In this episode of the Making Sense podcast Sam and Annaka Harris speak with Donald Hoffman about his book “The Case Against Reality.” They discuss how evolution has failed to select for true perceptions of the world, his “interface theory” of perception, the primacy of math and logic, how space and time cannot be fundamental, the threat of epistemological skepticism, causality as a useful fiction, the hard problem of consciousness, agency, free will, panpsychism, a mathematics of conscious agents, philosophical idealism, death, psychedelics, the relationship between consciousness and mathematics, and many other topics.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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So today I M speaking with Donald Hoffman and
I'm joined by my wife arnica. This is the first time we have
jointly interviewed aghast
and I am sure it will be. The last onyx interest in this topic deftly helped us get deeper into it tunnel Hoffman as a professor of car.
Men of science in the University of California Irvine his right,
has appeared in scientific american and on
John Org and his work has been featured in the Atlantic, wired and Quanta and his
A book is the case against reality. Why evolution?
hid the truth from our eyes.
And there was an article in the Atlantic,
violent him then,
the rounds. He also had a TED talk that
many found the bewildering
as your hearing has what he calls a user interface theory of perception and many people find this totally confounding and it can seem crazy at first glance and even a second glance, and I must
when I first read the Atlantic article and watches TED talk.
Was entirely sure what Hoffman was claiming as you here.
Monica got very interested in his work and had several meetings with him, and then we finally decided do this podcast and it is a fairly steep conversation I do my best
to define terms as we go along, but
those of you for whom
This is your sort of thing. I think you'll love it over there,
three hours we really leave virtually no
don't unturned in this area.
Talk about how evolution has failed to select for true perceptions of reality. We talk about Hartman's interface, theory of perception
Top of the primacy of math and logic, and what justifies our conviction their talk about how space
time cannot be fundamental to our framework. We talk about the threat of a pistol, illogical scepticism.
Causality is a useful fiction. The hard problem of consciousness agency free will pan psych ISM
what happened? Caused the mathematics of conscious agents, philosophical idealism, death psychedelic see the relationship between conscious
mathematics and many other topics.
And now on a gun, I bring you Donald Hoffman
we're here with dialed Hoffman Donald Thanks rejoined us. Thank you, Samson
pleasure. So this is a is unusual. Is the first time that arnica, my wife, whose only been on the
odd cast once many of our
You will remember that pike ass, the first time. Anyone is heard me
laugh out loud and in a decade, so you came to my attention on the beach.
This event Atlantic article. I think that was making the rounds and yourself
TED Talk which preceded the other, but then on it. I just got completely absurd
asked what you were doing and
maybe once a month or so, I would hear that there is some export from a conversation she was having with you, so it just seemed like you know it would be professional malfeasance for her not to really anchor this conversation,
serve slowly so article brutality. That was all in the context of my writing. My book I was doing research for my book and dawn was working on a book on a similar topics are really on the same topic. Yes different perspective and
so yeah. So I thought I had wanted his input on my manuscript and was honored that he trusted me with his manuscript and we kind of we actually gave each other. We were going to go in the writing process together, so give each other notes, and then John was extremely generous with his time and continue to meet with me. As I had many follow up. Questions and
yeah yeah put put up with it with my curiosity, even though ozone room, not I'm not sure any of it was helpful to you, but I it was. It was great, for me too, was very much fun for women and men burberry helpful, because you also get feedback on my book can really help bring my book to a broader audience as well, so grateful
was really grateful that you did all the driving yeah right. So I put before we jump in to your thesis witches and it has the virtue of being on what I think is perhaps the most interesting topic of all
and some of the point you make her so counter intuitive is to seem crazy on their face. So it's going to be fantastic to wade into this with you, but what
how do you summarize your academic and intellectual background before we get started well site? I did my undergraduate
bachelors that you see allay in what was called quantitative. Psychology was like her
you're in psychology in a minor that had like computer science and math courses, and while I was
that I took a graduate class with Professor Carteret, which we were looking at artificial intelligence and ran across the papers of David MAR right. This is like an wrought: seventy seven, seventy eight and his papers just really grab my attention. Here was a guy that was trying to build visual systems that worked with mathematical precision. I just waving her hands, but actually rotting, dumb mathematics in
something that you could actually build eventually into robotic vision system, so I found out he was at MIT in a lab and which now the brain, Cognitive Sciences, department, and I was lucky enough to get to go there and and work with him. He he died
but little over a year after I was there, I only got to work with him for
ten or fifteen Moliere, very young he's, like thirty, five or thirty five had leukemia, but but but I did get too
work with him and see? How is mine works? It was revolutionary, was a wonderful time
what am I and then my mother.
There was, but one Richards, Big David Martin women, rigorous, were a joint advisers. None women was muscle adviser after MAR died, and so I was-
very interested going there in the problem of the are machines not figured. What better way to get at that question, then
doing something in an artificial intelligence lab where we try to build machines and understand the scope and limits of what machines
I was always very interested in human nature and how you artificial intelligence is related to humans. Are we just artificial intelligence? Is ourselves just me.
Genes? Or is there something more in one hand wave? I really wanted to understand what it means to be a machine and what might be different or not about humans, and so so that sort of my mind to lecture backward in what I focused on, because you know of of MAR, was perception. Visual perception say he wrote a book that was is quite celebrated, a very
detailed, look and visual perception, which is its amazing, what contribution he made in such a short time decades after his death. You know his book is still recommended. It says I must red book and cognitive science and nurse
neurosciences, absolutely it was brilliant and he was brilliant in person the lab meetings were were electric. He had assembled this world class group of scientists up around him. They
Dick congregated round him. I just was so lucky to be watching this new science. We have being revolutionized by this young man had thirty five you he did all this continent and died was news
truly stunning near but you're, not Irvine ass. A professor right must not universal California to refine yeah. Then you have been.
