"[Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine] has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. Whatís more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.
Thereís a metaphor thatís only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and thatís the desktop interface. Suppose thereís a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computerís desktop ó does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop ó it has color, position, and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldnít possibly be true. Thatís an interesting thing. You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful. That blue rectangular icon guides my behavior, and it hides a complex reality that I donít need to know. Thatís the key idea. Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we donít need to know. And thatís pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you."
Gefter: The world is just other conscious agents?
Hoffman: I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind. Hereís a concrete example. We have two hemispheres in our brain. But when you do a split-brain operation, a complete transection of the corpus callosum, you get clear evidence of two separate consciousnesses. Before that slicing happened, it seemed there was a single unified consciousness. So itís not implausible that there is a single conscious agent. And yet itís also the case that there are two conscious agents there, and you can see that when theyíre split. I didnít expect that, the mathematics forced me to recognize this. It suggests that I can take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. Itís conscious agents all the way down."