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What If Reality ISN'T Real?
Maybe everything we experience is just a pale reflection of a much bigger reality.
Donald Hoffman is an American cognitive psychologist and popular science author. He is a professor in the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, with joint appointments in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, and the School of Computer Science.
Adam Jacobs: There are three big questions that science struggles to answer. One, what's the origin of matter? Two, where did life come from? And three, where did consciousness come from? Only that third one is called a “hard problem”, the hard problem of consciousness.
Hello Professor Hoffman, and thank you so much for being here on the show. It's really a pleasure to have you here.
Donald Hoffman: Thank you very much, Adam. It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Adam Jacobs: It's totally my pleasure. And you are an expert in consciousness, I would say. You have written about it, you have a Ted Talk about it, and I think a lot of people like me just may wonder in general, what do you mean? What do we mean when we talk about consciousness? Is there an elevator pitch that you could give to people standing on one foot? How would you explain what consciousness is?
Donald Hoffman: Intuitively, it's what it feels like to have sensory experiences like a headache or smelling chocolate, or hearing the sound of a symphony. So it's the subjective experience that you have, the feeling of what it's like to have that experience. And that's the intuitive statement about it. Mathematically and scientifically, we're working on trying to get a rigorous scientific theory of what consciousness is and what qualifies as consciousness.
And there are debates as to whether physical systems other than biological systems could have consciousness. Could a computer have consciousness? Could an artificial intelligence have consciousness? Do you have to have neurons to have consciousness? So this is an interesting area where we all in some sense know firsthand what consciousness is, what it feels like to be alive, to have experiences, but, science is trying to come up with mathematically precise definitions of what consciousness is or mathematical theories at least of what consciousness might be.
And we can talk about some of them, but we're still, I think early in the game. Now people in various religious traditions have talked about consciousness for thousands of years, and so there's a rich literature there, but we haven't turned the tools of science on consciousness until the last few decades. And so we're trying to understand a little bit more rigorously perhaps what the ancients have been saying for a long time and perhaps new things that the ancients didn't understand. That's one thing that happens when you have precision is that things that you assumed were true may turn out to be not as true or need to be corrected in some way and ideas you never had before all of a sudden come to the front. So that's sort of fun.
Adam Jacobs: Well, I love that you put it that way, and actually you probably anticipated that that's along the lines of how my brain works subjectively and what I'm interested in. But what you have taken, let's call, should we call it fledgling steps? You have taken some of the first steps towards trying to give, let's call it a scientific voice, to explain what this consciousness is and some of the implications.
And I highly recommend people go out and check out this book. It's called “The Case Against Reality”, which is a fantastic title by the way. And you posit in there that evolution, this is on the cover, evolution has pulled the wool over our eyes in some sense causing us to not be able to perceive reality for what it truly is, which by itself is a fascinating idea and one that I actually do think is in accord with the religious thought, and I'll get to that a little bit later.
I want to ask you about the terminology, some of the terminology that you use when talking about evolution. So for instance, in the book, you say what evolution has done for us? So that kind of language almost sounds like it's giving a consciousness to evolution itself or a voice to evolution. Are we suggesting that evolution thinks? Is there some type of consciousness that it has by itself that it's able to pull the wool over our eyes?
Donald Hoffman: Well, evolution is simply a scientific theory, and my attitude about scientific theories is that they're the best stories that we have so far and nothing more. We try to be precise, take our intuitions, make them mathematically precise, make empirical predictions, and there's not going to be a theory of everything because every theory is necessarily incomplete. Every theory starts with certain assumptions
It says, if you grant me these assumptions, then I can explain all this other stuff. But those assumptions are always the foundation of the theory, and they're not explained in that sense. They're miracles of the theory. And so science will always have a miracle at the core of every theory, those are what we call the assumptions. It sounds better to call them assumptions instead of miracles, but…
Adam Jacobs: Is axiom the right word for that as well?
Donald Hoffman: And assumption? Mathematics? Right, for mathematical theories, you call them axioms, but yeah, actually you could call the axioms in many cases if it's a mathematically precise theory. And so that's my attitude about evolution. I may talk informally about evolution doing something to us and so forth, but as a scientist, strictly speaking, all I'm saying is the best theory we have so far is evolution by natural selection.