A meeting over the years with some of the great lights in consciousness, studies for
a better word of it. There was these meetings of the Helmholtz society is now your call. The heralds club with my homework
The answer is so, and I had practice cricket and I never met Frances but Joe Bogan, who you write about
about somebody who I did meet and he was quite a characteristically european is fun at dinner.
His. He was the neurosurgeon who did the bulk of the split brain procedures for which free riders bury one that the Nobel Prize and that's right.
IRAN's ideally as lay was involve network and Michael Gazeta. Yes before we
jump, and I want to our listeners to be sensitized how
seemingly preposterous, some of your initial
claims will be, and I can guarantee that on certain of these points, the sense of their counter intuitive. This will wear off the Sabine thrilling about these myths that the thrill that was exemplified by articles obsession with their work. I know his spread to other people. We have a friend who perhaps I should
who claim that shit, but he accosted you had some function and just completely fan girl do as it as a groupie. So we know that, are they once you start
and sunglasses indoors you what you will have started a Carlton and then we will put the word out against you about them. In the meantime, perhaps the best place,
To start- and I would imagine we should just track through it the way you do in your book, starting with the interface theory perception,
you can start where we want and we just want to go through it all and we'll have questions throughout right. So most of my colleagues who study perception assume that evolution by natural selection has shaped us to see truths about the world. None of my colleagues. I think that we see all of reality as it is, but most of my colleagues would argue that accurate perceptions, what we called vertical perceptions perceptions that tell us truths about the world will make us more fit so accurate perceptions, vertical perceptions, are fitter perceptions and the argued
That's classically given is actually quite intuitive suit, so the idea is that those around sisters who actually were better at feeding fighting fleeing emitting because they could see reality as it is
were more likely to pass on their genes, which coated for the more accurate perceptions, and so, after thousands of generations of this process, we can be quite secure that our perceptions are telling the truth about the world, of course, not exhaustive truths, but
The truth is that we need. We see those aspects of reality that we need to stay alive and reproduce thus seems like
really compelling argument seems very, very intuitive. How could a go wrong? So at first glance it seems
some measure of verticality, some measure of being in touch with reality as it is, would increase. Then organisms fitness there must
be a fit between tracking reality as it is, and adaptive advantage exactly. That's that's the standard into a form for most of my colleagues. Steven Pinker has actually published papers where he points out some some contradictions to that idea, but most of my colleagues would go through. I do that yeah, it's it's better! It's more fit to see reality has. It is at least part of reality
I began to think that that might not be true, because my initial intuition was that maybe you would just take too much time and too much energy to see reality as it is, so evolution tries to do things on the cheap. So maybe the pressures to do things quickly and cheaply would would may be compromised our ability to see the truth, and so I began to work with my graduate students, Justin Mark and Brian Merion run two thousand and eight or so two thousand and nine, and I had them, write some simulations where we would simulate foraging games where we could create worlds with resources and put creatures in those worlds. That could roam around and compete for resources and some of the creatures. We let see all the truth, so they were the vertical tree.
And others. I didn't see the truth. All we had them only see the fitness pay off. We we can talk about fitness pay off me, never Morton concept, but what we found was in these simulations at the that, the creatures that
saw reality ass, it is couldn't out, compete the creatures of equal complexity,
that saw none of reality and we're just tuned to the fitness chaos, and so that began to make me think there was something real here and soon. I should say what fitness pay a year so think in evolution. You can think of evolution, Barnett
selection. Much like a video game. So in a video game, you're focus is to collect points as quickly as you can without being distracted by other things.
And if you get enough points in a shortage of time, you then might get to go to the next level. Otherwise, you die in an evolution by natural selection is very, very similar. The instead of the game points you have fitted.
Pay off and you go around collecting them is
Finally, as you can, and if you get enough, you don't go to the next June
patient, but your genes get passed to the next generation and so should be live. A more specific think about the fitness pay off that see. A naughty bond stake model
so that if you're, a hungry lion looking to eat that Tiburon stake offers lots of fitness pathos.
But if you're that same lion in your full you're looking to made all didn t bond stick offers. You know fitness pails whatsoever and in if you-
in any state for any activity, but he must take as not. Gonna is not a thing for you whatsoever, and in so that's gives you an intuition about what we mean by fitness pay off. In evolutionary theory, fitness pay offs do depend on the state of
data the world, whatever the objective reality might be, they do depend on the state of the world, but also and importantly, on the organism yet state and the action, and so fitness pay off functions are rarely come.
Hated functions and the state of the world is only one of the parts of the main of that function. There's lots of other aspects
solar really, really complicated functions of the state of the world and the organism estate on this action was an it now. I think you should introduce the desktop analogy because, against what you just said, can sound suspiciously similar to more or less what every life scientist and certainly neuroscience-
this would agree, is true which is whatever reality is we see some simulation, some of it that is being broadcast to
Ass by the where our nervous system sections of the world. So we know we see with
certain bandwidth of light. You no bees detect Vienna where another bandwidth and we, by the very nature of this
don't get all the information that is available to be gotten. So we don't have a complete picture of the thing in itself or the reality. This behind appearances, but implicit in that status quo assumption is that the things we do
see, really exist out there in the real world in some basic sense in space and time again it is not clear how much has lost in translation, but there is some conformity
between what we see as a glass.
