Episode 26: Don Hoffman | Reality Isn't | Click to Listen

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After On Podcast #26: The Case Against Reality

Don Hoffman has spent the last few decades honing an extraordinary theory about the nature of reality. It will violate every intuition you have about the physical world you inhabit. Yet however improbable and mind-bending you find it, I believe it’s worth the time and brainpower to suspend your disbelief and listen carefully to Don’s perspective. To follow his logic, arguments, evidence, and his highly evocative metaphors.

I don’t say this because I’m entirely convinced Don is correct about the nature of reality (I’m not!). But rather because reality’s final and accurate description will at least as shocking – and do just as much violence to our intuitions – as anything Don says in our interview. So even if he turns out to be dead wrong about everything, processing his viewpoint will help prepare you to comprehend that end-point description of reality whenever we reach it (and by the way, you should also eat right, and get plenty of exercise - because getting to our final understanding of reality could take a while).

Whatever that final understanding is, it will have to accomodate some bizarre phenomena that have bedeviled humanity’s greatest minds for decades (and even centuries). These include certain quantum paradoxes; the baffling question of how consciousness can arise from inert matter; and the exotic sensory experiences of over a hundred million humans with a condition called synesthesia. It’s impossible to say that normal perception is “right” and the synesthetes are “wrong.” So what’s going on?

Don and I discuss all these things in our interview. And Don’s account of reality accommodates them pretty snugly – albeit at the cost of violating most of our intuitions about every other aspect of the world we inhabit.

However, we already reject some of our strongest intuitions to accommodate facts that every child accepts. To take an example Don points to at the start of our conversation – what could be more intuitive than the idea that the ground is flat and solid, and that there’s a single, objectively correct direction which we can define as “up”? Yet we all accept that we’re walking on a sphere that’s floating in a boundless vacuum in which there is no up. This is both utterly counterintuitive and utterly noncontroversial.

Don’s depiction of reality isn’t much more intuitively repellant than that. And by the way -- check out the competition! A few hours marinading in string theory, the Holographic Universe model, or eternalism will prove that no one has a monopoly on weirdness.

So again - listen to Don’s arguments without prejudice, parse them as best you can, and then decide if you accept or reject them. That’s my own approach to this sort of material. I could’ve spent my time with Don debating his points. And this would have been huge fun for both of us! But instead I on-boarded his perspective as much as I could, which has given me a lot more to chew on.

Donald Hoffman

Donald Hoffman

Rob Reid