posted on Jan, 18 2020 @ 09:40 PM
Lately, I have been interested in the theory of Donald Hoffman which says that consciousness in the single fundamental entity in the universe and that
everything we perceive is an interface between us and.. something.
The usual approach taken by scientists is to say that what we perceive is real, that we may not perceive every characteristic of an object, but that
the object is real nonetheless, so they ask the question "but then what does the object really look like?". They say the object is made of tiny
objects, atoms, electrons, photons in the case of light, etc.. They think consciousness is merely the product of evolution, and if our senses are
limited as they are, it's because evolution didn't need more than that to save us from extinction. Or said in another way, we just needed to survive
and reproduce, we didn't need to understand gravity or that our planet gravitates around the sun. After all, we have used fire hundreds of thousands
of years before we even started to comprehend what fire was made of, or how it comes to existence. So for these scientists, which are the large
majority, perception is merely an hallucination, and so is consciousness.
Hoffman proposes what looks like the complete opposite, and he gives the metaphor of a computer user interface to make his point. So you have a
windows desktop, with icons sitting there. Suppose there is a squared blue icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. After some time using this
interface, you might come to believe that this is reality, that your file is really squared, really blue, and that it really sits in the bottom right
corner of your computer. But we know that the reality of the file inside the computer doesn't look like this at all. The reality of your file inside
the computer is made of electronic circuits, chunks of memory, and so on. So he says that what we perceive as humans is exactly like that, just an
So for example, if you take an apple and you ask "what is this apple really made of?", you will zoom in with your microscope and find that there are
atoms, and you might scream eureka!, thinking that you have found the reality of the object. But Hoffman says that this is still part of the
interface. Just like if you took a magnifying glass and looked at the icon on your desktop, you will find there are pixels, and here too you might
scream eureka!... not realizing that this is still just the interface. And from there, you might even want to start building scientific theories about
how pixels behave, about the true nature of pixels, and at some point, just like in quantum physics, you might just hit a wall of incomprehension. You
might find that pixels are made of tinier parts that seem to come out of nowhere and you will ask yourself "how is it possible that these tiny parts
seem so elusive but when I look at the icon as a whole, it seems solid and real".
Hoffman is saying that if we are unable to conciliate general relativity and quantum physics, it's because we have the wrong concepts and even the
wrong language, and we need to produce new concepts and language. If we are unable to conciliate these theories, it's because there is something more
fundamental behind, that we haven't found yet, and we may even be blind to it. So he proposes that consciousness is the fundamental thing in the
Why is it that science in unable to tell us what the nature of our conscious experiences is ? Why is science unable to describe to us what the smell
of coffee is, or the taste of chocolate, of the feel of a cold object in your hand, or the experience of the red color ? Is it because science just
needs a little bit more technology and a little bit more knowledge about elusive particles ? Or is there a deeper problem ? The language of science so
far has been the language of mathematics, and it is a useful and powerful tool, but is it the right tool to describe the nature of our conscious
experiences ? Mathematics can only deal with things that are quantitative in nature, it can add, subtract, divide, etc., it can say that this or that
object is made of 600 billion atoms, it can add units of distance, multiply units of time, etc., but can it deal with conscious experiences like the
taste of vanilla which are not quantitative in nature, but qualitative in nature ? Why is science even unable to tell us how electrochemical activity
in the brain around neurons and synapses turn into conscious experiences ?
So this interface which Hoffman talks about - what we perceive-, has in truth nothing in common with what the reality really looks like. It's not
that it is some part of reality, and that because of the way our senses are limited, we are only able to catch a tiny part of what's really
happening, but what Hoffman says is that the nature of the interface is totally alien to the nature of the reality behind it. Just like pixels on your
screen have nothing in common with the chunks of memory inside a disk on your computer, atoms and electrons and photons have nothing in common with
the reality behind them. Atoms, electrons, photons, etc., are just a data structure that our consciousness has chosen to represent the universe.
Hoffman is not saying that there is nothing and that everything is just a figment of your imagination, he is saying that there is a reality, that
there is something, that an apple is something, but that it is not an apple, and that an apple is just a representation of something that we need.
Just like in a video game : you have to kill this, you have to accomplish that, you have to eat this, all that in order to gain experience. Everyone
knows the things we see in a video game aren't what they look like, that they are just data, structured in some way in order to create a particular
effect in the game world. According to Hoffman, even our own brains and neurons and synapses etc., are part of the interface, and even space and time
are part of the interface.
Hoffman admits there are holes in his theory(like for example, what's the point of evolution and scarcity then?), he also admits he could be
completely wrong, but he says that it's the point, to start a new field of inquiry, to present something precise, with mathematical models and
equations, so others can show him with precision where he is wrong. Isn't that how the whole adventure of science started ? I haven't here talked
about all of his ideas and everything that his theory implies, which by the way he calls "Conscious Realism". There are similarities with other
theories like panpsychism for example. And to be honest, I don't think I completely understand everything he talks about, but I think I understand
the most important parts.