaningful and sensible one.
Such a question, however, will hardly survive the transition into a natural science context.
It rather seems that no question remains that can be posed in a coherent and intelligible way.
Hence, the appropriate response to such a question is not to evaluate specific proposals but rather to dispel the delusion that an intelligible question has been raised.
¶25. Just like other domains of the natural sciences, perception theory has to disentangle itself from metaphysical issues, such as those pertaining to ‘truth’ or ‘correspondence to the objective world,’ and, more generally, has to divest its theoretical notions of the distorting residues of commonsense intuitions. …
Cc’s Students’ Guide, a work in progress.
Frontiers in Psychology - June 17, 2014
Student Resources - Background:
More to come . . .
Feel free to copy and share
Email: citizenschallenge gmail com
Students Introduction to Reality Based Brain/Consciousness Research
Consciousness: here, there and everywhere? Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch
The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness, Dr. Christof Koch,
Allen Institute for Brain Science, Coding & Vision 101, 12-part undergraduate-level lecture series
Some Elements of an Evolutionary Theory of Perception
Perceptual Systems, Historical Background, Innate And Learned Classical perceptual phenomena, Broad theoretical approaches, Current research/future developments.
Agnes Szokolszky, Catherine Read, Zsolt Palatinus, et al., 2019
Eric P. Charles, 2017,
Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, Sergio Rojo, et al. PNAS 2020
doi.org/10.1146/annurev-earth-082517-010120, March 21, 2018
Eve R. Schneider, Elena O. Gracheva, and Slav N. Bagriantsev, 2016
Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, Handbook of Emotions, 2000
Simon Neubauer, Jean-Jacques Hublin and Philipp Gunz, 2018:
Rainer Mausfeld, PhD.
By: Stephen Burnett, PhD, Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):75
H. Clark Barrett
by: Andrea Korte, February 19, 2017
The bottom line, courtesy of:
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 finding 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. …