Evolution does not select for veridical perception

The title is from a blog post by Brian Leiter. Leiter links to an article in the LA Review of books: Imitation and Extinction: The Case Against Reality. The article is written by Donald Hoffman.

We have discussed the general topic before, in several threads. So maybe this is a good time to revisit the topic.

Hoffman asks: “I see a green pear. Does the shape and color that I experience match the true shape and color of the real pear?”

My take is that there is no such thing as the “true shape and color of the pear.”

It is a common presumption, that there is an external standard of truth. Here, I mean “external to humans”. Truth is presumed to come from somewhere else. And our perceptual systems evolved to present us with what is true.

As I see it, this is backwards. Yes, our perceptions are mostly true. But this is not because perception is based on truth. Rather, it is because our human ideas of truth are based on what we perceive.

Open for discussion.

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424 thoughts on “Evolution does not select for veridical perception

  1. Kantian Naturalist: As best I can tell, the idea of phenomenal properties is the idea that we discover through introspection a whole bunch of sensory states that we also think are states of perceptual objects

    If I understand you correctly, you are expressing strong illusionism.

    I read the start of Frankish’s article as saying there are three possibilities:
    1. Anti-physicalism: Zombie arguments or knowledge arguments (ie Jackson’s Mary) show physicalism fails to account for phenomenal experience. Phenomenal properties cannot be captured by the functional explanations used in science.

    2. Weak illusionism: Physicalism does not fail; instead phenomenal properties are real and can be explained functionally. To reply to Jackson’s knowledge arguments, weak illusionists say that when Mary first sees a color, this does not mean new physical facts but rather the new knowledge is based on phenomenal concepts, or knowledge by acquaintance, or or on acquiring new abilities. Weak illusionists deal with zombies by being either type A or type B physicalists in Chalmers sense as per my upthread post.

    3. Strong illusionists: Frankish, Dennett, and others* who deny that phenomenal properties are real; hence there is no issue with dealing with them functionally. So the knowledge argument fails. I think most strong illusionists are type A physicalists.

    I experience those qualities as co-constituted by my own embodied relation to the world and I understand that co-constitution in causal terms as the looping dynamics in and across brain, body, and environment.

    AsI understand this, it says that your previous work in phenomenology and cognitive science has convinced you of strong illusionism.

    I take everything before the “and I understand” as reflecting the sophisticated intuition of your subjective experience which you have gained by your study of phenomenology. (My intuition is not nearly as advanced; I still struggle with what the phrase “what it is like to be a bat” is trying to convey beyond saying that conscious life has subjective experience).

    I read everything after the “and I understand” as a brief summary of the type of scientific explanation you think will be successful in accounting for that subjective experience.

    ————————————–
    * Graziano is another strong illusionist who has an article in the JCS issue on illusionism. He has made an indirect appearance at TSZ by emailing Alan F on an OP Alan (or Keith?) did on Graziano’s first book. Excerpt from his new book here:
    https://lithub.com/the-octopus-an-alien-among-us/

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  2. Kantian Naturalist: and asked Frankish if that meant I experience phenomenal properties. His response: “It sounds as if you don’t need to mention them! (And I like the picture you sketch.)”.

    I’m inclined to think that illusionism, as Dennett and Frankish call it, is a theory of consciousness only insofar as it tells us to avoid a whole bunch of

    I take Frankish as agreeing with me that you are a strong illusionist according to Frankish’s categorization of the possibilities.

    I agree that illusionism is only a philosophical argument. It is trying to justify why scientific (ie functional) explanations are possible by supplying a type of rebuttal to anti-physicalists arguments.

    It also rejects the physicalist position which Frankish calls “weak illusionism”.

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  3. keiths:
    The Graziano thread is here:

    Thanks Keith.
    I once did a spreadsheet summarizing TSZ OPs by author up to March 2019 (based on scraping a screen from Dashboard). Assuming I did not screw up, you and Mung were neck and neck for most posts as of that date, with Sal, J-Mac, Lizzie, VJT being fairly distant alro-rans.

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  4. The philosophy of Steiner and Barfield and the work of Goethe all save the appearances apprehended by the senses, the phenomena, from being just some illusionary model created by the mind for survival purposes. The phenomena are real, but they only constitute a partial reality. Through inner work the mind has the ability to complete this reality in order to make it whole. The outer senses give us snapshots but when by using our thinking minds to combine these snapshots into a contextual whole we come to the full reality.

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  5. keiths,

    Its amazing how many atheists come up with these bungling theories.

    I like this opening line:

    namely, that we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do…

    If we think we are thinking, we don’t really think that…

    He might as well have said, “If your knee hurts it doesn’t really hurt, you just think it does.”

    Or, “just because you think you are happy it doesn’t mean you are happy. Or, “If you want a steak, you don’t really want a steak. ” Or better still, just say, “words are meaningless.”

    Great theory.

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  6. keiths,

    But anyway, he is from Princeton, and when you are from a school like that, you get to hang around cool people (or people who once had cool parents more accurately), for a fee.

    So he has that going for him.

