Source: TED | Ideas worth spreading
Donald Hoffman: Do we see reality as it is?
- Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman is trying to answer a big question: Do we experience the world as it really is … or as we need it to be? In this ever so slightly mind-blowing talk, he ponders how our minds construct reality for us.
We have misinterpreted our perceptions before. We used to think the Earth is flat, because it looks that way. Pythagorus discovered that we were wrong. Then we thought that the Earth is the unmoving center of the Universe, again because it looks that way. Copernicus and Galileo discovered, again, that we were wrong.
Galileo then wondered if we might be misinterpreting our experiences in other ways. He wrote: “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be annihilated.”
- Now, that’s a stunning claim. Could Galileo be right? Could we really be misinterpreting our experiences that badly? What does modern science have to say about this?
Well, neuroscientists tell us that about a third of the brain’s cortex is engaged in vision. When you simply open your eyes and look about this room, billions of neurons and trillions of synapses are engaged.
We’re inclined to think that perception is like a window on reality as it is. The theory of evolution is telling us that this is an incorrect interpretation of our perceptions. Instead, reality is more like a 3D desktop that’s designed to hide the complexity of the real world and guide adaptive behavior. Space as you perceive it is your desktop. Physical objects are just the icons in that desktop.