Speaking of Codswallop

Someone just brought this ball of dung to my attention.

A quote:

"Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality."


Well then, you know what, Dr. Hoffman? All of those bones that are said to be "evidence" for evolution? They're probably not bones at all, but maybe crayons, or roller skates, or jellyfish! That thing you think is a "brain"? Maybe it's really just a pumpkin, or maybe it doesn't even exist! I bet your "studies" of perception were based on measurements: well, your own theory says your perception of those measurements was "nothing like reality": you'd better throw them all out.

It's hard to figure out if people putting out such rubbish are so stupid they can't see that their own theory makes nonsense of the idea of evidence, or if they are so cynical that they say these things because they know a lot of gullible people think that the more outlandish someone's claims, the smarter they must be.


Comments

  1. Aren't optical illusions simple examples of situations where our perceptions differ from reality? And indeed many experts tie up the existence of such illusions to the evolution of our perceptual systems .

    The interview with Hoffman (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/the-illusion-of-reality/479559/) is actually quite interesting. I can see why you may disagree with some of it but I do not see how you can dismiss it as codswallop.

    Certainly Hoffman would have no difficulty at all in explaining what is wrong with your 'bones that are said to be "evidence" for evolution' critique !

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    1. "Aren't optical illusions simple examples of situations where our perceptions differ from reality?"
      Duh: yes. And detecting optical illusions depends on our perceptions MOSTLY agreeing with reality! But Hoffman (per the article) things ALL of our perceptions are wrong: which makes nonsense of "optical illusions."

      "Certainly Hoffman would have no difficulty at all in explaining what is wrong with your 'bones that are said to be "evidence" for evolution' critique !"
      He would point to "evidence": which per his codswallop, doesn't really exist, since our perceptions have nothing to do with reality!

      I think Hoffman is probably just a cynic who knows very gullible fools will swallow his rubbish. So, thanks for the illustration.

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    2. "The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality."

      Just read that sentence again and again, rob, until you actually comprehend it.

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  2. Keshav, I seem to have lost your comment, but your "improved" version of Hoffman just won't pass muster, since he says:
    "The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions—mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never."

    So, per his own theory, his own theory cannot possibly be the result of his seeing "reality as it is": it just has to be the result of his calculating his own fitness. And here I think we have unintentional self-revelation: Hoffman could not cut it as an academic putting forward serious, empirically testable theories. So, instead, he forwarded a load of rubbish that would impress the gullible and his tenure committee.

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    1. So Hoffman very explicitly says that your "improved Hoffman" that postulates "isomorphisms" between reality and our perceptions is "utterly false"! I mean, come on, here quite explicitly takes up the (much better than his own!) view you attribute to him, and totally rejects it!

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    2. And notice that this complete nitwit thinks evolution is about "mathematical functions"!

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  3. "in that case, the organism that sees the truth about the water in the world can win, but only because the fitness function happens to align with the true structure in reality. Generically, in the real world, that will never be the case."
    He very explicitly states that fitness functions aligning "with the true structure in reality" will *never* be the case. And, to be consistent (which of course he isn't) he would have to admit that the notion that *his own theories* would align with reality "will never be the case": they just promote his own fitness: which, as I noted, is a significant piece of self-revelation!

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  4. “It's hard to figure out if people putting out such rubbish are so stupid they can't see that their own theory makes nonsense of the idea of evidence, or if they are so cynical that they say these things because they know a lot of gullible people think that the more outlandish someone's claims, the smarter they must be."

    Gene,

    The more charitable view -- and, I believe, the correct one -- is that Dr. Hoffman and others are intelligent and sincere, but mistaken. Artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory, and neuroscience are merely a gloss over an underlying core of Kantian epistemology. Hoffman's modern and "scientific"-sounding terms lend superficial credibility to his thesis, but add nothing to its fundamentally Kantian structure. Kant, who was undoubtedly a genius of the highest caliber (though wrong on important points), steered many great minds wrong. It is understandable that lesser (but still bright) minds today are led astray by his spiritual descendants. (The case can be made that Kant himself was not quite as bad as the Kantians who took his view to greater extremes, but certainly he planted the seeds of error.)

    The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner dedicated a chapter of his 19th-century book, Philosophy of Freedom, to refuting this view (http://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA004/English/RSP1964/GA004_c04.html). Your posts here are very reminiscent of his takedown, which culminated with this paragraph:

    "Critical idealism can refute naïve realism only by itself assuming, in naïve-realistic fashion, that one's own organism has objective existence. As soon as the idealist realizes that the percepts connected with his own organism are exactly of the same nature as those which naïve realism assumes to have objective existence, he can no longer use those percepts as a safe foundation for his theory. He would have to regard even his own subjective organization as a mere complex of mental pictures. But this removes the possibility of regarding the content of the perceived world as a product of our spiritual organization. One would have to assume that the mental picture 'color' was only a modification of the mental picture 'eye'. So-called critical idealism cannot be proved without borrowing from naïve realism. Naive realism can be refuted only if, in another sphere, its own assumptions are accepted without proof as being valid."

    I believe Steiner was correct when, immediately after summarizing the Kantian view earlier in the same chapter, he wrote: "It would be hard to find in the history of human culture another edifice of thought which has been built up with greater ingenuity, and which yet, on closer analysis, collapses into nothing." And then began his methodical demolition.

    (As an aside, I think this book is interesting and underrated. Academics ignore it due to Steiner's later association with the occult, even though nothing in the book is overtly spiritual or religious. And the latter point is probably why Steiner's followers generally find it too dry and difficult to get through. So it occupies a sort of twilight zone. Owen Barfield, a British philosopher and Inkling who influenced C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, was not unreasonable in calling Steiner the "best-kept secret of the twentieth century.")

    MB

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    1. As you probably know, the German word “geist” can mean “spirit” or “mind.” I don’t speak German, but I suspect that the term “spiritual organization” in the block quote above is better translated as “mental organization.”

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