If I have a visual experience that I describe as a red tomato a meter away, then I am inclined to believe that there is, in fact, a red tomato a meter away, even if I close my eyes. I believe that my perceptions are, in the normal case, veridical—that they accurately depict aspects of the real world. But is my belief supported by our best science? In particular: Does evolution by natural selection favor veridical perceptions? Many scientists and philosophers claim that it does. But this claim, though plausible, has not been properly tested. In this talk I present a new theorem: Veridical perceptual systems are never more fit than non-veridical perceptual systems of equal complexity that are simply tuned to the relevant fitness functions. This entails that perception is not a window on reality; it is more like a windows interface on your laptop. Spacetime is your desktop, and physical objects, like apples and neurons, are simply icons on this desktop. I discuss this interface theory of perception and its implications for one of the most puzzling unsolved problems in science: the relationship between brain activity and conscious experiences.
Donald Hoffman received a PhD from MIT, and is a Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He is an author of over 120 scientific papers and three books, including The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. He received a Distinguished Scientific Award of the American Psychological Association for early career research, the Rustum Roy Award of the Chopra Foundation, and the Troland Research Award of the US National Academy of Sciences. His writing has appeared in Scientific American, New Scientist, LA Review of Books, and Edge, and his work has been featured in Wired, Quanta, The Atlantic, Ars Technica, National Public Radio, Discover Magazine, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. He has a TED Talk titled "Do we see reality as it is?". http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/