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20230108 – The Case Against Reality



The main point that the author makes in this book is that humans do not really perceive the external world as an objective reality. Evolution formed human perception not based on the search for truth but on survival. The author even presents the formal definition of this idea:” “Fitness-Beats-Truth” (FBT) theorem, which states that evolution by natural selection does not favor true perceptions—it routinely drives them to extinction. Instead, natural selection favors perceptions that hide the truth and guide useful action.” After this very realistic and reasonable approach, the author deviates into the less reasonable discussion of the unreality of spacetime, the primacy of consciousness over matter, which he bases on some particulars of quantum mechanics and other fashionable stuff. Finally, the author presents the idea of conscious realism and defines its ambition and objectives this way:” Conscious realism makes a bold claim: consciousness, not spacetime and its objects, is fundamental reality and is properly described as a network of conscious agents. To earn its keep, conscious realism must do serious work ahead. It must ground a theory of quantum gravity, explain the emergence of our spacetime interface and its objects, explain the appearance of Darwinian evolution within that interface, and explain the evolutionary emergence of human psychology.


I wholeheartedly agree with the FBT theorem and find many examples of its application presented in this book quite interesting. However, in more complex situations that humanity encountered a few hundred years ago when it achieved limits of expansion within the natural environment, a more sophisticated approach had to be developed in order to overcome the Malthusian trap.  This approach is called science, and it allows for overcoming human perception faults by implementing multiple sensor technologies and automated analysis of results. Consequently, science allows indirect perception of objective reality by putting human subjective perception out of the processing loop. However, I think it is just a misnomer to seek the existence of consciousness outside of the human head, either at the quantum level or as a product of social networks. The quantum part is mainly a meaningless exercise in complex mathematical modeling. At the same time, social consciousness is just an expression of refusal to accept the complexity of interaction between a multitude of human individuals, each of which thinks and acts in some distinctive way and, therefore, cannot be managed without direct violence of force or indirect violence of resource denial. Finally, the author’s discussion of religion and science leads to a typical attempt to combine two separate and incompatible approaches to modeling human life and the universe around it in some kind of all-inclusive intellectual construct. I think that it is just not needed. Humans are pretty capable of living with two separate models in their heads at the same time, using whichever better fit to support their needs at the moment. So, there is no problem with scientists effectively working with materials dated in millions of years and believing in the Bible that defines the universe’s age as 6,000 years. It creates cognitive dissonance only if one needs consistency between models. However, if one looks at these models just as a tool of life, then he would use science to do what it is good at: predict what will happen in the future based on conditions observable now while using religion to connect with others, overcome life’s challenges, and obtain the support of a cohesive group of co-believers.             


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