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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,333 ratings  ·  186 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? Ho ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 13th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Marvin K. Harris The theory states that the image of the moon in our conscious experience is a simplified representation, molded by our evolutionary constraints. It is…moreThe theory states that the image of the moon in our conscious experience is a simplified representation, molded by our evolutionary constraints. It is not saying there is no reality when we look away, but that constructed mental image that you experience is not real.

Take it seriously but not literally. Not taking things literally opens up our mind to other mental models of reality that we wouldn't otherwise. That is the importance of this theory.(less)
Forked Radish Evolution, which was first proposed by Anaximander in the 6th c. BC, is the equivalent of a monkey making "science" with its own feces. All the argume…moreEvolution, which was first proposed by Anaximander in the 6th c. BC, is the equivalent of a monkey making "science" with its own feces. All the arguments in the book which depend on the neo-creation* myth of Darwinian evolution with its fundamentalist high priests like Richard Dawkins and their church of Universal Darwinism**are false. Creationism needs, like a vampire, to have a stake driven through its heart in order to stop its perennial manifestation. That stake is the concept of intrinsicality i.e that things are as they appear and vice versa, ipso facto... Appearance makes reality just as taste makes flavour and vice versa. The need for a causative process viz. determinism, e.g. evolution is simply an intellectual defect peculiar to Man.
*As defined by Wikipedia: "Neo-creationism is a pseudoscientific movement which aims to reinstate creationism in terms more likely to be received by the public, by policy makers, by educators and by the scientific community. ..."
** See chapter four, p. 99, & f.n. #9.(less)

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You Can’t Get There From Here

Reality has no intrinsic properties. Reality exists but existence is not a property. Hoffman’s thesis is that human beings, in fact all life, have evolved such that they impose properties on reality that are relevant to their survival as individuals and as a species. We do not simply notice certain properties about reality - length, colour, texture, taste smell, certain frequencies of vibration, etc. - we are literally the source of these properties. They would not
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
For a review of a book titled The Case Against Reality, one might assume that a drug related tangent would be unnecessary and self indulgent. And yet...

Have you ever wanted to coat your solipsistic leanings with a thin patina of scientific credibility? This book is your jam. Have you ever, while tripping balls on low grade beaver tranquilizers, clutched your head and shrieked: “My skull enshrouds my brain in total darkness, like a casket!” Then this will make your terror more salient.

This book t
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 pro
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 blu ...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 t ...more
Vagabond of Letters, DLitt
Apr 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dont-read
It's social constructionism taken to its logical conclusion via evolutionary theory (which is normally anathema to constructivists). The interest here is in finding an attempt to reconcile constructivism with the 'objective truth' of evolutionary theory - but if this book's thesis is correct, evolutionary theory is not true, or at least it's impossible for humans or other evolved agents to know if it is or isn't. If the author's thesis is true, it's impossible for us to know that it's true, or t ...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
So, this book took me off guard a bit, because I was expecting it to focus on how limited our senses and cognitive processes are. Just because we see color doesn’t mean there’s not a whole range of the electromagnetic spectrum we’re blind to; just because we think we understand something doesn’t mean we’re not relying on a bunch of misleading heuristics, that kind of thing. And Hoffman does discuss some of that stuff, but he goes SO MUCH FURTHER, ultimately claiming that spacetime itself is just ...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.
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
I am sympathetic to the author’s general thesis, hence this book was disappointing not because of its conclusions (to which many reviewers objected) but because it did a poor job of making its case both in its arguments, and in its style and approach.

The principal arguments in this book attack naive realism. The author seems to favour a sort of Kantian position where objective reality is not knowable, but goes a step further and claims that reality has no resemblance to the world we perceive, de
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
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 a ...more
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 do
Shiva Somadev
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Let's see what the pioneering science can tell us about true nature of reality. Donald Hoffman is a professor of cognitive science. I hugely admire his work. I mention him and his ideas on true nature of reality in one of the latest chapters "Virtual Realities and the Simulation Theories" in my book "Journey into the Heart of Reality". Although, I have disagreements on certain Hoffman's subjects (specifically an idea of evolution), nevertheless, I think this fascinating book deserves reading.

