Reality is Not What it Seems

Donald Hoffman is a quantitative psychologist and studies consciousness, visual perception and evolutionary psychology using mathematical models and psychophysical experiments.   I was fascinated by a recent interview by Rob Reid on After On.

This interview has changed the way I see reality!   You can listen to the interview here.

Although I don’t fully understand everything Don was conveying some of the key principles that I did grasp seem very important for how I perceive reality and how we as humans relate to the world.

One of Don’s main propositions is that things that seem intuitively right are not always the truth.  Take the presumption that the earth is flat.  Or that the sun and planets revolved around the earth.  This all seemed true for so long however greater understanding revealed that this intuitive truth was incorrect.

He goes on to explain that truths are often hidden by our daily ‘interfaces’.

For example, as I type this short reflection, I am looking at the garbage can icon on my desktop.   As Don explains this icon is merely an interface which has a much greater complex reality behind it.  It allows me to control reality just enough without getting overloaded with the truth of the massive complexity behind managing my files.

One of his major suggestions is that space and time are merely interfaces that allow us to interact with reality as we perceive it.    And that actually space and time is a human construct and there is so much more behind this reality than meets the eye.  3d objects area also data constructs and are ‘icons’ of reality.     For ages humanity has been interfacing through icons such as space and time, money or ideologies.   However humanity has developed a massive blind spot in that it takes many of these icons ‘literally’ rather than taking them ‘seriously’ as data sources to guide us. 

Different species have different types of interfaces that allow them to perceive reality in different ways to humans.  For example, fish can tune into the electric field, some birds and bees can perceive the polarization of sunlight.   Evolution as Don explains is a ‘battle of interfaces’.

What has been most important in evolution is how well a species can engage with its interfaces or in other words ‘the fitness’ of that species within the niche and context that it exists.   So what really matters he says  is ‘fitness before truth’.    Don conveys that a ‘Truth perceiving creature would never exist because it would never survive’.  'The more fitness payoffs you get the greater evolutionary advantage you have'.

So if space and time are not objective reality – what is?  Don’s believes that consciousness is the source of objective reality.  We are all conscious agents having an experience, deciding what to experience and passing on our experiences to influence others.   We are finite single agents that are connected up to an infinite social network of conscious agents.

We, as a collection of conscious agents, can combine to create a ‘society of minds’.  Organisations for example, are a collection of conscious agents, which then creates a higher conscious agent.  So what are the ways that the lower finite agents of individuals can tune into and see the higher collective agents of organisations?

In learning about new principles of fitness before truth, user interfaces and conscious agents has opened my mind to a more expansive reality of existence.

Don’s work has provoked some questions in me:

·      As someone who relates to seeking the truth am I putting myself at risk of extinction?    Or is seeking the truth of existence becoming a new fitness criteria?   What if perceived fitness criteria (obtaining money, things, status) are killing the planet – are they then not actually fitness criteria?  Can we as humanity create new fitness criteria fast enough before we extinguish ourselves as a species?  So maybe truth is more important than fitness?

·      What I felt was missing in Don’s talk was any suggestion that there is a higher order conscious that we are all part of.  His suggestion feels human mind centric and mechanistic in that ‘all finite conscious agents stack up to infinite conscious agents which one could perceive as God or spirit.   What if it was the inverse  - spirit or an intelligent consciousness beyond mind expressing itself through life, including humans?

·      What does this mean for organisations and what are the processes and tools we can use to connect conscious agents see the patterns that bring about a ‘society of minds’?  What does this mean for strategy development, e.g. ‘organisation as a living organism with its own purpose’.