Of water on the table and a real.
Object in the world in a third person space. How is your vision of things departing from what is now scientific commonsense yet does deport dramatically from that the standard view the standard views you
That is that we may not see all the truth, but we do see some aspects of reality accurately and what the evolutionary
simulations and then later theorem said that my colleague cheat on Prakash prove indicators that our perceptions were shaped by natural selection, not to show us just the little bits of truth. We need to see, but rather to hide truth altogether and to give us instead a user interface. So few metaphor, like too
if your writing, a book and the icon for the book is blue and rectangular in the middle of your screen. Does that mean that the book itself in your computer is blue?
rectangular in the middle of the computer. Will, of course not anybody who thought that really misunderstands the point of the user interface. It's not there to show you the truth, which in this metaphor, would be the circuits and software and voltages in in the computer, the interfaces their explicitly to hide the truth. If you had to toggle voltages too, to write a book, you never get done and it had to talk about just send an email. People would never hear from you. So the point of view
or interface, is to completely hide the reality, and, to give you very, very simplified user interface to let you
control the reality as much as you need to control it while being utterly ignorant about the nature of that reality and that's what the simulations arrived
with my students and the terms are done with with great on Prakash indicators that that natural selection will favour
organisms that see none of the truth and just have the simplified user interface should be very explicit. Speight three dimensional space as we perceive it is just a three dimensional desktop is not an objective reality independent of us. It's just a data structure that our sensory systems used to represent fitness, pay us and how to get them and three dimensional objects like tables and chairs. Even the moon are just three dimensional icons in that interface. So once it,
and there are not our species representations of a true glass is really out there or true tabled its out there. They are merely data structures that were using to represent fitness paths and how to get them.
So is, though, yesterday in this first description of this wonderful analogies with a desktop and also of how evolution gives us this false picture of what the deeper reality
actually is. I have a few questions here. I'm gonna start start, I not quite sure where, where will go there at least three things
that have been brought up so far that that I feel like it is important for us to get clear on terminal.
Ology and framework before us are really disagreeing.
I should say that that I know you and I have now spent many meetings together. I spend a lot of time challenging you mostly, because I actually think there's something very
First, that you're doing, I think, you're onto something and so
in the same way that, in my editing work, I gave the most notes to the books. I most passion
And about, and is in that Spirit ass though
beginning with evolution have actually said too many times that I dont actually think
I need the evolution arguments to make your case for your theory, so some of the some of this push back is actually mood, but I still think it's interesting and I think I agree with this with this evolution argument up to a point. So might my first question is really to just get us. You know on the same page,
see if we are on that on the same page as a starting point, I know that you believe that or your hopeful. We are optimistic about the fact that we can ultimately understand what that deeper. Reality is the end, so that so there must be banned.
Trees to other systems. They were using our brains which have evolved where we can actually get access to the truth. So so, up until up to a point, our brains are giving us all this false information, but there's some sense in which we can actually get access to things that are true about the nature of reality. So my question is: where do you draw the boundary of involved system that, by definition gives us food?
information about the nature of reality, so that, outside that boundaries, where we might be able to gain access to information that delivers s the truth and this kind of a second pillar
to that, which is where we might disagree. I believe we have already begun to cross that boundary with science and so
The way I follow your evolution argument is simply about direct perceptual information that we go,
rather than ideas, scientific experiment. So so, if you just take a light light, I think is always that the simplest exam
but we have not evolved perceptual systems to really understand what light, as rightly everything, everything we ve law
and about light through the sciences up took quantum mechanics work, it's completely mysterious and we really don't actually know what light
is so so we can have all agree and not just the three.
In this room, but all of us in a most scientists would agree that, ultimately, were still. We still don't have this information about what the fundamental nature of reality is we're where we're still stuck there, but I would say that we have learned we ve gotten much closer to that by these processes that I think are outside the boundary of this evolved system. That is, by definition, delivering us. False information run great question. Those with a couple of points about it. First to be the arguments that are given from evolution by natural selection. Again,
and vertical perceptions do not hold against math and logic. So that's fervour different than some other. Like christian apologists, like Alvin planting who have made an argument, it sounds very similar to mine that they say that if our senses, if
our cognitive capacities of all, they would be unreliable. That includes our theory. Building capacity in there for
The resolution is unreliable. Therefore, evolution is false. I'm making no such arguments ray. I'm is further further sing from my mind. I'm focused only
the senses and the reason why the argument that says our senses are not vertical doesn't hold from Ethnologic is that there are evolutionary pressures for us to reason about fitness. Payoffs two bites of an apple, give you roughly twice
The fitness pay off of one bite of an apple, whatever objective reality might be. We need to be able to reason about fitness paths, and so, whereas the selection,
Pressures are uniformly against vertical perception
there are not uniformly against some elementary competence in math and logic. I'm not, of course, arguing that natural selection is shaping us to be geniuses mythological far from it is just that the suction pressures or not
uniformly against ability and everyone's writing at a you know, genius, but don't we think there
math and logic are giving us space time. I mean that other than this. This can get into a deeper question because of course, we now have quantum mechanics, which is putting all of this into question and many physicists, if not most her or talking about space time being something that emerges out of something more fundamental, but they would still say that emerges and so on.
