| Reality, perception, and what gets lost in translation |
Logic, reasoning, and scientific advancements have helped us determine that the earth is neither flat nor is it the center of the universe. Although we’d probably never know just by looking. As far as our sensory perceptions tell us, the earth is indeed a flat surface that stays still while the rest of the universe moves around it. How is it that logic and perception lead to such different interpretations of reality?
As Donald Hoffman explains in his 2015 TED Talk, perception is a process of representation biased by evolution to emphasize fitness (information that enhances our ability to survive) over reality (information which may or may not enhance our ability to survive). As a result, our perception of reality “is more like a 3D desktop that’s designed to hide the complexity of the real world and guide adaptive behavior. Space … is your [3D] desktop. Physical objects are just the icons in that desktop.” Perception — the means by which we experience the physical world — is not a picture of or window into reality; it’s more like a form of virtual reality generated by our minds.
Hoffman goes on to suggest that “we’re blind to our own blindnesses” to the extent that what we conceptualize as spacetime and objects aren’t really real either. It’s a could-this-get-any-crazier notion that points to a lot of strange looking doors. But who knows? Even though we might not recognize it if we ever saw it, one of those doors might eventually lead us to a better understanding of the nature of reality.
Let’s begin with a question: Do we see reality as it is? I open my eyes and I have an experience that I describe as a red tomato … As a result, I come to believe that in reality, there’s a red tomato … I think so, but could I be wrong? Could I be misinterpreting the nature of my perceptions?
When I have a perceptual experience that I describe as a red tomato, I am interacting with reality, but that reality is not a red tomato and is nothing like a red tomato.