Nothing comes close to the explanatory power of evolution by natural selection and explaining human behavior and animal behavior and so forth. There are no close contenders. But that doesn't mean it's right. It just means that it's the theory that we have to take seriously now and look at its implications now because it's the best tool that we have and we should always use the best tools that we have. But we should never be addicted to the tool either. We should always be trying to figure out the next step and our best tools tell us very clearly where their limits are.
So in evolution, by natural selection, one of the limits that we find is that the very notion of space and time and physical objects, that was sort of the intuitive foundation from which we build up evolutionary theory, right? We assume that there are things called physical organisms and now with DNA, which is a physical thing and so forth, and we assume that these are real things that exist, and that's how we sort of thought about the modern synthesis of evolution of natural selection.
But now evolution of natural selection is saying those physicalist assumptions that were the intuitions that drove, you have to be let go. The algorithmic core of evolutionary theory itself is incompatible with those intuitive ideas about a physical world being fundamentally real. So if we buy the algorithmic core of evolutionary theory, which is called evolutionary game theory or evolutionary graph theory, then we're tutored by our own theory to let go of these other peripheral assumptions, namely that reality consists of space, time, and physical objects.
Adam Jacobs: So that's obviously a very counterintuitive notion for a lot of people. I mean, you're asking people to disbelieve the most core experience that they're having. And by the way, I'm not disagreeing or challenging that. I'm just saying it's quite an adjustment to say that what you see in touch and taste isn't there or certain or isn't there in the way that you thought it was and that there was a quote that you said in the book, which I love, which you said, “We are not in space and time, we are the authors of space and time.”
You like to use an analogy of the desktop icon that objects that we see mid-size objects that we see in the natural world are more akin to the information that we see on a desktop, that it has a certain function to certain use, but we don't really believe that there's a file there. We don't believe that the document icon is an actual document. We believe it represents something
Donald Hoffman: That's right.
Adam Jacobs: But making the leap from that to looking at my daughter or looking at my house or looking at something that's of infinitely more value to me, gets to be challenging, let's say. So the question I wanted to ask you about is why these particular parameters, why is it that we're creating this kind of reality if indeed we are creating reality in that way? So for instance, why aren't we creating a one-dimensional universe or a 90-dimensional universe or some other structure? Why is it that we all seem to agree on the three dimensions plus time?
Donald Hoffman: That's a great question, and I'll try to answer just from within the framework of evolution by natural selection. Again, just saying that's the theory that I'm using and I'm trying to look at its implications, whether or not that theory is the final answer, I don't think it is, but that's what we've got so far. And what evolutionary theory tells us to look at is there is some objective reality. We've assumed it's physical, but put that aside for the moment. There's some objective reality and there are fitness payoffs.
So intuitively, if I'm 5,000 feet underwater, that's really bad for my health. I have really negative payoffs for that. But if I were a benthic fish, then being 5,000 feet underwater is perfectly fine. That's just what I need. And so the intuition there is that the same state of reality, whatever reality might be, could have very, very different fitness payoffs for different organisms and for different actions and so forth. And so the key point is that there are these things called fitness payoffs. And when you look at the structure of evolutionary theory, fitness payoffs are functions. They depend on the state of the world, but also the organism, its state and the action among other things. And when you look at these fitness payoffs and you ask if our sensory systems are shaped by natural selection to keep us alive, they're there to report the fitness consequences of our actions.
So these fitness payoffs are everything we have to be tuned to these fitness payoff functions. That's the key idea. In evolutionary theory, our sensory systems are tuning us to these fitness payoffs. And so there's a technical question, do these fitness payoffs contain information about objective reality or not? It's a very simple mathematical question. Technically we can ask. The term we'd say is, are they homomorphism of structures of reality? So reality has some structure, it could be a metric or a topology or an order or something like that.
If reality has some structure, what is the probability that a fitness function will preserve that structure? Because if the fitness payoff function does not preserve that structure of reality, then you can't be tuned to it, right? You're being tuned to the fitness functions. And if they don't have that structure in them, so we've done the analysis, Chaan Precia, a mathematical colleague of mine working with me and Manish Singh and Chris Fields and Robert Ner and others, and we have a couple of papers where we just show the probability is precisely zero.