It seems that it's hard to take. So I guess my argument with where you take this evolution. Argument is as far as space time itself, because it seems that we don't yet no
Heather Space time is a true true illusion and in some sense, but I would say, are math and logic has has taken us that far. Not simply are our perceptual systems should see. If I can add to this point because it's the summit came up for me as well, so
if we can find this too perception for me is no longer counter intuitive, but you get. It will also be counter intuitive for many many people, but this is the claim, is that fitness trumps truth so fully that
apprehending the truth. Perceptually is just not an evolutionary stable strategy. You're gonna be driven to extinction, among creatures that are optimized for fitness and that sir,
a little crazy, but when that, when you think about fitness means
fitness means simply being optimized for survival and procreation rights.
As long as you're optimizing, for that is easy to see that you successfully out compete, anything that isn't optimized for that and is also this additional piece which you mentioned, which is theirs clearly fit,
This value I e survival value in
throwing away information that isn't related to fitness right so that
Every organisms can have some bandwidth. You no limits
metabolic limits and tracking
every fact that out there to track Campi priority.
And then there's this additional component, which is its inability to make certain sanctions, doesn't relate to increase fitness.
Evolution would not have selected for that ability to make those distinctions. Resolutely was so you expect organisms to be blind to
certain features reality age just in principle. But there is a sense
which you're thesis does
by its own tail and seems to at least potentially subvert itself. In that the moment you start to say that ok, space and time they don't exist their data structures. Therefore our notion of objects does a pure interface issue is just like a trash can on the desk top. It doesn't really
map on reality as it is you just bracket logic and and rationality which may be defensible, but it may evolution itself the very notion of natural self
Action is more than just rations.
There is a causal picture- and we might say that car
this the notion of cause and effect right or the notion that causes proceed their effects rather than some notion of teleology. These things are also does data structures so that, like every
peace you want to put on the board, given I winning an account of anything, does sort a fall in the
and of more space,
in time more objects, and so how does this thing completely
for itself in loud land. You in something like just a global scepticism which says you know we're in
in touch with some seeming reality, which we really can't ever know anything fundamental about yeah great question, both both so so the idea first effort.
That evolution by natural selection. As we all know, love it involves things like dna and organs.
Sums in space and time and so forth. So how could I ever used the theory of evolution to show and claim to show that things like DNA are just data structures there? Just the interface symbols and the reason why I can do that is because John Maynard Smith actually took the theory of evolution of natural selection and mathematics tat. He realised that we could abstract away from all of the sort of the extraneous empirical assumptions of space and time and dna and so forth, and we could look at what would he calls just evolutionary game theory
and so that the logic of natural selection itself can be reduced to competing strategy where you make no ontological assumptions whatsoever about the world in which so strategies are planning. So so it allows one when someone says natural selection favours true perceptions. Evolutionary game theory provide you precisely the tool. You need to ask how to assess that question. Independent of all these other empirical assumptions that are standard in biological, evolutionary, thigh
is so that that allow me to to do this now. There is another aspect to the argument that a strategy that I'm taking here and that is that why
the reason that I went after the evolutionary argument was actually announced, the interface theory of my book and one thousand nine hundred and ninety eight visual intelligence and people like the book, except for the chapter on the interface
I thought that was nuts and- and I realized I wasn't going to get my colleagues to pay attention to that idea. Unless I talk to them in a language that they really understood. That was that that motivated me to go after the evolutionary are
a few years later. So the reason I use evolution is not because maybe it's the best argument is because, as they are,
you meant that I knew my colleagues would listen to so. First, I'm abstracting way from the the whole apparatus of biological evolution to just the the nuts and bolts of evolutionary game theory, which doesn't bring ontological assumptions and second latitude as a scientist toward any scientific theory. Is there just the best tools we have so far? I dont believe any scientific theory, including my own. I think believers is not helpful attitude. This is the best tool we have so far less look at what this tool says about the key
aimed at natural selection favours vertical perceptions and whatever deeper. So what what? But that tool is saying to me, is there's just no grounds for thinking that any of our perceptions of space and time and objects in any way capture the structure of whatever objective reality might be, and what one thing
nice about this mathematics as well, as you might say, well how in the world, could you possibly show that the structure of our perceptions doesn't capture
structure of the world unless you knew already what the structure of the world is. You mean Archie shooting itself in the foot there and it turns out you dont have to it's really that wonderful mathematics set. You can show that whatever the structure of the world might be, the probability is zero, but that's what we're seeing Maiden and that that makes sense to me too. I'm still stuck on how it is
tens all the way to space and time and again, I think, which was it should have been too much time on the evolution. Peace most mostly because actually think you don't need it, but just from a philosophical perspective, I think it's very interesting and I'm still curious myself can a how far this goes views. Clearly, true
up to a point, at least so. If darwinian evolution by natural selection is a theory about objects in space and time I mean this is this: is this is just a question for you, but
Oh you how you view this? Where can you stand outside of space time in matter to talk about evolved, perceptual systems, but more specifically, what does evolution
look like. Or how do you even talk about evolution outside of space time? So what are we saying is evolving? What are we saying is surviving what what do evolution and survival even mean in a context outside of space and time, or is that just an abstract idea? They haven't noticed. That starts to look the right question them. That's the power of evolutionary game theory. What John Maynard Smith was able to do is to show
could talk about abstract strategies competing not in any particular assumption about space and time we can get who he was able to obstruct away from all these? The details of biological evolution in space and time and organisms and say the essence of the eye of Darwins idea are these abstract strutted strategies and we can look at how these straits
jeez compete so gonna abstracts there. What is it that surviving? It's an idea
it's a meme. What, when it arrives, is what you do is you have you imagine that there are others population of entities?