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
Bookish Dervish
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Quite a read. The central premise of this book is that what we percieve as objective reality is just fitness points directing our behaviour towards surviving and begetting offspring. Basing his arguments on evolution and modern physics. The author presented clear analogies to make his point. The blue icon on the desktop stands for what we percieve (taste, color, shape, direction, speed......) this icon does not show the cilicon circuits, voltages, software....etc.
So, how can we be sure there is
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
I find this a difficult book to rate. While beginning reading it, I found its main thesis vague and a bit obvious even. Reality is not what we see, does not everyone with a basic scientific education knows this? At small scales, it is all molecules, atoms and quantum processes while time-space behaves counter-intuitively at galactic scales. We, poor creatures, evolved at the medium size, are not naturally equipped to handle these realities. It is thus evident that what we see is not what there i ...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 applica ...more
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"What if, right, what we see isn't really reality and it's all an illusion?"
"Whoah, you mean like the Matrix?"
"Yeah, exactly. "
"Dude, you're smart, you should write a book about it!"
"It's not really enough to fill a book though."
"Just keep repeating yourself and mention The Matrix a lot. People love the Matrix, you'll seem really cool."
"Maybe, still doesn't seem like enough for a book though. I could add in an optical illusion or too to make the point that our senses aren't infallible."
"Add in l
Bastard Travel
Dec 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
"If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, did it fall?"

Now take that sentence and stretch it out into an agonizing, 400 page self-congratulation penned by an uncharming Frasier using the biggest words and most circular arguments he can muster. Sprinkle in a fart-sniffing reference to his own research every three paragraphs or so, and you've assembled this horror.

If you want the same content but to spare yourself the trauma of trying to trudge through the masturbatory jargon, find a wh
Vanderlei Alves
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating discussion on perception and reality containing a few absurd arguments and plenty of repetition.
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
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
Gaetano Venezia
Jan 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: pop-sci
Here’s a more accurate (if clunky) title:
The Case Against Physical Reality: An Account of Mistaken Perceptions and the Objectivity of Consciousness

Here’s the cheeky version:
The Case Against Most Perceptions: How Your Senses are Basically Shit but Your Consciousness is Still Somehow Right bc Vast Network of Interconnected Consciousness Units #Markov #InterwebsIsWe #ButDontCallUsPanpsychism

Disclaimer: avoid the audiobook format (see my note at the bottom of the review)

The original, misleading titl
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Read this for a couple of days but wanted a bit of time to reflect before writing a review.

OK! here is my 2 cents:
Hoffman must come up with more similes than the sole desktop interface and the Australian beetle examples to convince anybody that space-time is doomed. He also seems to rely on these two examples in every one of his Youtube talks. I do agree that we need better models but the proposed conscious agent description is very hard to understand. (So is the quantum mechanics chapter not we
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really 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.

The book is a bit too long because of some side branches that have little relevance to the main theme. Five stars for the beginning and the end of the book. Three stars for what’s in between.
Clive F
There's a lot to like in Donald Hoffman's book. He carefully marshals a number of strands of experimental and mathematical evidence to lend weight to his claim that, ultimately, it is extremely implausible that our experience of reality in any way corresponds to how reality actually is. This is a very bold claim, and I found the thought experiment of thinking this through to be very interesting, even if ultimately I was unconvinced by the core argument.

Hoffman has spent his professional career t
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
why all scientists, nuclear physicists, astrophysicists use cats in their thought experiments. Why did you send the cat to the event horizon of a black hole? please leave cats alone:)
Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philosophically naive, but contains some excellent stuff on visual illusions.
Lukáš Pelcman
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have found out about this book and about Don Hoffman from James Fosters' (Rob Reid) After On podcast (see The ultimate premise of the book was so daring I thought at first that it was meant as a joke. I mean, the whole 'the moon isn't there when you don't look' thing seemed very much counterintuitive and perhaps maybe plain wrong. But after delving deeper into the content of this book, much of it actually made sense (while of course, as a layperson, I ...more
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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

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83 likes · 11 comments
“This critique also misreads the Copernican revolution. Yes, our perceptions misled us about our place in the universe. But its deeper message is this: our perceptions can mislead us about the very nature of the universe itself. We are prone to falsely believe that certain limitations and idiosyncrasies of our perceptions are genuine insights into objective reality.” 5 likes
“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.” 3 likes
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