The Case Against Reality: A Talk with Donald Hoffman

March 22, 2017, 1:00pm

SCI 106

The Division of Media Arts + Practice (MA+P) presents a discussion

The Case Against Reality:
A Talk by Donald Hoffman

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

SCI 106

3470 McClintock Avenue
Enter through the East side of the building


From the Guest 

If I have a visual experience that I describe as a red tomato a meter away, and if I am sober and otherwise unimpaired, then I am inclined to believe that there is in fact a red tomato a meter away, and that it will continue to exist even if I close my eyes or even if I cease to exist. In short, I’m inclined to believe that my perceptions are, in the normal case, veridical—that they accurately represent some aspects of the objective environment.

But is my belief supported by our best science? In particular: Does evolution by natural selection favor veridical perceptions? Many scientists and philosophers of perception claim that it does. But this claim, though it is influential and accords with our intuitions, has not been adequately tested.

In this talk I present a new theorem: Veridical perceptions are never more fit than non-veridical perceptions which are simply tuned to the relevant fitness functions. This entails that perception is almost surely not a window on reality; it is more like a windows interface on your laptop. Spacetime is our desktop, and physical objects are icons in that desktop. We must take our perceptions of physical objects seriously but not literally.

I discuss this interface theory of perception and its implications for one of the most puzzling unsolved problems in science: the relationship between brain activity and conscious experiences. I discuss the implications of evolutionary psychology more broadly for the relationship between belief and reality. And I discuss the recent use of my phrase “seriously but not literally” to describe statements made by the Trump administration.

About the Guest

Donald Hoffman is a cognitive scientist and author of more than 100 scientific papers and three books, including Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See (W.W. Norton, 2000). He received his BA from UCLA in Quantitative Psychology and his Ph.D. from MIT in Computational Psychology. He joined the faculty of UC Irvine in 1983, where he is now a full professor in the departments of cognitive science, computer science and philosophy. He received a Distinguished Scientific Award of the American Psychological Association for early career research into visual perception, the Rustum Roy Award of the Chopra Foundation, and the Troland Research Award of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Reservations and Check-in

The event is free and open to the public. RSVP is not required. Room will open 1/2 hour prior to start of event.

TED Talk
Interview in The Atlantic
Interview in Wired

Contact Information

Name: Stacy Patterson