The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions — sights, sounds, textures, tastes — are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it — or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion — we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

Getting at questions about the nature of reality, and disentangling the observer from the observed, is an endeavor that straddles the boundaries of neuroscience and fundamental physics. On one side you’ll find researchers scratching their chins raw trying to understand how a three-pound lump of gray matter obeying nothing more than the ordinary laws of physics can give rise to first-person conscious experience. This is the aptly named “hard problem.”

On the other side are quantum physicists, marveling at the strange fact that quantum systems don’t seem to be definite objects localized in space until we come along to observe them — whether we are conscious humans or inanimate measuring devices. Experiment after experiment has shown — defying common sense — that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space. As the physicist John Wheeler put it, “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.”

So while neuroscientists struggle to understand how there can be such a thing as a first-person reality, quantum physicists have to grapple with the mystery of how there can be anything but a first-person reality. In short, all roads lead back to the observer. And that’s where you can find Hoffman — straddling the boundaries, attempting a mathematical model of the observer, trying to get at the reality behind the illusion. Quanta Magazine caught up with him to find out more. An edited and condensed version of the conversation follows.



To read the interview and the rest of the article go to




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by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2017


There is a problem with what people like to call ‘enlightenment’. No matter how much you think you might know the answers, you return to the familiar spot where you started. The world appears just as it did before. If you had a timeless experience through meditation or drugs or intellectual inquiry, then you begin to think that your timeless experience had no meaning at all and is perhaps just a function of your overtaxed nervous system. The universe and all its existential problems seem unchanged.

If you are like me with an abiding interest in cosmology and metaphysics, you check the TV shows and books about the newest particle colliders and listen closely to the latest theories that explain how the universe came into being. You check the Internet and find the links to The Standard Model [standard_model.html]. You try to comprehend what physicists are saying. You realize that they are talking about theories that are backed up with mathematical equations that are difficult to understand and almost impossible to express. The essence of the world itself remains unknowable.

Scientists look for material reasons for the world’s existence and often ignore the non-material basis of being. Until non-material awareness is recognized as the primary building block of material existence, we will not understand how our world comes into being. We see evidence of this in quantum mechanics when we find that observation is interaction and produces changes the positioning of primary particles.

We are used to equating awareness and consciousness to what we term as living things. We are not used to it being a property of elemental reactions as well. Yet, it takes awareness to even make a point. Without an awareness that is processed through interactions, there is no point at all. A primal awareness without form or mass is essential to the very birthing of the world, just as it was in our personal beginnings. Gravity, weak forces, strong forces, and magnetism are essentially like the sense of touch—pressures that are brought into being by interactions that are perceived by awareness.

Nothingness does not exist in time and space. Even a void cannot be known without awareness. This awareness is not material, but it is eternally present and is especially evident everywhere that time and space have been formed. It dwells in an unknowable dimension of zero time and zero space.

If we are fortunate enough to be healthy, well-adjusted people, then we love our lives and the identities we have chiseled out of the elements. We feel sympathy and love. We desire to bask in understanding. We feel disgust, pain, and rejection and either strike out against it or want to sleep through it. We are human and that is our lot. We live in a local universe of beginnings and endings. We muddle through change and aging, love and regret, sickness and health, joy, and sorrow.

We find that there are many myths designed to help us cope with our lot in life. All of them are illusions created by others—sometimes out of real concern, sometimes for profit and power over us. All of them are fabricated answers.

We can only take reason and logic so far. We can probe our minds and find that something is conscious. That is quite evident. We cannot be sure that this conscious and aware entity is even ourselves. We spin around the vortex in the whirlpool of time. We discover that we will never have a real answer because there is no real answer.

There is a reason for that. Logic has not really abandoned us. If our own logic and observations cannot solve the problems of existence, then nothing can.

Our only and best recourse is to trust in the logical powers of our wisdom and minds. We know there appears to be an inside and an outside to everything. If we are the inside, then the world is the outside and we have to take that necessary leap of faith to believe in its actuality. We perceive the world around us with the same tools that we perceive ourselves.

When we delve deep inside we come to realize that there is a spirit in us that is beyond time and space. It does not matter what we call it. We can call it God, Soul, Void, or any other name we might devise. When we realize that time is truly relative and the now is an instant that always exists, we begin to get an idea of what our universe is about.

There is a way to wrap up the dichotomy of being and to solve the problem of why we exist. There is a real world about us. When we come to the realization that we are here for the experience of being and this experience is formed by interactions, we should get the bigger picture.

We know experience within ourselves. We need no outside proof of the fact that we are experiencing the world. That is our greatest gift and the way to a more peaceful life without nearly so much angst and sorrow. We can reach this understanding any time we wish to do so. When we sleep or enter into an unconscious state, the ultimate nature of the universe is revealed to us.

