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The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  406 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Challenging leading scientific theories that claim that our senses report back objective reality, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman argues that while we should take our perceptions seriously, we should not take them literally. How can it be possible that the world we see is not objective reality? And how can our senses be useful if they are not communicating the truth? ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 13th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Ryan Boissonneault
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Despite centuries of unrelenting scientific progress, the problem of consciousness remains unsolved. How subjective experience can arise from the electrochemical irritation of nervous tissue remains one of the deepest mysteries of the universe.

But according to Donald Hoffman, we have yet to solve the problem of consciousness—not because we lack data or the intellectual capacity—but because our conception of reality is entirely wrong. Once we come to grips with the true nature of reality, the
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Taking cognitive science and evolutionary theory to its logical conclusion that things are not as they appear. Evolution did not make us see reality for what it is, it shaped us to survive and those things are very different. According to some of the author's evolutionary computer models seeing the way things are truthfully is not evolutionary advantageous and gets out-competed by other lifeforms that don't prioritize truthful fidelity. Using examples of cognitive perception the author shows how ...more
Chad Gayle
Sep 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
The starting premise here is that evolution has shaped not only our senses but how we interpret the data we gather from our senses. Not a great leap, especially given what’s happened in perceptual science and neuroscience over the last few decades, although Hoffman acts as if this premise isn’t a prevailing belief among vision scientists (which I doubt is true). Much of the usual evidence in support of this premise, vis a vis optical illusions and the like, is presented (or, to be a bit more ...more
Brian Clegg
It's not exactly news that our perception of the world around us can be a misleading confection of the brain, rather than a precise picture of reality - everything from optical illusions to the apparent motion of video confirms this - but professor of cognitive science Donald Hoffman goes far beyond this. He wants us to believe that spacetime and the objects in it are not real: that they only exist when we perceive them. It's not that he believes everything to be totally illusory, but suggests ...more
I would like to give this book 3 different ratings - 3 stars 4 stars and 5 stars. As a novel concept and really original thought experiment it is definitely 5 stars. For interest and some other related novel views as well as some good descriptions of various physics and biological concepts and experiments alongside its' novel themes - 4 stars. However, for the writing and repetition and really cryptic abstract explanations I can only give it 3 stars. I am not the smartest person in the room nor ...more
Andrew Kitzmiller
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible
I understand the argument that we do not perceive reality completely, but the leap to conscious realism seemed unwarranted and unconvincing.
Ed Kless
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first became aware of Donald Hoffman's work via YouTube suggested video a few years back. This book is the culmination of over a decade of his thinking starting with him trying to better understand human visual perception and leading to him questioning what we think of as reality.

This book dives deep in two of his major hypothesis. First, the Fitness Before Truth (FBT) Theorem which posits that evolution prioritizes fitness for survival in our environment above truth-seeking. Hoffman shares
Nov 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Partway into the first chapter, the author asks, in a phrase between commas, "what is consciousness?" This should be the first question, as a complete sentence. No commas. It should be the title of the book. How can we study how consciousness "arises" when we don't even know what consciousness is? Consciousness is nothing more than a conventional word attempting to describe an extremely vague notion. "How does [this thing we don't quite know how to describe] arise?" is not a scientific question. ...more
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For people who are unfamiliar with epistemology this book can be like the red pill in the movie The Matrix. It’s in the same category as Robert Lanza’s book Biocentrism and Bernardo Kastrup’s scientific take on philosophical idealism: The Idea of the World. Except that Hoffman’s book approaches the issue from evolution theory. A universal acid, Daniel Dennett has called it. In fact it’s much more so than Dennett imagined. It even dissolves the claim that objective reality consists of spacetime ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author combines evolutionary thinking, quantum physics, philosophy, and more to challenge the assumption that we perceive the world as it is. Through the Interface Theory of Perception, Hoffman redefines our perception as an interface to the world that hides its complexity just like computer icons hide the complexity of their underlying software and hardware. The book is quite a mind-bender, and while there are attempts at making it accessible to a wider audience and even practically ...more
Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philosophically naive, but contains some excellent stuff on visual illusions.
Nov 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Thought provoking, mind boggling. A very upsetting read, every chapter left me wondering for days afterwards. Many surprising arguments are logically sound, but not hard science, and some are just plain wrong. Authors writing about consciousness and other hard topics often misquote/misinterpret quantum physics as ruling the macroscopic world just as it rules the behaviour on the scale of elementary particles. There is a reason why we do not experience (and can't measure) quantum effects in our ...more
Lee Barry
I loved Visual Intelligence. I don’t know what happened with this one. I did like the chapter on polychromy and made the book useful. He goes into synesthesia, but that’s already well-covered.

Essentially, what he seems to be saying is that all perception is a matter of "habit"--a "System 1" response, to our detriment. In any case, who really knows what he’s getting at? What is the benefit (for our fitness) if we can’t apply it to knowing whether we need to do anything about climate change, for
Tim Dugan
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Ok to a point

But all the physics seems irrelevant

And the appendix is a huge jump from the content

I got bored though didn’t read every page in the last two chapters

I dispute some points - but I don’t recall the details. Defining a mathematical definition (appendix) doesn’t seem to consider error and dynamically changing beings

My position

We perceive a model of the world

The model is fairly accurate to a degree

Nothing else makes sense
Dec 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Daniel Hageman
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The amount of work Hoffman has been doing, pursuing the ideas put forth at the end of his first book, Visual Intelligence, is astounding. My questions regarding the testability of his theory, in practice and perhaps even in principle, remain, but he is putting pressure on the boundary between empirical science and philosophy in a way that is very much needed. At the very least, 'conscious realism' establishes itself as a unique player in the field of philosophy of mind. What's further, his early ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at:
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Refreshing and brilliant theory of reality. We live in a user-interface with limited senses that mask the true nature of reality. Spacetime is just an illusion. Consciousness is the key to exploration of reality.

