From Douglas Hoffman, interviewed at Quanta:
Quanta Magazine: People often use Darwinian evolution as an argument that our perceptions accurately reflect reality. They say, “Obviously we must be latching onto reality in some way because otherwise we would have been wiped out a long time ago. If I think I’m seeing a palm tree but it’s really a tiger, I’m in trouble.”
Hoffmann: Right. The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions — mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never. More.
Critics, especially ID-friendly ones, tend to respond by asking: Why those who embrace this view think that their prejudices are somehow more valid than others?
It’s really hard to get this across to bookish, well-meaning types of people but here goes: The attitude is not new and the answer to the objection is quite simple. Their prejudices are not better than anyone else’s but once they have acquired political and cultural power, they can enforce them on the rest of us anyway. That is as good as reality for them. Actually better.
Darwinism, for example, is at its most immensely powerful in our culture when there is no pretense of objective accuracy, just depth of commitment. Which is why, in the end, the Royal Society was not able to hold a serious meeting about rethinking evolution in the light of new discoveries, just a dumbed-down, watered-down one.
That makes sense though. Curiosity about the nature of the world we live in is fungible if our perceptions cannot be accurate. But power is a drug, one that naturalists seem to need a lot of.
C.S. Lewis put it like this:
When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. (…) The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. (…) My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. (…) I am very doubtful myself whether the benevolent impulses, stripped of that preference and encouragement which the Tao teaches us to give them and left to their merely natural strength and frequency as psychological events, will have much influence. I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. – The Abolition of Man
See also: Tom Wolfe on Evolution as a Theory of Everything: In The Kingdom of Speech, Wolfe understands this element of cultural belief. Evidence is superfluous but sometimes trotted out for show amid contentedly stupefied belief. – O’Leary for News
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7 Replies to “A cognitive scientist’s “evolutionary argument against reality””
Although Hoffman tries to limit his results to just visual perceptions and ignore the conclusions as applied to our cognitive faculties more generally, the following article rightly points out that there is no reason to suppose that his results should not be applied more generally to our cognitive faculties overall:
Moreover, completely contrary to what Hoffman found for Darwinian theory, accurate perception, i.e. conscious observation, far from being unreliable and illusory, is experimentally found to be far more integral to reality, i.e. far more reliable of reality, than the math of population genetics said it would be. In the following experiment, it was found that reality doesn’t exist without an observer.
Apparently science itself could care less if atheists are forced to believe, because of the math of population genetics, that their observations of reality are illusory!
Moreover, given the materialistic/atheistic premises of Darwinian evolution, not only are our observations of reality itself held to be illusory, but even our sense of self, i.e. the belief that we really exist as real persons, which is the most sure thing we can know about reality, becomes illusory too.
Thus, in what I personally consider to be a shining example of poetic justice, in their claim that God does not really exist as a real person but is merely an illusion, the naturalist also ends up claiming that he himself does not really exist as a real person but is merely an illusion.
In other words, given the materialistic premises of Darwinian evolution, people become illusions whose observations of reality are illusory.
And exactly why in blue blazes should anyone trust what illusions having illusions have to say about reality? Especially when it comes to scientific matters?
Without God, everything within the atheistic/naturalistic worldview, (i.e. sense of self. observation of reality, free will, even reality itself), collapses into self refuting, unrestrained, flights of fantasies and imagination.
Because of such catastrophic epistemological failure inherent within Darwinian Evolution and Atheistic materialism in general, it would be hard to fathom a more unscientific worldview than Darwinian evolution and Atheistic materialism have turned out to be.
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Of related note, besides the mathematics of population genetics showing us that accurate visual perceptions, (and reliable cognitive faculties), will be, to use Hoffman’s words ‘driven to extinction’, the mathematics of population genetics also shows us that life itself will be ‘driven to extinction’:
Of supplemental note to falsifying human evolution in particular, through population genetics, is this paper “The Waiting Time Problem in a Model Hominin Population.”:
“If I stop taking heroin I’ll live longer.”
“Yes, but you’ll never live longer than a person who takes heroin and lives just as long.”
A whole lot of nothing about a single article about a single guy with a very unoriginal idea postulated by niels bohr called the Copenhagen interpretation. Contrary to the article Reality actually does exist!! Wowser, and its independent of the observer not dependent on the observer nor is it separate from the observer. To much thinking is dangerously stupid. Breathe. One reality.
I’m still not clear on how an organism becomes “tuned to fitness”?
This strikes me as a particularly extreme case of handwaving reality away as inconvenient. By what mechanism does an organism, that doesn’t have any kind of perception of reality, become tuned to the fitness equation of its local reality?
I’m pretty sure this entire line of reasoning is driven by stupidity, and I’m tending strongly toward the conclusion that the stupidity is not mine.
But I could be wrong.
How is this supposed to happen?
Is there an example of such a creature?
Excellent post. I especially like the following:
“Critics, especially ID-friendly ones, tend to respond by asking: Why those who embrace this view think that their prejudices are somehow more valid than others?”
Answer: Because they are willfully blind, or alternatively…they are stupid.
Truth Will Set You Free at 6, the attraction of the theory is not its demonstration but its potential applications to society.