Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Interview with Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman 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.

“Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.” — Physicist John Wheeler

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

sapiens-book-coverAmazon: “Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.”

You can scan my favorite nuggets after the jump: Continue reading

Why something instead of nothing?

John Updike takes a stab at The Big Question:

It’s beyond our intellectual limits as a species. Put yourself into the position of a dog. A dog is responsive, shows intuition, looks at us with eyes behind which there is intelligence of a sort, and yet a dog must not understand most of the things it sees people doing. It must have no idea how they invented, say, the internal-combustion engine. So maybe what we need to do is imagine that we’re dogs and that there are realms that go beyond our understanding. I’m not sure I buy that view, but it is a way of saying that the mystery of being is a permanent mystery, at least given the present state of the human brain.

Found this (and more) in a post by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) about a book by Jim Holt titled Why Does the World Exist? (On the way).

I think the next big evolutionary leap for humans will some form of AGI (Artificial General Intelligence). When the AGI is as intelligent as we (or it) needs or wants to be, I’m going to ask it to take a good, long look at Reality and once it has a good grasp, to explain/show it to me in a way I can understand. And it will look exactly like the Reality 1.0 I’m currently running. Until, of course, we reach the point where the AGI can modify my wetware sufficiently for me to glimpse the Source Code in all its magnificence.

Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain

It’s easy to think of “me” has “having” a brain, but this book left me thinking my brain has me. If there is a me apart from my brain, I fear it’s mostly along for the ride. Here are some ideas that brought out my highlighter.

The brain generally does not need to know most things; it merely knows how to go out andretrieve the data. It computes on a need-to-know basis. pg 28

You’re not perceiving what’s out there. You’re perceiving whatever your brain tells you. pg 33

We have no access to the rapid and automatic machinery that gathers and estimates the statistics of the world. pg 34

Your brain is in the dark but your mind constructs light. pg 40

The difference between being awake and being asleep is merely that the data coming in from the eyes anchors the perception. Asleep vision (dreaming) is perception that is not tied down to anything in the real world; waking perception is something like dreaming with a little more commitment to what’s in front of you. pg 45

It’s easy to spot a hallucination only when it’s bizarre. For all we know, we hallucinate all the time. pg 46

Our expectations influence what we see. There has to be a match between your expectations and the incoming data for you to “see” anything. Awareness of your surroundings occurs only when sensory inputs violate expectations. pg 48, 50

The brain refines its model of the world by paying attention to its mistakes. pg 49

The brain tries to see the world only as well as it needs to. We are not conscious of most things until we ask ourselves questions about them. What we perceive in the outside world is generated by parts of the brain to which we do not have access. pg 54

Instead of reality being passively recorded by the brain, it is actively constructed by it. pg 82

There are thoughts you cannot think. pg 82

Evolution has carefully carved your eyes, internal organs,sexual organs, and so on — and also the character of your thoughts and beliefs. pg 82

“In general, we’re least aware of what our minds do best.” — Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind

We are not able to see the instincts that are the very engines of our behavior. These programs are inaccessible to us not because they are unimportant, but because they’re critical. Conscious meddling would do nothing to improve them. pg88

Briefly glimpsed people are more beautiful. pg 92

We come to know our own attitudes and emotions, at least partially, by inferring them from observations of our own behavior. pg 134

David Eagleman is neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action.

Rejecting evolution

Jonathan Dudley is the author of Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics

“…creationism has failed to provide an alternative explanation for the vast majority of evidence explained by evolution.

It has failed to explain why birds still carry genes to make teeth, whales to make legs, and humans to make tails.

It has failed to explain why the fossil record proposed by modern scientists can be used to make precise and accurate predictions about the location of transition fossils.

It has failed to explain why the fossil record demonstrates a precise order, with simple organisms in the deepest rocks and more complex ones toward the surface.

It has failed to explain why today’s animals live in the same geographical area as fossils of similar species.

It has failed to explain why, if carnivorous dinosaurs lived at the same time as modern animals, we don’t find the fossils of modern animals in the stomachs of fossilized dinosaurs.

It has failed to explain the broken genes that litter the DNA of humans and apes but are functional in lower vertebrates.

It has failed to explain how the genetic diversity we observe among humans could have arisen in a few thousand years from two biological ancestors.

“…the belief that scientists can discover truth, and that, once sufficiently debated, challenged and modified, it should be accepted even if it creates tensions for familiar belief systems, has an obvious impact on decisions that are made everyday. And it is that belief Christians reject when they reject evolution.

In doing so, they’ve not only led America astray on questions ranging from the value of stem cell research to the etiology of homosexuality to the causes of global warming. They’ve also abandoned a central commitment of orthodox Christianity.”


