Have You Ever Experienced Reality?

Have You Ever Experienced Reality?

Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California Irvine, says that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our individual senses.


You have doubted your senses before, right? For example, the last time you thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye or that cool visual effect of the ballerina spinning counter-clockwise and clockwise. But, overall, we trust our senses.

Dr. Hoffman claims that we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent, all encompassing illusion of reality. By driving truth to extinction, life becomes all the more easier to live.

He continues his explanation by saying that the human races has been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive to we must take them seriously. If one sees something that one thinks of as a snake, one doesn’t pick it up. These symbols of bad/good, healthy/unhealthy, safe/unsafe have evolved along with us to keep us alive. But just because we take them seriously doesn’t mean they should be taken seriously.

But…if snakes aren’t snakes and just a symbol for danger…well, then what are snakes?

Professor Hoffman has a succinct answer for this:

“Snakes, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features. The snake I see is a description created by my sensory system to inform me of the fitness consequences of my actions. Evolution shapes acceptable solutions, not optimal ones. A snake is an acceptable solution to the problem of telling me how to act in a situation. My snakes and trains are my mental representations; your snakes and trains are your mental representations.”

His theory is called “conscious realism”. Objective reality is just made up of separate conscious agents, just points of view. His theory of humanity, of life, is a machine theory that is computationally universal. But…Dr. Hoffman doesn’t think we’re machines. He explains that, as a conscious realist, conscious experiences are the most basic ingredients of the world. Experiences, like a headache or the smell of fresh cut grass, is the ultimate nature of reality.

This image comes from Flickr User Tianna Spicer and is licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. Claudia

    This I think is a fairly old philosophical argument about the nature of reality; c.f. Plato.That which I find more intriguing, and frankly, more believable than malevolent demons (we have plenty of human beings abusing each other without supernatural help, it seems) or benevolent gods (who if in fact are ever helping humanity out of its innumerable hot spots remain invisible and unacknowledged other than in a few overcooked treatises) is that of spooky quantum physics and the directions it points to the possibility that we are simulations (Oxford’s Nick Bostrum is perhaps the most esteemed proponent of this theory).

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