There are competing using these strategies, so their abstract entities in an abstract space with these new strategies and what you
do? Is you you just there's something called the replicator equation and what you find in replicator equation is that
the number of entities that have a good fitness strategy will start to increase, their proportion will increase the strategy of a bad fitness strategy were or to let you know, a lesser strategy and sweet. What you'd have is the proportion of the population that has various strategies goes up and down? Well then, I guess he and my question goes back to what what do you mean
entity. So these are just abstract entities that that new innovation or a game theory. You don't need to know what the entities Arthur they're just place markers eight year, imagining there there entities outside of space and time, thus than us what the mathematics allows you to do, what level measures piggy back on this year
tagged him. Borders does not for a so. I apologise in advance
but isn't the very notion of competition and differential success based on the Paris
on the notion of time, pursued on the notion of causes, proceeding their effects and entities is, I think what honest fishing for there is entities
somehow derivative of objects, at least they the concept of an object in we're talking about something that discreet, that's, not
it merely a continuous reality right things can be differentiated. So
how are we not using the same cognitive tools that got him
into us by evolution whose process has only selected for fitness and therefore left us epistemological close to the NATO reality apps absolute, so yeah you're right the tea and evolutionary that replicator equation,
does have a time parameter resource, or at least a sequence parameter demands. Will you do it discreetly or or continuously, and so that's gonna be built into it? Absolutely so
by the way is, I said, I'm not committed to the truth of evolution by natural selection
I'm just using that theory. It's after
that whatever the structure of the world is that that theory says the chances zero and that our perceptions actually have captured that structure. It leaves it open to ask: is there a deeper theory of objective reality that will give back evolution by natural selection as a special case within, but I call our space time interface and that that's actually what I'm hoping for us
Have a deeper theory that will have little that go beyond space and time and it'll go beyond time in the sense that there will be sequence and there will be perhaps a notion of cause following a fact
but not in a global space time. Temporal for framework. It will be completely synchronous and so forth, and will
yet what we call causality and in like him in Caskey space, nine, seismic Kelsey Space or general atavistic curved space time as a projection of a much more deep theory of reality in which the very notion of dimension doesn't hold in which time doesn't hold. But we can show that, though, that the sulphur, I'm thinking about a dynamics on an abstract graphs, island, asynchronous dynamics, but that complete projected and simplified into what we call space time in its causality same Caskeys base. I think it's just useful as us as a launching off point it to every place, will go from here to just say that at the very least, I think this
pollution argument is very useful in terms of opening our eyes to something that I actually think we in some sense, we already know an and again, you know looking at something like light is a good example where we
Clearly, we have not been given any tools, perceptual tools to understand how electrons operate
how do you know what is actually happening at a fundamental level and and of course, they're all these theories now from everything in strength,
too many worlds trying to sort out on all of these things that we see through through our science, that we have absolutely no intuitions where we have no insight into. We were just getting it through math and law.
Chicken and and so clearly we haven't evolved systems that help us here and so I've I feel like. We can agree to two points that we can move from here onward and
the first one is that we can all agree em and in a scientist in general, we don't know what's fundamental. Nor do we perceive the truth about the fundamental building blocks of reality
and two- and this is where I would like to set this up for fur- what consciousness it is going to it was about to come in. We can agree that physical science has not given us an explanation for consciously have no understanding of how consciousness arises out of physical process
seize, and so it seems that we can at least agree that it's a legitimate question or to limit adjournment project to wonder if consciousness is something that's more fundamental and in that were missing that peace and that that, whether we ve thought about it backwards all this time as one of the things that I think is so great about your work, and I think this is a very important project August, a before we get to consciousness, which is central to our interest and where there is more controversy, at least in my mind. I want to anchor what you have said to a very straightforward perception, so that our listeners can
get in touch with how Counter intuitive Europe thesis is. So when in a three of us are in a room together, apparently there objects we can see what is the status of those objects like a glass of water when none of us are looking at it and what is, as is its status,
given the fact that it apparently is always there for any one of us to look at. We have some kind of consensus into subjective,
language game we can play here that can reference the glass of water you know at will. How does that map on here theory of non vertical perception? So I think again,
wait to see what I'm saying and how counter to the place is to think about safe playing a game. What grand theft auto, but with a virtual reality out on sheer you're, never headset
and you're, seeing a three dimensional world of cars in your own steering, wheel and so forth. In and it's it's a multiplayer games, Hitler people around the world that there
see, the same car that you're driving and see all the other cars that using, and in that case, there are, of course, is no real car that any by saying there's just some. In this metaphor, the bunch of circuits in software and so forth that that's the objective reality in
this metaphor, but all the players will agree that they see a red corvette chasing. You know a green Mustang,
down the highway at you know so new out they they all agree not because there is literally a red corvette chasing a green Mustang. There is some objective reality, but it's not as it's not corvettes and mustangs. That's what we each sea and in each person
their own headset. He is getting in this example: photons YO thrown to their eyes
and their rendering. In their own mind, the corvette chasing the Mustang. So there are,
many corvettes and mustangs as there are people playing
game because they each see the one that they render and I might be looking at the at the core vat and I'm
look away and are now looking at my steering wheel. I no longer see the Corbett I've. I have garbage collected the corvette, I'm not making that data structure.
