The Primitive Non-Argument Against Reality, Part One

Today we are looking at this article, “The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality”.

In the words of the article:

The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.

We shall see this is impossible. This is a gross misuse of mathematics. And is based on distorted view of natural selection.

We will get started with the first paragraph of the article.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions — sights, sounds, textures, tastes — are an accurate portrayal of the real world.

We do not need to “assume” that. Our sensory organs passively perceive reality as it is. They have no means of distorting reality and showing us things as they are not.

Our visual cortex and other parts of our brain process the input of the senses. But they do not distort that input. They simply present the input of our senses to our consciousness. They do not fabricate or distort their inputs.

Everything we experience is an accurate portrayal of the real world, according to our mode of perception. There are different modes of perception. But that does not mean our senses are subjective or that we do not see reality as it is.

For example, we see things in color. Other organisms do not. Does that mean the senses of those organisms are invalid? Or that they do not see reality as it is?

No. It simply means that those other organisms have a different mode of perception. They observe the same facts of reality. But their senses present those facts differently.

Different modes of perception are not an argument for the subjectivity of those modes of perception. They simply mean that different organisms perceive the same facts of reality in different ways.

Do black and white photos invalidate our senses? No more than the fact that some organisms do not see color. Which is to say, not at all.

Nor does it prove that there is any distortion occurring. Different modes of perception are not kinds of sensory distortion.

Sure, when we stop and think about it — or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion — we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality.

No. Our senses are not some kind of distorting lens that gives us a false view of reality.

Nor is what we perceive “our brain’s best guess at what the world is like”. It is an accurate representation of reality according to our mode of perception.

Indeed, we do not perceive everything that exists. We only perceive those things that are detectable by our senses. We will return to this a little later.

Episode sixteen of the podcast covers the topic of optical illusions.

In short, optical illusions are not an argument against the validity of the senses. When we observe an optical illusion, our senses are giving us valid data.

Neither our senses nor our brains are distorting the data. We are seeing things as they are. When we see bent straws in water, that is not our senses tricking us. That is how we observe light rays bent by water.

But if we want to better understand what we are observing, we must think and “see past” the illusion. We must understand that we need to process what we are seeing, which is real.

We need to more closely understand how it is consistent with reality. And then abstract away that optical illusion so that we can understand things better.

This does not invalidate our senses either.

The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

This obviously cannot be true. As we have seen, there is no false dichotomy between the world as we see it and as it is. We see what is. There is no alternative. We cannot see things as they are not.

Furthermore, evolution could not make any of this true. Evolution is a process whereby the gene pools of populations change. According to changes in the environment and other factors.

Living organisms undergo countless genetic changes in every generation. You have several such genetic mutations. Although most of them do not impact your life in any noticeable way.

Those mutations that are harmful to the survival of an organism tend to be less likely to be passed down to future generations.  Survival can be  tough enough as it is. Those with a genetic disadvantage are less likely to survive to have offspring.

Natural selection is the process by which genetic changes that are beneficial to survival tend to be passed on. It favors those changes which help increase the chances of survival. While tending to weed out many of the changes that would negatively impact survival chances.

Suppose an organism was less able to perceive the world as it is. That would make it harder for that organism to deal with reality. And thus, seriously impact its chances of survival.

Such unfortunate specimens are very unlikely to have offspring. Let alone offspring that survive to have offspring.

There is no way that being unable to see reality as it is could maximize evolutionary fitness. Only those with the greatest chances of survival maximize their evolutionary fitness. Not those with pathetic to zero chances of survival.

As for evolution driving truth to extinction, that is utter nonsense. The truth is what the facts are.

Natural selection is an extremely brutal and merciless process. Those changes which objectively enhance an organism’s chances of survival are likely to be passed on.

Those which are not in line with the brutal reality of nature tend not to be passed on. Life in the wild is hard and those changes which are not in accordance with the objective needs of the organism are less likely to be passed on.

In a sense, this makes natural selection and evolution itself, heavily subservient to the truth. To the objective requirements of an organism’s survival. Not something which somehow obliterates truth.

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