We are all made of the same stuff. That is obvious enough. Science tells us we are shaped by elements created by the explosions of ancient stars. We achieve uniqueness and variety by being in a place where we perceive space and time. It is a dimensional experience. It is all appearance. It appears to appear, so it exists. It is that simple.

Giant centrifuges are built to recreate conditions at the birth of the universe. This is not a useless thing. We might learn to harness physical forces and profit from this kind of research. After all, we profit from harnessing the energy released by converting matter to energy, not only in atomic energy but simple things like making fires, breathing, and moving about. All life consumes and utilizes energy. Higher sciences are quite useful and can have many positive values that create warmth and comfort and ease of living.

In one sense, this understanding makes gods of us all. Not the father-mother-holy-and-divine God that almost all religions profess to believe, but an eternal—without beginning, without ending—awareness that brings experience into the world. Each one of us is a part of that experience. It is even possible that experience repeats itself in the infinity that we devise when we take our place in time and space. Information, some physicists tell  us, is stored digitally on the boundaries between the universe and that nothingness that is on the outside.  The consciousness of our persona can forget itself and beget itself again and again. We do this every night when we sleep. Awareness can perhaps take a symbolic breather and not be aware. When time and space itself is a product of dimensional viewpoints, there is no need to become emotionally upset with what is just an appearance. There is no need to take ourselves seriously if we are but bits of information like actors in a cosmic play.

We are now back where we started. Our lives are the same. The experience that we now experience continues and the problems we had yesterday continue today. The only good such understanding can do is help is to make better decisions, be more tolerant and less judgmental. It can change our hormonal balance and make us feel better in the now.

We the people of the world are the ones that place value and judgment on the valueless facts that appear in nature. We create a communal mind and a social structure that feeds and nourishes us. Perfecting that structure is what we do with our time. The universe leaves us with a billion unanswered questions. It gives us something useful to do with our limited time. Be kind. It is better than being cruel. We deem this to be so. Be proud of your spiritual awareness. Perfect the social aspect of your existence. Our time in this sector of space is short. Cherish it.

Be kind. It is better than being cruel. We deem this to be so. Be proud of your spiritual awareness. Perfect the social aspect of your existence. Our time in this sector of space is short. Cherish it.




by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

People often say, when they do not know the answer,  “Who knows what is in the mind of God?”

People say that “God knows all.”

Take the common conception of God as a divine being that creates and governs the universe. Then take all the people here on Earth – what they all are thinking, what they all have been, and what they all will be.

Imagine that God knows all that.

Then add all the other conscious forms of life on Earth, the history of the planet and solar system.

Imagine that God knows that as well.

Then realize that the Earth is a small speck of dust in a commonplace galaxy. Remember that there are trillions of stars and billions of galaxies and uncounted billions of planets.

Try to imagine a mind that knows all this.

What would it be like? One thing is certain. It would not be like the human mind. It would be more like consciousness itself.

But would God even have a Self? Is God self-aware?

What need would God have for self awareness?

Humans have self-awareness. Some animals have been shown to have self-awareness. Self-awareness is a curse and a blessing.

It creates loneliness. It creates unhappiness.

If God were self-aware, God would be lonely.

Does God get lonely?

The self only exists when there is another that exists outside. It can only be aware of the self by knowing that there is another outside that is not the self.

If God is everything then what would exist outside God for God to be self-aware?

If God isn’t everything then what is this thing outside that is not God?

What is a mind? What are the makings of a mind? Neural synapses? Connections? Electrical impulses? Fields of energy?

Some would call it a brain, but what use would a brain be for God?

A brain is far too small to hold everything unless it is an infinitely large brain. If God is everything, then God is a brain.

Perhaps we have used the wrong image. Perhaps we should use membrane instead of brain.

Could God be the membrane that binds the electrical impulses––fused, united, linked, and bound together to create thought?

And then the thought creates action?

What is this membrane made of? Electrical fields, atomic and subatomic particles?Quarks and electrons that only have a place in time and space when they are observed?

Are they only mere observations?

If so, then the observation is everything. Observation is what causes the universe to come into being. Observations are the history, the present and the future of all.

Who says that this which observes must be self-aware?

The observer does not need to be consciously self-aware. The world existed before self-awareness. The observer has no need to be self-aware.

So, as far as we can tell––and surely we know little––the universe has only had conscious self-awareness for a minute fraction of an eternal epoch. The universe has gotten along quite well for billions of years without self-awareness.

So do we live in a fraction of an eon when the mud stands up and sees that there are others outside themselves?

And does that matter at all to the mind of God that has no self and no need for a self?