Wednesday, September 21, 2016

We're all living in a 'conceptual prison': our brains perceive a fraction of reality to keep us alive

To help us survive, our perception of truth is limited, says scientist Donald Hoffman

Seeing may be believing but, says cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, it shouldn't be. For millions of years the Australian jewel beetle's reproductive strategy proceeded very effectively. Then, Homo sapiens - and its habit of dumping used beer bottles - entered the picture. Unable to distinguish between these brown glass containers and the shell of a potential mate, the male beetles began attempting to copulate with discarded vessels. " They nearly went extinct," explains Hoffman, a professor at University of California, Irvine, who has spent 30 years studying how perception misses the mark.

That such a simple organism lacks an accurate perceptual system may not seem surprising. But you'd think that - beyond the occasional optical illusion - this isn't a problem a creature as evolutionarily developed as humans need to worry about. We evolve to survive - so the more accurate our perception, the better. Not so, explains Hoffman: "Evolution isn't about truth, it's about making kids. Every bit of information that you process costs calories, meaning that's more food you need to kill and eat. So an organism that sees all of reality would never be more fit than one tuned only to see what it needs to survive."1
Hoffman's argument goes further than the claim that, like the beetle and the beer bottle, our perception is not accurate enough to discriminate between objects that resemble each other. Not only do perceptual systems not evolve to capture the details of the real world, he argues, there's no reason to believe that the objects that we see have any correspondence to things that exist outside our minds.
"The standard view of vision is that we're akin to cameras, taking an image from light reflected off an object," he explains. "But billions of neurons and trillions of synapses are involved between light hitting the retina and the construction of the 3D objects that we perceive."
Read More: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/the-reality-of-survival

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