So that's just a theorem for all these different structures. In reality, the probability is zero. A generic fitness payoff function will preserve that structure. So there's no information in the fitness payoffs to tune our systems to reality. So as a result, we're being tuned to just fitness itself. And so again, I'm not saying this is necessarily true, I'm just saying this is our best theory. This is what natural selection entails. So it entails now that space and time or space-time is a data structure that seems to be satisfying, (satisfying means good enough to be better than the competition). So it's a satisfying representation of fitness payoffs. It's a framework for it. So it is almost like a data compressing error correcting scheme for fitness payoffs.
And your question was why three dimensions? Why not 50 or one or something like that? And that's a really interesting technical question. Every dimension that you add, it will cost you fitness because it is more complexity that you would have to represent in your system. So there's going to be selection pressures not to have more dimensions than you need, but if you have too few dimensions, you may not have the flexibility that you need to act in a way that can get you enough fitness payoffs to beat the competition.
So maybe for E. coli, one or two dimensions may be enough. E. coli are these bacteria that all they seem to do is swim and if the concentration of whatever amino acid they eat is getting better, then they keep swimming in that direction. Makes sense. But as soon as it starts going down, they randomly change their direction. The rotor just rotates the other way and makes them oriented in a random direction and they start going again.
And so all they know is good, I'm getting more and more so this is good. If not, I do a random number generator to change my direction and I see if I'm doing good or not. So maybe you don't need a three-dimensional representation of the world. If you're E. coli, you maybe only need one dimension, namely more or less, and maybe that's all you perceive. Whereas for us, we use three dimensions. I could imagine that there might be creatures that have four dimensions of spatial perception, but you would pay a higher cost for having all the data structure that you have to maintain.
Adam Jacobs: That makes sense and it's very interesting. And first of all, I really appreciate how open you are and you do not seem to have any of the hubris that sometimes comes along with certain scientific kinds of thinking, which I'm highly appreciative of. You seem very open to ideas. So I just want to press on this question one more time. I'm a layperson. I'm fascinated by science, but I don't have a scientific background. So on the one hand, that's a negative. On the other hand, I think it might be positive because it allows me to ask certain questions that I think just don't get asked that often, that maybe they're so obvious that you don't ask them.
But when I consider fitness in terms of the Darwinian model of evolution, I understand it and I understand that there's supposed to be a constant battle for resources and the strongest and most able of organisms who get those resources are obviously going to do better, and the traits that they have are going to be passed on to the next generation and so forth. That stands to reason. When I look at humans, I don't always see what I would expect in terms of competition. So for instance, you have a phenomenon like Romeo and Juliet who are nubile, healthy, fertile young people who choose to kill themselves rather than reproduce for this thing called this ideal called love.
That seems anti-evolutionary to me. It seems strange to me that the most learned people in the middle ages, the priesthood, self-selected themselves out of the gene pool by choosing not to get married. The soldiers who are perhaps the fittest in the gene pool choose to go and die for their countries. Does evolution seem funny when it comes to human beings? Do we not seem to fit the mold at a certain point?
Donald Hoffman: Well, those are great questions and I think that most evolutionary biologists would say that no, there's nothing special about humans in this regard. And one way to understand that point of view is what's sort of unusual about our species perhaps, is that we have developed this very elaborate modeling system in the brain. So we're building very, we have this large frontal lobe, all these resources where we're building very concrete but detailed models of reality, and we're running simulations in our head and we're looking at the consequences of those simulations. Now, many animals will do that in a narrow range, but we do it in an extremely large range, and our emotions are tied very much into that because we get the emotional impact. What would happen if I jumped off that cliff? I mean, just imagining that for some people can lead to all sorts of emotions and the heart rate going up and so forth.
So that's an advantage because in many cases we can run a simulation in our head and recognize that we shouldn't do this thing, so we die in our model so we don't have to die physically instead. Whereas if we didn't have those models, we might just go out, and learn the hard way. That wasn't something we should do. Now we take our models very, very seriously. And so there you can start to get the kinds of things that you were talking about where we may actually do things that look to be counterproductive in terms of reproductive payoffs, but we're really tied to our models more so than perhaps other animals. So in that sense, yes, we're a little bit different, but I think most evolutionary biologists would say that there's nothing to see here.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, fair enough. You also write that neurons cause none of our behaviors and none of our conscious experience.