The Information, by James Gleick

Publishers Weekly review on Amazon:

“In 1948, Bell Laboratories announced the invention of the electronic semiconductor and its revolutionary ability to do anything a vacuum tube could do but more efficiently. While the revolution in communications was taking these steps, Bell Labs scientist Claude Shannon helped to write a monograph for them, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, in which he coined the word bit to name a fundamental unit of computer information. As bestselling author Gleick (Chaos) astutely argues, Shannon’s neologism profoundly changed our view of the world; his brilliant work introduced us to the notion that a tiny piece of hardware could transmit messages that contained meaning and that a physical unit, a bit, could measure a quality as elusive as information. Shannon’s story is only one of many in this sprawling history of information.  Gleick’s exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital principle on which our world runs.”

The following got some highlighter during my read:

“In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.” pg 12

“With words we begin to leave traces behind us like breadcrumbs: memories in symbols for others to follow.” pg 31

“All known alphabets, used today or found buried on tablets and stone, descend from the same original ancestor.” pg 33

“The written word was a prerequisite for conscious thought as we understand it.” pg 37

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The Ego Tunnel

I’ve been doing a good bit of reading about consciousness, reality, ego and such. A lot of it is tough sledding. LIke Thomas Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel, which –according to this review– is “for the curious and fearless lay person wanting to know who, precisely, we are.”

The best I can do with books like this is highlight the portions that make some sense to me and stick ’em here, completely out of context.

UPDATE: I read this book on my iPad and only recently learned that I could share all of my highlighted passages via Amazon/Kindle.

“When we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?”

“Why is there always someone having the experience? Who is the feeler of your feelings and the dreamer of your dreams? Who is the agent doing the doing, and what is the entity thinking your thoughts?Why is your conscious reality your conscious reality?”

“Yes, there is an outside world, and yes, there is an objective reality, but in moving through this world, we constantly apply unconscious filter mechanisms, and in doing so, we unknowingly construct our own individual world, which is our “reality tunnel.” We are never directly in touch with reality as such, because these filters prevent us from seeing the world as it is. The filtering mechanisms are our sensory systems and our brain, the architecture of which we inherited from our biological ancestors, as well as our prior beliefs and implicit assumptions. In the end, we see only what our reality tunnel allows us to see.”

“In dreamless deep sleep, nothing appears: The fact that there is a reality out there and that you are present in it is unavailable to you; you do not even know that you exist.”

“It is unsettling to discover that there are no colors out there in front of your eyes. The apricot-pink of the setting sun is not a property of the evening sky; it is a property of the internal model of the evening sky, a model created by your brain. The evening sky is colorless. The world is not inhabited by colored objects at all.”

“What is really happening is that the visual system in your brain is drilling a tunnel through this inconceivably rich environment and in the process is painting the tunnel walls in various shades of color.”

“The brain constantly creates the experience that I am present in a world outside my brain.”

“Consciousness is knowing that you know while you know.”

“Now-ness is an essential feature of consciousness.”

“There is no immediate contact with reality.”

“Flagging the dangerous present world as real kept us from getting lost in our memories and our fantasies.”

“From an evolutionary perspective, thinking is very new, quite unreliable (as we all know), and so slow that we can actually observe it going on in our brains. In conscious reasoning, we witness the formation of thoughts; some processing stages are available for introspective attention. Therefore, we know that our thoughts are not given but made.”

“There is more to an existence worth having, or a life worth living, than subjective experience.”

“Most of us do not value bliss as such, but want it grounded in truth, virtue, artistic achievement or some sort of higher good. We want our bliss to be justified. … We want a reason for our happiness.”

What Technology Wants

I finished Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants this weekend. I rank this book up there with Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near in terms of importance. I won’t attempt to review the book, since I’m still try to absorb some of the mind-bending ideas. Like the evolution of technology:

Here are a few ideas that got some highlighter:

Technology and life must share some fundamental essence. … However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms. Both life and technology seem to be based on immaterial flows of information.” – pg 10

Technium – The greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. – pg 11

How many neurons do you need to have a mind? – pg 13

We can think of technology as our extended body. – pg 44

Ideas fly in flocks. To hold one idea in mind means to hold a cloud of them. – pg 45

Even the tiniest disposable item with a bar code shares a thin sliver of our collective mind. – pg 48

For most humans, for most of time, real change was rarely experienced. – pg 73

“What was impossible billions of years ago becomes increasingly inevitable.” — Simon Conway pg 126

There is only one life. All life today is descended along an unbroken line of duplication from one ancient molecule that worked inside one primeval cell that worked. – pg 127

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A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

One measure of a book (for me) is how many passages get highlighted [after the jump]. What ideas will I want to find again? A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle had some on nearly every page. For example:

“Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head — the incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it — that we may describe them as being possessed by their mind. You take the thinker to be who you are. … Your thinking, the content of your mind, is of course conditioned by the past: your upbringing, culture, family background, and so on.”

Everything in the book made perfect sense to me. I’m trying to incorporate man of his ideas into my life. If you’ve read the book, feel free to comment.

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