Objects are not even what they don’t appear to be

considerations, from evolutionary biology and quantum physics, suggest that current models of object perception require fundamental reformulation

natural selection often drives true perceptions to extinction when they compete with perceptions tuned to fitness rather than truth

Certain interpretations of quantum theory deny that dynamical properties of physical objects have definite values when unobserved

Objects of consciousness – A paper by Donald Hoffman and Chetan Prakash challenges the notion of perceptions approximating reality. It describes one of the boldest (to the point of feeling kooky) conjectures I have read in a while. However, there are no great objections to it yet. They have also been laudably transparent with their somewhat simple but powerful mathematical formalism. A more recent TED talk.

We generally believe that things contain atoms that we do not see, and are okay with this. However, we do believe that with the right magnifying glass we can get closer and closer to the *true* nature of things and at some point we will have it. This axiom that eventually seeing things as they really are is a biological given is an article of faith and does not necessarily have to be true. In fact, the authors suggest that our cognitive apparatus to see things has evolved to enable behavior that maximizes the survival of our genes and almost certainly conceal the truth to make it so. They suggest that the truth of how things are is cognitively “hacked” to provide an “interface” to the True world. The “interface” allows us to quickly behave so as to maximize reproductive success and survival.

They propose a purely mathematical framework to build a theory of all that is starting from conscious agents.

A diagram of a conscious agent. A conscious agent has six components as illustrated here. The maps P, D, and A can be thought of as communication channels.

We have taken some first steps by (1) proposing the formalism of conscious agents, (2) using that formalism to find solutions to the combination problem of consciousness, and (3) sketching how the asymptotic dynamics of conscious agents might lead to particles and space-time itself. Much work remains to flesh out this account. But if it succeeds, H. sapiens might just replace object permanence with objects of consciousness.

Could this be the gateway to a post-modern integration of physics and biology, not to mention psychology? It is hard to say No just yet, and impossible to say Yes. Lots more simulation will be needed to reproduce results of countless numbers of “physical” experiments. I do find the graph theoretical framework encouraging because it will likely make very good use of massive scale computation and data.

It also is a completely fresh and constructionist way of approaching the integration of objective and subjective accounts without dogmatic rhetoric of one form or another. A “killer-app” of the theory that could make some bold and verifiable prediction – impossible with our current physical theories – would really shake things up. Exciting stuff.

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