Donald Hoffman: Yes.
Adam Jacobs: I think that's also quite counterintuitive for what your average person thinks. And you provide a model, a concept, which I found fascinating in the book of how photoreceptors receive photons, six here, ten there, and that's all that they're getting. So I wonder if you could take just a moment and explain to the audience what that really means. The fact that they're not actually perceiving the tomato at one meter away and the color and texture of it, but they're just getting, all it's getting is photons.
And the question I'd like to ask based on that is I'm obviously, I'm looking at you now. I know I'm looking at a representation of you. We're not live, we're not in person. And I'm fine with that because I understand what this means, right? You're somewhere else. But are you suggesting, is it being suggested at any point that when I cease to talk to you, that you will literally disappear for me and I will literally disappear for you? What's happening when we don't perceive each other? Are we still there or is something else afoot?
Donald Hoffman: Very good.
Adam Jacobs: That's a lot. I'm sorry. That's a lot.
Donald Hoffman: Sure. But you're right. Most of my colleagues think that neural activity causes are conscious experiences of space and time and objects and so forth. Francis Crick is very famous for saying you're nothing but a pack of neurons. And I knew Francis, we spent a lot of time talking about consciousness. There was a group of us that met and so forth, and he's a brilliant guy, and most of my colleagues are brilliant thinkers, and they all almost to a person think that we're nothing but a pack of neurons that of course, they're talking about systems, neuroscience now that it's systems and patterns of neural activity, not individual neurons per se, that are probably going to be responsible somehow for creating consciousness.
But in terms of our perceptions and reality, you're right. The one way to think about vision, for example, is that you have roughly 120 million photoreceptors in each eye, and a photoreceptor, all it does is count effectively how many photons are captured. So the initial image at the eye doesn't have tables and chairs and people and so forth. It has this neuron caught 12 photons and that neuron, that photoreceptor caught that many. So the photoreceptors roughly are the quantum catches those photoreceptors roughly numbers.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, so that's all we should be perceiving, presumably.
Donald Hoffman: Well, that's all we start with. And so anything that you see beyond that is something that you're creating. So I've got a book called Visual Intelligence, How We Create What We See, and that book is all about how do we start from just those numbers and create a boy riding a bicycle, eating a hot dog, or something like that.
Adam Jacobs: And can you explain, I know you wrote a book on it, but can you explain in a few sentences how we do that? That seems miraculous.
Donald Hoffman: It is miraculous but's a technology that we'll all be using very, very soon with self-driving cars that have passive vision systems on them. Those vision systems on the cars will be doing effectively the same thing. So all the work that we've been doing on the neurobiology of vision and visual perception is going to actually pay off in terms of the technology of self-driving cars and so forth. So you have the video coming into the computer and the video is just, again, a bunch of numbers. It was this bright at this pixel and this bright at this pixel, or if it's an RGB, then it had this amount of red, this amount of green, this amount of blue. But if all numbers, if you looked at the image like in Photoshop or something like that, look, all you see is a bunch of numbers. So how do you go from those numbers to again, oh, there's a bicyclist in front of me, I need to hit the brakes on the car.
Well, that takes hundreds of megabytes of software to do all that. So in the brain speaking now as the brain, as a computer, and so forth, roughly you have tens of billions of neurons that are involved in this and trillions of synapses. So it's really complicated. And what we're doing is most of my colleagues think, well, all that hardware in the brain is starting with this image, which is just a bunch of numbers, photon quantum catches, and somehow it's reconstructing the truth. So when I see a boy on a bicycle, that's because I successfully reconstructed the truth.
I'm saying is we certainly constructed the boy on the bicycle. That's certainly the case. It's a stronger claim. It's a strictly stronger claim to say that we reconstructed the truth. I agree that we constructed absolutely, but that we reconstructed. That's a much stronger claim that our construction matches reality. That's a much stronger claim. And what I'm saying is it contradicts evolution by natural selection to make that claim.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, so what is there if there's not the boy on the bicycle, what is there? What's the reality?
Donald Hoffman: Well, evolutionary theory is silent. It said at this point, evolutionary theory tells you it's not space and time, it's not a physical obstacle, it's nothing that you perceive. Almost surely that's not it. But evolutionary theory doesn't tell you what it is. And by the way, it's not just evolutionary theory that says this, but physics.
