Conscious agents and the emergence of space-time

A proof of reality by reductio ad absurdum

Earlier on this website I wrote already about professor Donald Hoffman – cognitive psychologist – and about his book ‘The Case Against Reality. How evolution hid the truth from our eyes.‘ When reading that book for the first time, a few years ago, I had some objections to the way he came to the counterintuitive conclusion that reality is not what it seems and that our physical senses have not evolved to represent reality. This was because he arrived at his conclusion, by implementing the neo-Darwinist evolution theory of the survival of the DNA of the better fitted carrier thereof. And, as I have argued before, I am not a fan of this materialistic neo-Darwinist theory, although Hoffman’s final conclusion was in line with the conclusions I drew from quantum physics.

Reductio ad absurdum is the best proof there is and also the finest

But I was wrong. What I didn’t realize is that Hoffman shows that the neo-Darwinist hypothesis ultimately, through the application of game theories based on it, evolutionary games, ends up in a logical paradox. By performing a good many computer simulations, evolution games, based on the neo-darwinistic evolution theory, he showed experimentally that the neo-darwinistic hypothesis shoots itself ultimately in the foot. Evolution games, based on the reproduction of the fitter organism for survival, consistently delivered the result that evolution always chooses to adapt our sensory processing in a way that costs the least energy but is effective. A truthful internal representation of reality costs way more than a simple but effective representation that does not have to be truthful.

The delicious juicy apple you observe therefore does not have to be exactly that in reality. If your action – pick it and and eat it – is beneficial for your organism, that’s enough. So it is precisely the case that if neo-darwinism were correct, your image of reality would not. That’s pretty absurd, isn’t it?

Neurons are not the source of consciousness

Hoffman then goes further and says that the image we have formed of physical brains and neurons is also absolutely incorrect. His next step is then to reject the hypothesis that your neurons are the source of your consciousness. It cannot be because the image of material brains and neurons that our physical senses produce cannot correspond to reality. Furthermore, the real hard – and not even approximately solved – question is how physical neurons would produce consciousness. These physical neurons are only just there when we turn our attention to them.

Which is precisely what I conclude from the now well-known observer effect in quantum physics. When we see that the observer, simply by observing, can influence reality – think for instance of the experimentally confirmed changed behavior of the quantum wave if we can know the slit that the electron traverses. That change of the immaterial quantum wave cannot be accomplished by your supposedly physical neurons. Such an assumption would be a fairly absurd one. So Hoffman and I reach the same conclusion, but along different lines.

A network of ‘Conscious Agents’

Hoffman therefore assumes – just like me and many others – that consciousness must be primary. Together with his team he created an already fairly complete mathematical theory, describing a network of interacting consciousness units, Conscious Agents (CAs). His extensive article ‘Objects of consciousness’ of 2014 is easy to find on the internet. In it he shows mathematically, among other things, that several interacting CAs form together a larger and more complex CA. The mathematical description of the simplest CA appears – very surprising – to be identical to the quantum physical description of a free particle. So every conscious organism is a complex CA with several layers of complexity.

Each complex organism is then such a complex CA. Each multicellular organism is made up of billions of cells, where each of them in is a complex CA. And so on. At the very bottom we find particles acting as CAs.

A Virtual Reality game

The interaction of the entire network of interacting complex CAs then ultimately yields spacetime as we experience it. This spacetime is therefore an illusion that is experienced by those complex CAs. Hoffman often uses the virtual reality metaphor of a VR game in which the players present themselves as action figures, named avatars. He often makes the comparison of our senses – not only the eyes – with virtual reality goggles or glasses. What we experience as an object or person is, in that case, not very much different from a set of pixels generated by the VR system at the moment we look there. When we are not looking, those pixels do not have to be generated and are therefore not there.

This also explains the observer related elasticy of space and time as it emerges from special relativity. If space and time are a by a VR system generated experience, we can, in that case, understand that elasticy better.

Note: A pixel is the smallest unit of presentation in an image on a computer screen. Everything you see on a computer screen is made up of pixels.

Pixels – enlarged

What is not observed does not exist

Thus, Hoffmans idea fits seamlessly into the findings of quantum physics that the observed object does not exist before it is observed. The object – the set of pixels – is generated when we focus our attention on it and thus experience it. André Duqum’s interview with Donald Hoffman below – a full two hours – is very interesting and easy to follow because Hoffman explains very patiently. But be advised to take a quiet do-not-disturb moment for viewing the whole interview.

NB: The term ‘Markovian kernel’ is often mentioned in the interview. A Markovian kernel is a mathematical concept used in Hoffman’s CA model. Translate that, for an easy understanding of the concept, into the two-way filter that any communication combination of sense and expression capability actually is. It’s just a highly technical word for what is exchanged and what is suppressed in experiencing and responding.

So, we live in a VR Game. A rather absurd looking conclusion. But that’s no reason to take the game idea not seriously. Perhaps a good reason to just enjoy it without much fear but more in wonder and admiration of the presentations.

Proof That Reality Is An ILLUSION: The Mystery Beyond Space-Time – Donald Hoffman

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