Donald Hoffman: Do we see reality as it is?

(My reflection based on Dr. Hoffman’s lecture on TED)

Maria Frani Ayu Andari Dias

It is a different topic that I want to share today. This is one topic that Mr. Hoffman shared in TED symposium. I like the idea and this makes me think in different ways of thinking. I am so sleepy now, because now it’s 11.17 pm but my hand drives me to type in this computer. I am listening to music right now. I hope it can help me to think. Before I discuss about the right topics, I want to share about my dreams. I am being sensitive right now, I think about music, dream, person, truth, ambiguity, art and so on and so forth. I cannot find one topic and focus on it to build something useful. I just feel I make something useless. I dreamed about my ex-boyfriend and his girlfriend right now, riding a bike and in the bike I can see their names on it. I just feel that I do miss them all. I make a connection between what I feel and this topic. Is what I feel a reality? Am I wrong?

We have so much mystery in our world which we cannot answer with our knowledge. One of the mysteries is about our mind and how does it work. We discover many new cells in our brain but until now, we cannot discover all of them. We just guess. Same like the topic about reality. What is reality and is that truly a reality we see? Next, What is the relationship between your brain and your conscious experiences, such as your experience of the taste of chocolate or the feeling of velvet?

What we feel and what we sense about reality is our conscious brain works. Reality comes from interpretation. Interpretation comes from our sense of perception. Science proved that one of our sense organs like eyes gives us perception and transfer it to our brain especially occipital lobe to interpret in that place. As a result, we can understand what we see. But, our eyes and brain interpret it with pattern, which is called construction. Our mind builds something and shows that thing to us. This idea is so hard to understand. But, I will give you examples. First, if you see one tomato on the table with your eyes, it will picture like that, now, close your eyes and try to imagine that tomato again in your mind. You realize it or not, but your eyes try to contract it to become one tomato on the table. Second, let’s see this kind of picture.


What do you see? Like me, you will find nothing. It is like things that do not mean anything.

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But, if we change the picture, you can see the construct. It is a cube.  So, from these pictures we will take a conclusion that our mind works with construction. They build the construction and give us a meaning for something.

Scientists learned from the past that our ability to make perception and construction about reality helps us to survive in this world, not only us humans but also animals. Scientists also comment that in fact, we do not see reality as reality but we see it as fitness. If it fit us, it is reality and if it doesn’t, it is not. Even when we choose something that does not fit us, we can see reality also, but the problem is it does not help us to survive in this world. Dr. Hoffman did not give the example about human, but I will give you an example. This example is about marriage. I think you know that we have many ethnic groups in our culture. In Indonesia, we have 1,340 ethnic groups. The ethnic or tribe survives until now because they try to survive with their capability to continue lives with marriage. A man and a woman will find each other fit as a couple and marry. Next, they have generations and it will continue as long as this world does not end.  What I want to say in this example is the reality that a woman or a man looks for a partner fit with them who can carry the genes and survive before marrying him/her. If not, they will give broken generation that cannot survive in this world and end of the story.

Back to reality, scientists proved that we do not only construct reality. But, we reconstruct it. We construct what we need in the moment. For this paragraph, I just think how crazy the scientists are. I don’t understand why people want to know something based on a simple question or why they do many researches, spend a lot of money just to find that simple answer. I do not understand completely. My friend tells me that this is the reason why I did not become a scientist because I do not understand all of it. Yeah, I came from practical science, so just show me the real thing and how it works. If it doesn’t, please fix it first. But, lately I am in the mood to learn new things. So, I just continue to learn. Hopefully I get something from this lecture. Honestly, the lecture is so heavy for me, I need more time to understand, I need more caffeine. But, it is a new experience and I want to try this. Okay, back to the lecture.

 Dr. Hoffman said reality is some vast machine that causes our conscious experiences. But, he doubts that also. So, I just think this is it. This is how our science develops. No one can give us guarantee that it is right or this is not. We just prove it by our self and if it works, it will be a new concept and theory perhaps. Dr. Hoffman continues that perhaps reality is some vast, interacting network of conscious agents, simple and complex, that cause each other’s conscious experiences.

So, to conclude, I just pick one of the comments from the reader in, Mr. John Wayne. He said that Donald Hoffman explained that the relationship between brain activity and conscious experiences is still a mystery, and that we’ve made a false assumption by misinterpreting the nature/content of our perceptual experiences. He says, the theory of evolution tells us that we’re wrong. Further, there’s something that exists when you don’t look, but it’s not space-time and physical objects. It’s simply because we’re blind to our own blindness, as our perceptions of reality do go extinct. Reality, whatever it is, is the real source of cause and effect in the world — And, once we let go of our intuitive but false assumption about the nature of reality, it opens up new ways to think about life’s greatest mystery. Reality will end up turning out to be more fascinating and unexpected than we’ve ever imagined.

Thank you, I hope this simple article will give me and also you a glimpse of the science of reality.


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