Were now, I'm rendering a steering wheel and now look back
The Corbett now re rendering the Corbett so so low
like: the Corbett was always there, because you know I look away and look back, it's right where I expect it to be put in
there. The reality is not Corbett's is not mustangs us not during bills, so so
and now I so here's the counter intuitive claim, I'm claiming we all have a headset on yeah Oliver
yeah and we all have this space time. Physical objects, the glass of water,
those are all things that I render on the fly when I look at them and then I garbage collect them in, and this part
The evolutionary argument I garbage plucked him because I'm trying to save energy and time
in memory. So I render it only as I need it, and it's really just the glass I'm seeing as a representation of fitness pay off. Those are the fitness. Pale son need to pay attention to know now, I'm thrown that pet fitness path, description away, not looking fitness pale sohmer here. So it's it's a rapid rendering a fitness pay offs in real time. So here's one of the areas where I worry that the language that you're using the terminology or using may actually
give a false impression of what you're saying this or some of my notes, gaming. I don't know how many of these notes that you have taken her
or will take, but I worry that actually think I agree with you there, but at but there's something about the way or saying about. I think gives a false impression that what you're saying so, if you say you know that
race car. Isn't there are legit, you know the moon is eggs, and example. You give often mean you, you also well say which, which I think is is more accurate and closer to what you're saying is something
something is: is there in reality that my perceptual systems are kind of turning into this, this sight of a moon, and I think it's
confusing to readers and listeners. When you say it doesn't exist as if that
fundamental nature of reality, behind whatever their moon is, doesn't exist that there's
then there's nothing there airport, I'm. So it seems more accurate to say we simply don't understand the deeper ray
reality behind the moon and behind apples, and that this is something in a way like its lead,
Controversial is something we can all admit, given our our current understanding of the physics, and so I ask that put part of my
grab there. I think is just with the language that you're using and there's something incredibly interesting about it, that that something is there, there's something
Are that the example I often linked to use with you when we meet as a tree we plant a tree and
and leave it it is. It is out of our conscious experience there all these processes that will be taking place in in a what
call them how we view them as water and nutrients being sucked up from the earth, and it will.
RO and will come back in a year and all those processes would have taken place whatever they are at bottom
we may not understand, but something is going on
in the universe that we have our access to. However, far from the truth, it is there's something taking place there and so
explain it as when I leave. There's absolutely
nothing there and there's no tree, and then I come back and somehow I create this as if it's your undergoes a very important clarification. So I agree with you completely, but I'm not saying that there isn't an objective reality that would exist. Even if I don't look at it.
There is an objective. Reality is just at the wit. What I see,
is utterly unlike that objective reality and, and indeed the metaphor, the rose giving of virtual reality. I might see a red corvette,
The reality that metaphor would be circuits and software that aren't read that dont have the shape of a quota
their utterly unlike a Corbett, but but many interact with that
objective reality. That's there. Even if I don't see the corvette, I them will see the Corbett. So that's how different think its petty
really confusing as an analogy. Only because, as a user of video games, you can turn you can turn the video game off. It's not as self sufficient work.
It's not reality. They that continues on and does so does its thing plug roof, or at least it yeah gives up slightly false impression. So
right. I agree that the reality is continuing on, regardless of what I have life rights right in and in the region have left ensured
That's because I agree with you that there is something I will continue to go on, even if I am not here. Ok, so that live. Let me make that point with a slightly different tops been because those concessions seem to bring us back to the standard consensus view of science in some way, so that there's this appearance reality distinction that there's are sensory experience, which has our interface, which
everyone agrees does not put us in direct contact with the thing in itself or underline reality, but you're conceding
that there is an underline reality and there must be some
lawful map in between
what we see on the interface and that underline reality which actually Roy
injuries, are mutual perceptions of things like trees and glasses in cars, predictable, where we can both agree that if we go to look for the same object each one,
most likely to independently find it whatever the relationship is between that interface data structure and reality itself. So there's there has to be some kind of ice and
fascism between our virtual reality experience and reality itself.
we don't have by virtue of heavily
in all of the right conceptual tool, so as to say what it is. There is going to be a mapping between objective reality and and our perceptions and that map
will be as complicated or more complicated as the mapping between all the circuits and software in a virtual reality,
a machine and the actual like grant
the outer world that I did I perceive, and if you think about it, there's gonna be hundreds of megabytes of software. All these complex
The circuits, all I'm saying, is simple cars and so forth. So there's gonna be income,
Your answer are all these virtual machines that you create many many levels of virtual machines between what you see in
in the grand theft, auto game and the actual objective reality. In this metaphor, this going on there- and so I'm saying that that the idea that
The reality is going to be isomorphism space time is too simplistic right. Is it
It's gonna be summer. I agree that there's gonna be some systematic mapping is gonna, be quite complicated, so another it put. Is this? If I said to you
I want you to use the language of what you can see in your interface in the birch around, so the pixels that you can see the colors and pixels ass, the only language you can use my want you to tell me how this virtual world works. You can't do it, because the language of pixels is an inadequate set of products to actually described.
World and I'm making the very strong claim that whatever
the reality is the language of space and time and physical objects in space and time.
Is simply the wrong language. There is a systematic mapping robot, but the language of objects in space and time could not possibly frame a true description of that object rally. That's the strong point, so it is similar to
who, in the GPS all day in the famous physiologist, gave us a aphorism that almost contains this thesis he in seed for
which is not only a reality, stranger than we suppose stranger than we can suppose by giving aid deflation.
