Science is a consistent tradition of discoveries, each of which shows, in its own way, that reality is radically different from the way we perceive it. Physics is the most sophisticated conspiracy theory. At one time, for example, we thought the Earth was flat, because that’s what it looks like. We were similarly convinced by appearance that our planet is at the center of the cosmos and that the stars orbit around it. Or that highly complex organs such as wings and eyes did not develop randomly.
The great insights of science repeatedly contradict our common sense. Moreover, the more we know, the more acute the nonsensicalness becomes. According to modern science, solid matter is actually empty, a particle can leap from one point to another without passing through what’s in between, there are influences that come from the future to the present, and so on and so forth.
Three new propositions – deriving from the study of cognition, from theoretical physics and from the philosophy of science – stretch to the limit our perceptual horizon. One maintains that reality is necessarily different from the way we perceive it; the second, that the laws of nature themselves are only an invention; and according to the third, reality, the laws of nature and we, too, do not even exist. It’s advisable to hold on tight while reading – except that there seems to be nothing to hold onto.
Consciousness as interface
In a series of scientific articles that have resonated widely, beginning in 2015, cognition researcher Donald Hoffman from the University of California, Irvine (in association with the mathematician Chetan Prakash) proposed a model called “the interface theory of perception.” According to the theory, nothing in reality remotely resembles our perception of it, because our perception is not reality-oriented.
The accepted hypothesis is that an organism with a poor perception of reality has less prospect of transmitting its genes onward; accordingly, every perceptual system across the ages has developed so that what it apprehends will largely match what actually exists. The real is also the useful, the biologists thought. But it turns out that that’s almost never the case. Hoffman and Prakash ran hundreds of thousands of computer simulations to examine paths of evolutionary development in imaginary worlds. They found that reality-oriented strategies of perception are extremely rare, and even if they arise by chance, they are usually quickly snuffed out.