Donald Hoffman is a cognitive neuroscientist and in this interview, he discusses his own ideas of what makes up reality and consciousness. He argues that what we call the ‘reality’ of the world we experience need not have any correspondence with what we might consider the ‘real’ world but is just a construct that our brains have evolved over time that better fit us for survival.
In the course of the interview, he also discusses the nature of consciousness and the so-called ‘hard problem’. As I understood the interview, he seems to be reversing the usual claim that there is an external objective reality and that our consciousness provides us with representations of it. Instead, it is our consciousness that is fundamental (and thus ‘real’) and what we think of as the real world is a representation that our consciousness creates.
Many scientists believe that natural selection brought our perception of reality into clearer and deeper focus, reasoning that growing more attuned to the outside world gave our ancestors an evolutionary edge. Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, thinks that just the opposite is true. Because evolution selects for survival, not accuracy, he proposes that our conscious experience masks reality behind millennia of adaptions for ‘fitness payoffs’ – an argument supported by his work running evolutionary game-theory simulations. In this interview recorded at the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival from the Institute of Arts and Ideas in 2019, Hoffman explains why he believes that perception must necessarily hide reality for conscious agents to survive and reproduce. With that view serving as a springboard, the wide-ranging discussion also touches on Hoffman’s consciousness-centric framework for reality, and its potential implications for our everyday lives.
He gives a pretty clear exposition of the issues, though his stance is, I think, a decidedly minority view among those in the field.