Account of our notion of space and time. You are saying what
were this mapping is between appearance. In reality, we are so ill equipped to talk about it. Based on this interface analogy that it is on some level, far stranger and former foreign to the way in which were thinking about things than anyone has. That is what it is
yes, your claim, isn't actually too I'm trying to get at what is truly novel about your claim. One thing: this novel is the expectation
that evolution has selected for some approximation to? What is true seems false rights of fitness, trumps truth and as a result,
Whatever this mapping is too,
underline reality, its way, we're or in a far greater state of ignorance about it than most people expect that dust rights that we should
absolutely Nelson Head, and I would say this it it's the relationship between a vision
zation tool and whatever it is that were visualizing right. So so,
There's gonna be the subject of reality. That's out there and we evolution just gave us this very varied, dumb down species, specific visualization tool,
very language of that tool is probably mean. The whole point of a visualization tool used to hide the complexity of the objective railed in just give you
you know a dumb down tool that you can use and so the very languages space
I'm an objects is just the wrong language for whatever the thing it just like. I would say
that is as far as I understand most up to this point, I know we're gonna talk,
consciousness soon and then we'll get intuitive around. But up up and to this point everything that you have just said, I think most physicists would agree with and is part of the conversation in Quantum mechanics right now and many physicists art are talking about this problem of space time.
And of space and time independently, as well. Clearly, not being the final answer to what is fundamental and and everything we see out of quantum mechanics gives us a real philosophical problem similar to the one you're describing, which is. It seems that the fundamental nature of the universe with the universe is actually made of. It is not anything like what we experience it all the way to the point of space and time, but that's right, and so this really interested, because if you look at our biggest scientific theories in physics, general activity also special tribute or about space time, space time is assumed to be an objective reality them,
and mental one in quantum field theory as well. The fields are defined over space time and ensue physics it as a New Marconi momentous has put it in his of professor is to prevent study at Princeton. He's point out that, for the last few centuries physics has been about what happens,
space time, but now.
The realizing that to get general activity.
The standard model of physics to play well together, they're gonna have to let go of space time. It cannot be.
The mental and he's not worried about it and you infectious most of his colleagues, agree right that space time is doomed yes and there's gonna be
something deeper and ass. Wonderful, because we're about to learn something new, there's a deeper brain work for us to be thinking about physics and space time will have to be emergent from that deeper and deeper framework acts. I watched a lecture his recently and I wrote down
this short quote. He says all these things are converging on some completely new formulation of standard physics, where space time and quantum mechanics are not our inputs, but our outputs- and I thought that was that was very well said, but but that so slow is. As far as I understand where, where physics it is at this point, I think all of these physicists would would agree with you up until this point
I think now we can probably cross over volcanoes Irish yet other they might agree for different reasons, rather not using absolutely, but aimed at that. There's. Nothing intrinsic in wet dawn is saying about how false our view of the fundamental nature of railroad is that it that it is that that it that way, you can actually take it all the way to space time and that we are probably wrong and all of those assumptions about what we think. I agree, and I figures, but it's really interesting- that the pillars of science or all saying the same thing
Evolution by natural selection saying need let go space time and then the physicist trying to get general activity in quantum field theory to play wreck their sing. Hafela, go space time
when our best science is saying that that's it's time for an interesting revolution is
we find them is very exciting to see what what happens when we go behind space time so
Cotter intuitive, though right. We, we ve, just assume that we are on our our story- is space time came into existence. Thirteen point eight billion years ago, at the Big Bang, it was the fundamental reality were saying: there's there's a deeper story. That story is only true up to a point. There is a much much deeper story and that's more like an interface story. That's the projection of a much do.
Restoring, have defined, and that is tremendously fun. You are also a net, were now then move on to consciousness, which will be interesting. I just I guess so. I went to flag
My lingering concern that your
rationale, if taken in deadly earnest, may still kick open the door to a pistol module scepticism for me at least because they like, I think you know, if once more,
in time, are dispensed with causality and have an evolutionary rationale does and this. This is kind of the planting of argument you referred to is just once you start.
Pulling hard at those threats, I'm not sure how much the the fabric of a pistol ology can be defended. So I grew his eminent in enfolding since I, I think
that might actually go that way, just on the evolutionary arguments alone. So what I'm gonna want to do is to whatever
The deeper theory of reality that I propose it needs to be set
it will not fall into the deepest logical problems at your raising, so that the deeper theory needs to avoid those opposed to block,
the problems and show why that deeper theory looks like evolution by natural selection when we projected into our space time interface rather word, so that these kinds of problems might arise because evolution by natural selection itself has not. The deepest theory is just an interface version of a deeper theory. So yes, on this, this topic of causality in time and whether it this project even make sense which
there is a place you and I have gone to perform in our conversations when you say things like that, the brain and neurons are not the source of causal powers and that we need to find another source. But my question is: why would you assume that there are causal powers at all in the fundamental nature of realities
It's not cleared and what is not clear to me why we include causal powers as part of a fundamental reality. If space time doesn't exist,
quite see how there is consolidating, without time, at least in the way that we typically think about it, and they just to take an example which is kind of standard physics, although often neglected the notion of a block universe right. The notion that neither the future exists
just as much the present as in the past, and said that there really are no events, there's just a single data M, which is the entire Cosmo's renaissance.