Field theory and general relativity are telling us as the physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed puts it, space-time is doomed. So physics itself, which for centuries has been about what happens in space and time, that's what physics has been, that's what happens inside space and time. Their theories are now advanced enough to tell us that space-time, isn't fundamental, but they don't tell us what is. And that's the fun of science. Our theories, if they're good enough, will tell us where they get off, where they stop, but they can't tell us what's next. That requires the creative leap of the scientist to say, okay, let me take a shot in the dark here. What could be beyond space and time?
Of course, once you take your shot in the dark and then you put your beer down and then get sober again, then you've got to turn it into mathematics and make predictions that you can measure back inside space and time and you do all the hard work. But there is that creative leap. And so evolution of natural selection and physics themselves both say spacetime is not fundamental, spacetime is doomed. They don't tell us what's next. And so as a scientist, I have to then make a leap. And of course, I'm probably going to be wrong
Adam Jacobs: Or maybe not.
Donald Hoffman: Yeah, maybe I'll be lucky, but I would bet against me.
Adam Jacobs: Okay.
Donald Hoffman: What I'm working on right now is the idea that consciousness itself is fundamental. And so then I owe a mathematically precise theory of consciousness, not just a hand wave and the work that I have to do. And so my colleagues and I are working on this right now, is to have a mathematically precise theory of consciousness and then work on how that realm of consciousness and this dynamics, whatever that might be, projects into spacetime.
And when we make the projection of this dynamics of consciousness into spacetime, we have to get back something that looks like evolution by natural selection, quantum field theory, general relativity, and so forth. If we can't do that, then we're wrong. So there's going to be a very, very strong constraint on whatever models we propose beyond space-time. They must project back into space-time where we can do experiments and they better look like the structures that we already know and love there, or they better explain why they're slightly more general. They better be able to explain everything that our current physics and evolution explain and then more.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, that's great. That was a great answer. Let me read you a quote from John Archibald Wheeler, I know you're familiar with. He says “It's not unreasonable to imagine that information sits at the core of physics just as it sits at the core of a computer. And he says this quote, “‘It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item in the physical world has at its bottom, a very deep bottom in most instances an immaterial source and explanation.”
The thing that I just like to clarify is consciousness and information. Are these the same thing? Are they different? And is this just an example of physics agreeing with your contention that it's certainly not a material thing, it's not space-time, but what's the difference between information and consciousness?
Donald Hoffman: That's a good question. Wheeler's paper is quite powerful, isn’t it? “It From Bit” paper is quite interesting. He wants to think about acts of participation somehow being involved in creating our perception of the world. So the participatory universe, information is a technical term to scientists. It has to do with probability. So when you have probabilities where you're just dealing with uncertainty, information is a way of quantifying uncertainty. That's all it is a technical term. It's the minus log of the probability technically. So in that sense, when we're dealing with information, we're dealing with probabilities. Now, it's interesting when we deal with probabilities, there are two deep philosophical frameworks in which we think about probabilities. There's what's called a subjectivist and an objectivist objectives think that there is a real objective world with real objective probabilities. Probabilities are objective features of an objective world. Subjectivists say no.
Probabilities are just your degrees of belief. So you can see already there's this more a physicalist kind of interpretation. The objectivist not strictly, but it's like an objective. It's like a physicalist, and then there's more of a consciousness kind of thing. It's the subjective degrees of belief information itself. Depending on how you cache it out, probabilistically could either be taken in a physicalist framework or a framework in which consciousness is seen as fundamental.
So information and consciousness in some people's minds need not be linked. Although many of my physicalist colleagues who think that we might be able to create consciousness from complicated computational systems, for example, then there's an information-theoretic aspect to their model of consciousness that somehow getting the right information, the array of dynamical systems will be somehow critical for creating consciousness. And that's the move that's usually made. No one has yet been able to show how their model can create a specific conscious experience.
There is no physicalist theory to date that can explain any specific conscious experience, like my experience of the taste of chocolate. If they say that it's some kind of integrated information in the brain that's doing it well, exactly what integrated information, how is it integrated? What is the precise structure? If it's some kind of global workspace, what exactly is the architecture of the workspace? And exactly which physical system or dynamics is required, must lead to the experience of the taste of chocolate and could not be the smell of vanilla.