This could have been a wonderful short article. Instead, the book is too long with many side branches that have little relevance to the main theme. Five stars for the beginning and the end of the book. Two stars for what’s in between.
Chris Marks
80-90% of this book is good or better. What's not good is awful, like "the moon isn't there when no one's looking" or the attempt to introduce spirituality. I have a lot more to say about this book; we'll see if I get around to it.
Peter Carlson
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Buddha said there is no seer and there is no seen, there is only seeing.
Hoffman claims that objective reality is not objects in spacetime. Our minds create an interface similar to that of a computer desktop (the icon for a file represents the actual bits and circuits involved.) An apple is no longer when no one is percieving it.
The writing style is a bit forced at times and the author seems overly excited about tapping into the secrets of our evolutionary interface to better sell us products
Vanderlei Alves
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Fascinating discussion on perception and reality containing a few absurd arguments and plenty of repetition.
Alan Newton
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book challenging our view of objective reality and the very nature of the Universe based upon known science and where some scientists, particularly physicists,
are concentrating future efforts and theory.

Utilising known science focussed upon vision and how the brain reconstructs images and reality. We fill in the blanks and reconstructreality from what our 2D eyes and their millions of pixels see. Homosapiens construct 3D images utilising the information we see from both eyes and
Ailith Twinning
Sep 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2019
I'm sorry, but I just don't get what the point of this is meant to be. Grant everything the author posits simply is - so what? An article about fitness vs. verity could be intriguing, a book just felt aimless.
Kunal Sen
Jan 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading this book, because it made be think all through, but in the end, I could not agree with what it was trying to say.

The author uses game theory and mathematical simulation to understand how evolution shaped our perception of reality. He claims that we evolved to create a perceptual mechanism that is not trying to model the physical reality, but rather it creates an interface through which the physical reality is mapped into our perceptual world model in
Muneel Zaidi
Perception is not reality.

In this engaging and a slightly disillusioning book, the author's central thesis is that objective reality does not exist. He argues that human senses do not detect truth or reality, but only "fitness payoffs." The conscious experience is shaped by all senses not to accurately depict reality, but to create an interface to more easily perceive what produces the best probability of survival.

For example, let's say you are looking at a computer screen streaming the
Nathan Carpenter
Jan 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Case Against Reality: Why evolution hid the truth from our eyes

By Donald Hoffman

Some readers would instinctively take umbrage at the outset just having read the title, rolling their eyes at what is sure to be another progressively outrageous attempt to disestablish truth and establish relativism.. And the assumption wouldn't be completely wrong.

I, on the other hand, chose this book in the hopes it would challenge scientific materialism, or scientism or physicalism or whatever ism best
Patrick Alexander
Dec 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
I'm currently halfway through - so I will update this if my evaluation changes. When Hoffman is talking about how perception works, this book is enjoyable, interesting, and informative. When he isn't, which is unfortunately most of the time, it's a sophisticated discussion that often rests on very naïve and unexamined assumptions. For instance, when arguing that fitness beats truth, he is taking information that can be accurately represented in several different ways and identifying one of those ...more
Matt Cannon
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book has been on my to read list since I heard Donald Hoffman on Rob Reid’s After On podcast While the information in this book seems somewhat implausible, it will make you question what you think you understand about objective reality. It does it in such a scientific and reasonable way that it’s hard to refute. The author even presents mathematical equations for his hypothesis that he wants other scientists to provide counter arguments against to ...more
Warren Hatton
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’d rather give this book 3.5 stars. Ultimately Hoffman makes a case worth seriously considering regarding his “conscious realism” monism (as opposed to the standard “physicalist” monism), and if anybody is left thinking it’s merely “pseudoscience” or “woo” to seriously (soberly) posit consciousness as a (the) fundamental part of reality then Hoffman’s perspective might help remove that bias.

Given the popular science nature of this book, the exposition is at times shallow. The proposed
Jonat Kenerson
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Don't let the prologue fool you, this is a very thoughtful and interesting book. I, along with a few friends, were turned off the the edgy "take the red pill" phrasing used in the beginning, but this book presents a very interesting idea that feels very reasonable by the end of it.

This book does make use of empirical studies and examples, but the foundation of the argument came from a science-as-philosophy perspective, which I tend to understand and appreciate much more. I never thought to
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Donald D. Hoffman received a Ph.D. from MIT in 1983 and is a Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. His research on perception, evolution, and consciousness received the Troland Award of the US National Academy of Sciences, the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution of the American Psychological Association, the Rustum Roy Award of the Chopra ...more
“The tinkering of evolution can concoct perceptual interfaces with endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful; the vast majority of these, however, are to us most inconceivable. Evolution is not finished tinkering with the perceptual interfaces of Homo sapiens. The mutations that bless one in twenty-five with some form of synesthesia are surely part of the process, and some of these mutations might catch on; much of the tinkering centers on our perceptions of color. Evolution defies our silly stricture that our perceptions must be veridical. It freely explores endless forms of sensory interfaces, hitting now and then on novel ways to shepherd our endless foraging for fitness.” 1 likes
“There are as many cubes as there are observers constructing cubes. And when you look away, your cube ceases to be.” 1 likes
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