Our Perception is NOT Reality

Our Perception is NOT Reality

For thousands of years philosophers and scientists have attempted to understand why and how we came to be as humans. One assumption has been that natural selection has been shaping our senses to have a more accurate and truthful representation of the world. For the good of our species of course. But recent research has found that theory simply is not true.

Instead, it seems that our senses are directing our behavior towards survival and reproduction, but not truth.

Scary, I know.

This theory is called Interface Theory of Perception(ITP), and has been created by the Evolutionary Psychologist Donald Hoffman. If you are interested in reading about it here you go. Hoffman has also done a brilliant Ted talk about the subject. The gist of the theory is that our senses are reconstructing reality. Evolution has given us a user interface that hides reality and guides us to adaptive behavior.

For example, although it may appear that our vision is a snapshot of the world around us, the truth is that it is a construction of reality. Part of what we are seeing truly is the light bouncing off objects in our view, but in addition we are re-constructing reality in real time as we see. That means that what we see is there, but not necessarily in the way that we experience. We are being guided by our senses, but like a desktop icon, the guide doesn't show reality. It is just a hack to allow us to move about the world.

Hoffman uses the Australian jewel beetle Julodimorpha bakewelli as an example. The female beetles are shiny, brown and dimpled. So to are some Australian beer bottles that have been tossed on the ground in the outback. As a result, the male beetles would attempt to mate with these beer bottles because they were shiny, brown and dimpled. This occurred even with plenty of females to choose from. The beetles almost went extinct because of this behavior.

So what does this mean? Our belief that our perception of the world around us reflect reality is wrong. That theory must be thrown out. It is far more likely that reality is way more complex and complicated than we can imagine. Much like that desktop icon, which allows us to easily interface with computer applications without writing machine code, our perception is a hack to exist in this reality. This begs the question, what is the real reality like? Hoffman is already working on conducting experiments to find out.

Scary, but very awesome. Stay tuned.

Article via Scientific American.
Photo Via dmbroadcasting.com.