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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  562 ratings  ·  90 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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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)

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You Cant Get There From Here

Reality has no intrinsic properties. Reality exists but existence is not a property. Hoffmans 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
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 consciousnessnot because we lack data or the intellectual capacitybut because our conception of reality is entirely wrong. Once we come to grips with the true nature of reality, the
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
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 isnt 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
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 doesnt mean theres not a whole range of the electromagnetic spectrum were blind to; just because we think we understand something doesnt mean were 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 an ...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.
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. Its in the same category as Robert Lanzas book Biocentrism and Bernardo Kastrups scientific take on philosophical idealism: The Idea of the World. Except that Hoffmans book approaches the issue from evolution theory. A universal acid, Daniel Dennett has called it. In fact its much more so than Dennett imagined. It even dissolves the claim that objective reality consists of spacetime and ...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
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
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
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
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
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 whats in between.
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 dont know what happened with this one. I did like the chapter on polychromy and made the book useful. He goes into synesthesia, but thats 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 hes getting at? What is the benefit (for our fitness) if we cant apply it to knowing whether we need to do anything about climate change, for
Joseph L.
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at:
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 didnt read every page in the last two chapters

I dispute some points - but I dont recall the details. Defining a mathematical definition (appendix) doesnt 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
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.
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the most impressive paradigms of thoughts that Ive ever read, comparable to David Deutschs The Fabric of Reality. Hoffman pulls off a very compelling case for what used to be called Idealism, the ontology that says that consciousness is the fundamental constituent of reality. He does so by taking down the reality we think we see by invoking natural selection and evolutionary computation to arrive at a new theory of perception that fitness beats truth. This leads Hoffman to analogize our ...more
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What if what we see isn't actually there? What if the things we see, taste, touch, smell, and hear are actually renderings of compressed information that our perceptions create in order to allow us survive as a species? It is not that the spoon doesn't exist; it's that the spoon isn't a spoon when we don't look at it.

What if spacetime isn't part of actuality, but is a perceptual tool, or icon, that we've evolved to navigate us to what we need and away from what we dont need. Could spacetime be a
Jay Woland
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Hoffman proposes a thought-provoking theory for the nature of reality, which is very much of our time, where virtual spaces take up an ever greater share of our day-to-day experiences. The book is definitely worth reading for the shear attractiveness of his thesis. It falls short only in the strength of his argument for proving his case. He gives example after example of optical illusions as evidence for his thesis, which certainly are interesting, but they are well established in psychology and ...more
Run for Book Cover
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
Kent Winward
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Relies a little too heavily on visual evolution to make the point, but the math portion on why our sensory interface with reality is likely the cause of huge distortions in understanding what we tend to think of as "reality" is compelling. Simply musing on quantum mechanics and relativity and the evolutionary math clouding our reality vision starts to seem very likely.
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.
Gaetano Venezia
Jan 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: pop-sci
Heres a more accurate (if clunky) title:
The Case Against Physical Reality: An Account of Mistaken Perceptions and the Objectivity of Consciousness

Heres 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 title
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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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32 likes · 4 comments
“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.” 2 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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