Reality as Virtual Reality
Donald D. Hoffman, "Conscious Realism and the Mind/Body Problem." Mind & Matter 6.1 (2008): 87-121.* Online PDF at Donald D. Hoffman’s website, U of California, Irvine:
This paper is a good formulation of the principle of "reality as virtual reality", i.e. that reality is relative to the perceiving mechanisms of the organism, and this does not have a one-to-one or indeed any simplistic relationship to "the world out there". Hoffman likens our world to a computer interface, allowing us to operate in an efficient way a reality which is more complex than we want or need to know.
Many aspects of this theory could be formulated in terms of symbolic interactionism, and is foreshadowed in G. H. Mead’s ecological theory of perception, according to which it is the interaction between an organism and its surroundings that creates an environment, and therefore a world to be perceived, for the organism in question. This definition of environment is explained in some detail in Mead’s book Mind, Self, and Society. Mead is a major authority for this view from a perspective that Hoffman seems to be unaware of. See Mead’s complex notion of perception, and of the origin of the qualities and physical properties of things, in his essay "The Physical Thing", in The Philosophy of the Present. (My annotated Spanish translation, here, "La cosa física").
Some days ago I wrote on the kinship between Mead’s approach (and Hoffman’s too) and a founding text of materialism and empiricism: Thomas Hobbes Leviathan, which begins with a theory of perception which is interactional and projective in nature. Hobbes, a champion of materialism, may seem an unlikely candidate to put forth the Matrix-like notion that the world we inhabit and perceive is virtual, semiotic, informational and and psychic in nature, but there it is. Berkeley’s immaterialism provides perhaps the most spectacular offshoot from the premises of empiricism in this respect. Indeed, one should refer to his theory of perception or to his spiritualist theory of reality as a whole when discussing the issues posed by Hoffman’s theory of a reality made up of "multimodal user interfaces". Hoffman does away too lightly with the connections between his argument and classical idealism; it would be more fruitful to address them than to ignore or dismiss them. As it stands, his claim that objects or phenomena in the world exist only as long as they are experienced takes us back (with a productive difference, but also with a vengeance) to Berkeley’s esse est percipi.
Elsewhere I have spoken of the "augmented reality" theory of perception, or of the "projective" theory of perception, likening our relationship of the world (to put it bluntly) more to a film projector than to a camera. Hoffman likewise criticizes the "camera" theory of perception, under the name of the "Hypothesis of Faithful Depiction" or perception. In another of his papers ("The Construction of Visual Reality") he puts in a more succint way the basic evolutionary grounding of this notion: truth as such need not be a useful evolutionary asset: usefulness is more useful than truth. As such, this has an intuitive plausibility, given that surely nothing can be more useful than usefulness.
But this raises some issues as to whose truth and whose usefulness we are speaking of, and these are not much addressed by Hoffman. From the standpoint of a theory of topsight, we can bring out the hidden observer in the theory. Because there is a hidden term in Hoffman’s equation: otherwise usefulness and truth would be indistinguishable. Truth is the analyst’s truth, the scientist’s truth, or human truth, the truth of the bearer of topsight, as contrasted with a more limited subject’s notion of truth. And that truth, true truth, not a merely locally usable truth, is the most useful, indeed, in its own context and for its own purposes, those of theoretical explanation in the context of a scientific or philosophical analysis of perception. The analyst is taking into account the possibility of many different perceptual systems, priorities, or analytical projects, and this leads to the distinction between truth and usefulness. Seen this way, truth is analytic usefulness.
Follow the links for further reflections on related subjects. All subjects are related to the subject of the stuff of reality (i.e. such stuff as dreams are made on).
Here is a list of my Spanish papers on the subject of reality as virtual or augmented reality:
García Landa, José Angel. "La caverna del cerebro: El lenguaje como realidad virtual." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 31 Aug. 2009.* (Kenneally, origin of language, Terrence Deacon, Julian Jaynes).
_____. "La Caverna del cerebro: El lenguaje como realidad virtual." Ibercampus 3 Sept. 2009.*
_____. "La Caverna del cerebro: El lenguaje como realidad virtual." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 18 March 2015.*
_____. "Interacciones en la interfaz digital/real." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 17 Nov. 2009.* (Pranav Mistry, SixthSense).
_____. "La vida es sólo fantasía." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 28 April 2011.* (Zambrano, Sánchez Vidal, Ana María Matute, self-making, virtual reality).
_____. "Viendo el mundo con la mente." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 25 June 2011.*
_____. "Realidad de mentira." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 6 July 2011.* (García Calvo).
_____. "Reading as Virtual Reality." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 5 June 2012.* (Polybius, Gottschall).
_____. "Construcción del espacio-tiempo humano." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 19 Jan. 2011.*
_____. "Cárceles y mundos de la mente." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 28 Aug. 2013.*
_____. "El Gran Juego." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 2 Feb. 2014.* (Arsuaga and Martín-Loeches).
_____. "Mover cosas con la mente." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 6 April 2014.*
_____. "Gustavo Bueno, ’Estroma’." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 25 May 2014.*
_____. "Estromas, marcos, y virtualidad de lo real." Ibercampus (Vanity Fea) 25 May 2014.*
_____. "Terror metafísico y otros problemas con la realidad." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 25 July 2014.* (Berger & Luckmann).
_____. "Interaction as Reality-Maintenance." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 28 July 2014.* (Berger & Luckmann).
_____. "Interaction as Reality-Maintenance." Ibercampus (Vanity Fea) 29 July 2014.*
_____. "Montaigne y la construcción social de la realidad." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 12 Aug. 2014.* (Berger & Luckmann).
_____. "Montaigne y la construcción social de la realidad." Ibercampus (Vanity Fea) 12 Aug. 2014.*
_____. "Leave Not a Rack Behind." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 8 Oct. 2014.*
_____. "On shared universes." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 19 Dec. 2014.*
_____. "La autointeracción, la realimentación cerebral, y la realidad como expectativa autocumplida." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 16 April 2015.*
_____. "Bucles en la mente: Autointeracción, retroalimentación cerebral, y la realidad como expectativa autocumplida." Ibercampus 20 April 2015.*
_____. "Bucles en la mente: Autointeracción, retroalimentación cerebral, y la realidad como expectativa autocumplida." Social Science Research Network 10 May 2015.*
Psychological Anthropology eJournal 10 May 2015.*
Biological Anthropology eJournal 10 May 2015.*
Human Cognition in Evolution and Development 10 May 2015.*
Metaphysics eJournal 10 May 2015.*
_____. "La proyección mental de la realidad." In García Landa, Vanity Fea 21 March 2015.*
_____. "’Lo mismo despiertos, que soñando’: Hobbes sobre la virtualidad de lo real." Ibercampus (Vanity Fea) 12 Aug. 2015.*