There's not one theory on the table that can do that. So in terms of specific conscious experiences and explaining why this mathematical structure must be that conscious experience we have, I would say zero progress. There is nothing of interest on the table. So in that sense, a lot of my colleagues think that information theory might somehow give rise to consciousness, but they have yet to give any specific concrete example of one specific conscious experience. They talk in general that consciousness may arise as integrated information or broadcasting networks or something like that, but there's not one specific conscious experience that they can account for. And so there's nothing specific on the table for any one conscious experience. And we have hundreds of thousands of experiences. So there's got to be one that we should be able to do.
Adam Jacobs: You would think so. And I really liked in the book you show the shape of the molecule of vanilla. And when you look at it, and obviously I've never seen that before, but the idea that somehow that shape of that molecule can produce the taste of vanilla is wild. Why should it be that it produces this thing versus any other thing? And I guess that's part of the mystery.
Donald Hoffman: That's right. And taste is a really good example. If I said, what is the true taste? What is the objectively, what should be the taste of that molecule? Most of us would begin to scratch our heads and go, you're probably asking the wrong question, right? I mean taste is just something that a molecule is a molecule taste is what we bring to the picture. And I think that that's the case. But I'm saying that's also the case with all the three-dimensional objects that we see. When I look at the moon, that's just like my taste of vanilla. That's what I bring to the picture. Whatever I'm interacting with is completely unlike the moon, just like the molecule is unlike my taste of vanilla.
Adam Jacobs: That all makes sense to me. If we're not taking a three-dimensional object, if we're taking a concept, so for instance, beauty or love or meaning or justice, things that are not three-dimensional objects that people still experience and are willing to live and die for, do we also create an interface that allows us to generate and experience that? Or is there some other way that those experiences exist?
Donald Hoffman: Well, I would say that, so I'll answer for what most of my colleagues would say. First, I would say that most of my colleagues would say that all of these concepts are generated by the brain. So that there's this, you're nothing again, but a pack of neurons or neural systems and complicated dynamical activity. And that these then create our conscious experiences and all the concepts that we have now from this other framework in which consciousness is fundamental, I have to think about it in a very, very different way. So consciousness is fundamental.
Those experiences are primary, they're primitive. They're going to be primitives of this theory. See, every scientific theory has its fundamental assumptions. You explain something else. If you're a physicist, you're starting with space and time and fundamental particles and you have to explain consciousness. But if you're starting with consciousness, then you're taking sensory experiences, colors and shapes and so forth as the raw experiences as primitive, you have to explain the structure of those experiences. So I have to explain their structure, but the fact that they're, what we might call the qualia, the what it's like to have the experience of red, that would be a primitive of the theory and our concepts are very interesting. See, consciousness in this sense would be extremely deep. It would be far deeper than any concepts. It would transcend any concepts, anything that we could say about it, isn't it?
And we see this even just in, so this would be true even in a physicalist framework in mathematics, there's something called Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. And basically what it says is that no matter how sophisticated a mathematical system you have, the notion of truth will transcend that system. There will be innumerable, innumerable truths that are true but can't be reached from within your conceptual system, your mathematical system. And if you add those new truths to your axioms, then there'll be innumerable more truths that still transcend you. And what this means to me as a scientist is that there cannot be a theory of everything. Every theory,
Adam Jacobs: Because you can't perceive everything. Our perception mechanisms is simply flawed.
Donald Hoffman: And also because the very structure of theories precludes it, a theory has a finite set of axioms, a finite set of assumptions, and then rules for evolving the consequences of those axioms. And Godel tells us effectively that as powerful as that system is, and science depends on it, the notion of truth will forever be beyond it in the sense that there'll be inaugural truths that go beyond it. And so this is great news for job security and science because we will never end this process of coming up with deeper and deeper theories. But the question is, how deep will we ever penetrate into the truth? And it looks to me like we will always just scratch the surface.
Adam Jacobs: Could it be that the ultimate truth therefore is infinite? Maybe there are infinite layers to it and there is no reaching the top of the pile, so to speak.
