Matt’s Reviews: The Case Against Reality by Donald D. Hoffman

Book Cover: The Case Against Reality by Donald D. Hoffman

  • Publisher ‏ :  Penguin (August 20, 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Pages ‏ : ‎       208
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎  0141983418
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎  978-0141983417


The Case Against Reality: How evolution hid the truth from our eyes  by Donald D. Hoffman is a compelling argument that what we experience is not reality.  He likens our perceptions to a computer graphical user interface.  We do not perceive reality, we perceive ‘icons’ that hide the complexity of reality from us and allow us to function more effectively in the world…and perhaps more importantly, allow us to reproduce and pass on these simplified perception to our offspring.  A computer icon of a file on your screen simplifies how you work with the computer, but the icon itself really does not represent in anyway how that actual file is stored and exists within the computer.  If you had to understand all of the bits and bytes and electronics and magnetics, etc. that go into that ‘file’, it would be too complicated for 99.9% of us to even begin to use such a ‘file’.   Similarly, our perceptions are simplified views of ‘reality’ that hide the complexity that exists beyond the ‘screen’.

This actually helps us to live, survive and reproduce as it reduces the amount of energy and effort that are required for us to live, survive and reproduce.

Hoffman provides a significant amount of evidence that what we perceive, even to the extent of the existence of space and time (i.e. space-time) are simplified illusions.   He brings in discussions from physics and biology and evolution and computer science.  He does this all in a way that a somewhat scientifically literate lay person can understand.  If you really dislike science then this book is probably not for you, but you don’t need a science degree to follow most of his arguments.

A simple example from biology is that it is well known that humans only perceive a small percentage of the wavelengths of light (visible light).  We do not see the light outside that limited range (e.g. ultraviolet and x-rays) even though some of that unperceived light is damaging to our bodies in the long run.  The damage is usually slowly enough to allow us to reproduce before critical injury is inflicted.  This means there is not an evolutionary need for us to perceive and avoid them.  By the time the critical damage is done, we have already passed on our limited perception genes to our offspring.   But Hoffman argues that it is not just a limited view of reality that we are seeing, and that even the parts that we do perceive are not ‘reality’.   Everything we perceive is an ‘icon’ representing some aspect(s) of a reality that we cannot access through our senses.

He also covers many optical illusions that we cannot help but ‘see’ even though those illusions have no reality behind them. Another case against reality are computer models built to mimic life and evolution over time.   Hoffman and others have created many versions of these models where some entities perceive ‘reality’ more completely and other perceive a simpler view that focuses on making them ‘fitter’ to survive.  Those perceptions that lead to a greater chance of taking better survival actions while using less energy and effort will win out in the long run.   In every model, a simplified ‘fitness’ perception wins out over a complete reality perception.

Hoffman also brings up evidence from Quantum Mechanics vs Einsteinian physics and how they can never really agree.  According to Hoffman, with our current version of ‘reality’ it is unlikely, if not impossible, to reconcile these two ‘true’ theories.  The way we perceive ‘reality’ will prevent us from ever truly accessing reality, but it is not without hope.  While evolution has molded us in a way that we can never perceive reality, it has also given us the ability to theorize and create mathematical and other models. Hoffman believes there is a reality out there, and though we may not ever perceive it directly with our senses, we may be able to get closer to it through such things as those mathematical models, etc.

This book does not change how I deal with the world.  Even if you believe 100% in his views, we still live within our own perceptions, and that is actually a ‘better’ way for the species to succeed than truly perceiving reality.   It does not change what I do on a day to day basis, but it does make me think and wonder and look at things a little differently…and that is kind of cool.




Plastivore by Matt Truxaw will be FREE for Kindle download for a limited from 11/2 through 11/5/2023.


Book Cover: Plastivore by Matt Truxaw

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