cover image The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

Donald Hoffman. Norton, $27.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-393-25469-3

Hoffman, a UC-Irvine cognitive science professor, devotes his intriguing but overreaching treatise to unveiling a series of interconnected, provocative hypotheses about how humans perceive the world around them. His argument rests on his Fitness-Beats-Truth (FBT) Theorem, which states that natural selection has shaped the perceptive capabilities of organisms to discern aspects of the environment that positively impact fitness: the ability to survive and reproduce. FBT, unlike previous ideas about the relation between perception and evolution, asserts that perception solely maximizes fitness, not truth. Hoffman recognizes FBT “is counterintuitive. How can my perceptions be useful if they aren’t true?” He attempts to reconcile this conundrum with the Interface Theory of Perception (ITP): organisms interact with their environment the same way humans do with computer screens through icons that are helpful but mask the computer’s inner workings. Hoffman proposes the concept of conscious realism, which “denies that physical objects exist when unperceived,” and asserts that conscious agents create the universe simply via their perceptions. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Hoffman also dips into his own research on visual perception to describe how humans are fooled by optical illusions. His ideas are complex and fascinating, but if they’re to be fully understood, they deserve more space than he’s accorded them in this disappointing study. (Aug.)