Donald Hoffman: And that may be the ultimate deep truth about reality is that so one way that we may think about if consciousness is fundamental, and we ask the question, so what is consciousness up to and why? Well, if all that there is consciousness. And so all that consciousness can really do is be aware of itself, aware of awareness. Well, that turns out intrinsically to be a never-ending task because there's no end to the exploration. Sometimes I like to call this Godel’s candy store. There's no explanation, no end to the exploration. And so consciousness is forever exploring all of its possibilities. And perhaps the exploration could also be thought of as invention as well. It is a creative exploration. It's creating itself as it goes. And that's how it learns about itself. And so we are part of you and I then are consciousness exploring one little aspect of its many, many, many possibilities.
Adam Jacobs: I love the way you said that, and we've been conducting the conversation, let's call it, I mean this in the best way, but more on your turf in terms of the scientific world. I wonder if you'd allow me just to pivot for one moment and just sort of reflect, I've really had the great privilege of speaking to some brilliant scientific minds for this program for the last bunch of months. And what I find as a spiritual person is I often feel like you guys are, are demonstrating what I feel and have learned to be true. So when I speak to someone like Carlo Rovelli about the nature of time, and he tells me there really isn't any time, and I speak to somebody like you and you say like, no, there really isn't any physicality. My bells go off in my head. And I'm like, you guys are describing exactly what I've been studying for the last 25 years.
It just reeks of spirituality for lack of a better term. And I subjectively feel, and I don't know how you'll feel about this at all, and Professor Rovelli completely disagreed, but I feel that there's a certain sense in which, let's call it science and theology, hold hands, whether they know it or not, whether they acknowledge that they're friends or not, whether that's going to change in the future. But I just feel like they're these two lost parts of one whole, that if they were to sort of join forces in a more friendly manner would help to uncover some of these deeper truths about the nature of reality. So I guess my question to you is what do you think of that? And as a sort of point B, do you have spiritual, spiritual leanings? Does your research cause you to think along those lines? Or is this purely a purely science-based thing for you? That's a lot. Again, can you reflect on that?
Donald Hoffman: Yeah. So first, I mean I greatly respect Carlo Rovelli. He's a brilliant physicist. And so when I disagree here, I respectfully disagree with him on this particular point. I think that there is a great opportunity for science and spirituality to interact. And that really is going to be critical going forward. Both have a piece of the puzzle that the other needs. Science has really discovered a powerful way of avoiding the perils of human dogmatism. We get stuck in our ideas. We get a troop of people who believe the same thing, and then we defend our ideas. And as soon as you are wedded to a particular idea, you're stuck. You stagnate science. Individual scientists are just as dogmatic as any other person on the planet. But science as a social institution has figured out a way to get around that flaw of human nature of being dogmatic.
But science so far has been physicalist. And in that sense, not spiritual, right? The physical world is fundamental. What the spiritual side has brought is this recognition from deep intuition that the physical, what we call the physical world, can't be the final reality. Many, many deep in many where there's mystical, Sufism, Judaism, Christianity and so forth, Islam, all these traditions have this very deep spiritual understanding that spacetime can't be fundamental. There's something deeper to us, but they haven't had the powerful tools of science to take that intuition and turn the intuition into something precise and testable.
So we need to bring the two sides together, the insights from the spiritual traditions, the techniques of science, and then the good minds of both to work together non-dogmatically. And I think we'll all be surprised and we'll all have to let go of preconceived notions, scientists and spiritual, and it'll be a humbling experience for all of us, or we won't move forward. I think we will all have to give up things that we thought were dearly true and we'll be surprised.
Adam Jacobs: So well said. And I am really on the same page with you in regard to that. And I'd actually, we've come to the end of our allotted time, but I would love maybe offline to just bounce a couple of more ideas with you on that particular topic. I think there's lots of work to be done there. But thank you so much for your very great articulation on this topic and all of your contributions to this field. And I wish you a lot of strength and clarity in your research and discoveries going forward. I think you're doing some very important things, and I thank you for your time today.
Donald Hoffman: Thank you very much, Adam. It was a great pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, thank you very much. And for you folks out there, please take a moment to subscribe, like, and comment on the a.com YouTube channel. Please subscribe to stay on top of everything that we've got going on here. And there is a lot. So thank you for being here and we'll see you next time.