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  7. petrushka: Benham colors, viewed under monochromatic light, are strong, dramatic, almost iridescent.

    You say Benham colours are illusions. They do not have objective reality as their appearance is dependent on our visual system. So what do you think about the double slit experiment in relation to photons? Do you think that the observer has an objective influence on the resulting interference pattern?

    The behaviour of both photons and Benham disc colours are dependent on there being an observing subject. The difference is that the Benhan colours are perceived directly whereas photons are not perceived but we still think of them in terms of perceptible entities such as ‘particles’ and ‘waves’.

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  8. phoodoo: Its amazing how many atheists come up with these bungling theories.

    You seem to have mispelled “philosophers”. It is philosophers who come up with these ideas. And religious philosophers come up with weird ideas, too.

    Think of them as taking a non-standard position, and then pushing that position to extremes in order to understand the implications.

    So, sure, some of it seems absurd to us ordinary folk. But I think it is a legitimate way of exploring ideas.

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  9. Neil Rickert: So, sure, some of it seems absurd to us ordinary folk. But I think it is a legitimate way of exploring ideas.

    What makes it legitimate?

    He is not even a philosopher, he is a neuroscience. Who thinks that we really don’t think, we just think that we think.

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  10. Neil Rickert: It is philosophers who come up with these ideas. A.

    Yeah, the best scientists can come up with is the non-locality of QM and the so-called time paradoxes of SR. Not to mention infinite multiverses. Or the fact that the planets do not rotate around the earth, for that matter.

    When it comes to challenging and weird ideas, these are clearly pitiful efforts compared to philosophical efforts like… , uh, what exactly? That our experiences may not be what they seem to be when considered naively?

    ETA: Of course, neither crowd can hold a candle to mathematicians. Banach-Tarski? I mean, come on.

    Speaking of mathematicians, here is one that you, Neil, may enjoy:

    https://longreads.com/2019/09/27/mathematics-as-a-cultural-force/

    “In his new book, Proof!: How the World Became Geometrical, historian Amir Alexander advances an audacious claim: that Euclidean geometry profoundly influenced not just the history of mathematics, but also broader sociopolitical reality. “

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  11. BruceS: When it comes to challenging and weird ideas, these are clearly pitiful efforts compared to philosophical efforts like… , uh, what exactly?

    You seem to take my comment as criticizing philosophy. But I actually see it a positive, that philosophers are exploring non-standard ideas.

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  12. Neil Rickert: You seem to take my comment as criticizing philosophy.But I actually see it a positive, that philosophers are exploring non-standard ideas.

    Nah, I just saw it as I way to post something semi-serious. See the ETA.

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  13. phoodoo: What in the heck would that even mean?

    You’d have to honestly engage with the philosophy to have a chance of understanding that. Or so it seems to me.

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  14. keiths:
    I think detailed/coarse is a separate dimension from veridical/non-veridical. It’s easy to imagine a perception that is full of detail, most of it inaccurate.

    That’s precisely the problem.

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  15. CharlieM: If you believe that atoms are mostly empty space, what substance do you believe occupies the remainder of the atom? What would you say that the subatomic “particles” are made of?

    You’re missing the point. I don’t “believe” it. All I know is that such is what physics currently suggests, but my point is that “veridical/non-veridical” is misleading, and that using data about what we might be missing, or even about what we might misinterpret, doesn’t mean that our perceptions are “non-veridical.” It just means that our perceptions are not that detailed.

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  16. BruceS: You’d have to honestly engage with the philosophy to have a chance of understanding that.Or so it seems to me.

    Yea, I am. But saying our experiences don’t feel like we think they feel is nonsense. There is no way of understanding that.

    Unless the philosophy is, say nonsense, and expect nonsense.

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  17. Entropy:

    CharlieM: If you believe that atoms are mostly empty space, what substance do you believe occupies the remainder of the atom? What would you say that the subatomic “particles” are made of?

    You’re missing the point. I don’t “believe” it. All I know is that such is what physics currently suggests, but my point is that “veridical/non-veridical” is misleading, and that using data about what we might be missing, or even about what we might misinterpret, doesn’t mean that our perceptions are “non-veridical.” It just means that our perceptions are not that detailed.

    I get your point., So our perceptions are limited, and our awareness is limited. But there are different levels of perception and awareness and we are not all at the same level in either case. And even as individuals our levels are never constant.

    The physical world is just that which humans in general are aware of at this time. Atoms are not physical in the classical sense, so are we at all justified in calling them physical entities. Perhaps a more accurate term for the study of the atomic world would be quantum metaphysics.

    If we are to believe quantum reality there are aspects of each atom which expand towards the infinite. There is a polarity in which as well as possessing forces whose influences operate at extremely small scales they also have influences at extremely large distances. The atomic world does not operate under the same laws of time and space as does the classical physical world.

    Whatever we believe or don’t believe it is obvious that reality consists of vastly more than that which has come within the domain of general human awareness and understanding at this particular moment in our development. And those few who have claimed to have caught a glimpse of any higher reality are disbelieved and are asked to show their evidence. Well how do you show a blind person the world of colour? Some thing just have to be experienced.

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