And so is causality on under that control
is really an illusion. That's right and and without endorsing the block universe view, I would say,
causality in space and time is a fiction is a useful fiction that we ve evolved in our interface, that but the strictly speaking causality in space and time,
Is it not because space and time is not the fundamental reality? The appearance of causality, like my hand, pushing this glass and moving. It gives the appearance that my my hand as causal powers and is causing the glass to move. But but in fact that's that's just a useful fitness like if I drag an icon on my desktop.
The trash can and delete the file. It looks like the movement of the icon on the desktop to the trash can cause the file to be deleted. Well for the casual user, that's a perfectly harmless fiction to believe. If you move the icon to the trash, can it causes of hell
it's perfectly harmless, but for the user for the guy who actually wants to build the software interface, for this would go under the hood that if fiction has to be let go so so I'm claiming that with in space and time,
all the appearance of causality is a fiction now in terms of a deeper theory. We cause you're. Asking a deal
What about Kosovo might my their argument is that causality is part of the illusion of time assuming time it is some sort of illusion and tat time is not fundamental, at least as far as we usually talk about, I mean I can think of this as it conversation of how we
almost redefine causality, which, in my
I view I have, I think, there's a way to talk about different things being connected, but in terms of the way we are definition of causality in how we use it, it is dependent on time. It is a part of things that that play out in time. You need something that you need something to happen in the past to cause something to happen in the future. It is this. Is this direct relationship in time, and so I don't even know how you would talk about causality without time it it. It needs time for its own definition. So I think, if we're redefining causality, which I think it's kosher, actually that something we can talk about, I'm not I've never been clear. Whether that is what you mean. Are we kind of redefining what cause is and is it more,
Ike connections between things rather than one thing happens, and then another thing happens in response. You're out also add another aspect here, which is that the notion of possibility may be spurious rights so that it may in fact be that nothing is
is ever possible. There's only what is actual
there's only what happens and our sense that something else might have happened in any circumstance that just might be a again part of this newsroom interface. That has seemed useful because it is useful to treat like, but when we are apparently making decisions between two possibilities and we need a model. Counterfactual were account of actual thinking is incredibly useful and yet what if it
simply the case as it is? It would be in a block universe that there's just you know the novels already written and you're on page, seventy five, but page a hundred sixty eight exists already in some sense, and I asked
don't think you need the block universal, because I think that this is one way of getting the yemeni good visualization matinees. Most physicists will have some argument about it being described that way, but I think that the analogy holds- and I was just reading Carlo rebellious book on on time- and he makes this point
as well, that that, at a certain level there is no difference between past and future and an essential, imminent. This basis in the book is that time is an illusion. It is, it is not something I'm so sorry. I gotTA swords ya, think that that will need a notion of causality, thus outside of space time, that you're not gonna, be dependent on time. It will be more like relationship as you talked about, ok and and in terms of the counterfactual rules and possibilities. I think will want to have a conversation about probability and how we interpret probabilities in scientific theories, whether their mean, so there are probabilities that.
There are epistemic in the sense that maybe there's a deterministic reality out there, and I just don't know enough about it, so so, if it so, the probably Sir subjective his my lack of knowledge, there there's frequency, but our sense of probability, maybe spurious that this right in, but then
if, if there are probabilities and which no matter how
much my knowledge increases the probability will not disappear, and so we often call those in science objective chance.
And I think we will have a conversation about how we think about probabilities and objective chance. It will enable us to actually take us into the question about free will and so forth. My my version of a notions of free will persist determinism, so so I think that
That's gonna, be an interesting conversations or two. I agree that we need a notion of causality that transcends time and I'm proposing
but by the interest. I know yet. Yet not you talk with Judea Pearl and hit he's got the directed a cyclic graft.
Models of of causal reasoning which are brilliant and they ve actually given us a mathematical science for the first time of causal reasoning. But when you in his book pearl, doesn't define causality, refuses to to define the notion of causality in some,
since we were facing here. Is that every scientific, their innocence? This is really important idea. I think no scientific theory is a theory of everything. There's no such thing. Every scientific theory makes certain assumptions. We call them the the premises or the assumptions of the theory, and only if you grant the theory, those assumptions can go and
plain everything else and end, so we're going to have an every scientific theory. Certain primitive that are unexplained they'd be deep. They are the miracles
These happy that theory they may say I can get you a deeper theory for which those assumptions come out as consequences, but you will have a deeper set of assumptions. Who's gonna be an axiom somewhere at the bottom
absolutely enough, that's a humbling recognition for scientists to realize
We will never have a theory of everything we will always have a miracle or a few miracles. We want to keep them as few as possible. I don't like that. You call them miracles. I would like that
tat the record shut up. But I understand that, but I we call them a lot of light. I call them axioms area, which will, because I want a really my is another place where the people might actually be confused about what you mean the, which is why I am
I am glad the vagina protect you.
I'll just sit there. Things at the theory cannot explain so, and there will always be things in every scientific theory cannot explain and it's a principal problem. So then,
Something will be in a deeper theory. Will we have something that we that's like a causal notion? That would be a primitive of the theory that may not be dependent on time. We'll be there will be primitive. Zoom in explanation will stop I get so so my question in them and my issue really is: why use the word causality in when you're speaking and more fundamental terms? So why not say something like connections? Relationships to me see much more much closer analogy is, and so to say
what we view as causality is in fact something more like a connection or a relationship on corollary on board level algorithm completely, I think a deeper theory. We may think that the term causalities just not of a very useful term anymore. I was, u is useful in space and time and connection or influences of better terms we blow.
Ok, so onto consciousness and free will and other dangerous topics. What, in your view, is the connection between?
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Transcript generated on 2021-04-12.