My recent obsession is: After On , a technical podcast just nerds over everything from synthetic biology to consciousness to AI (naturally).
The Episode with Don Hoffman, about reality being bonkers was especially fascinating. I started to ponder what reality actually is.
I’ll bring in some of the ideas from the podcast, but by no means is this post a replacement for the podcast episode 26: Reality Isn’t. My goal is to provide captivating insights.
Remember when the earth was flat and center of the universe? Dead wrong.
If you look outside, and in the sky, it seems intuitive that the earth is flat and the center of the universe.
Implication: our fast-thinking brain misses out on crucial details/information.
Don Hoffman has an entirely different way of thinking about reality (and spoiler: it’s not intuitive).
What’s Don thinkin’?
TL;DR: Don thinks the world we see is like a computer desktop. It has a bunch of icons that let us interact with reality (software), but these icons aren’t actually reality.
For example, the trash can on your computer isn’t a trash can. It represents the notion of removing something (say a folder, which, shocker, isn’t actually a folder) from existence. There’s a lot more of a complicated transaction going on behind the scenes in the computer’s software, but, as users, we see a simplified version.
So, look around you. Your sock is no more a “sock” than the trash can on your computer is a trash can.
Don’s view argues that our heads are the virtual reality engines. We’re programming the world.
If we look around us: everything we see is only one-ten-trillionth of what actually exists. Visible light is a tiny tiny teeny weeny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum.
We used to think the brain was deconstructing reality (take in info, like visible light, and make sense of it); but it might actually be constructing it.
Our visual cortex takes up 1/3 of the brain.
This amount of computation is more than enough processing power to create a photograph and understand image. We have machines right now that understand and deconstruct images no-problemo.
And, we’ve only been able to stimulate 1 second of the human brain to date. So, it shouldn’t take the 1/3 of the brain to do what modern day computer vision can accomplish. The complexity of the cortex triggered this new theory: we might not be using our brains to understand what is around us(otherwise the VC would be 1% of its current size). We’ve been wearing the goggles the whole time 😎.
Right now, I’m sitting looking out of a balcony in Serbia. Or maybe not? I could be staring at some nine-dimensional forceful figure, that my eyes take in the EM waves to then program my understanding of a balcony. It does so in a way to make my surroundings feel real.
Sky looks pretty blue to me.
Is everything around us a radical simplification of the universe?
We’ve never actually been able to see a subatomic particle. We don’t understand the things around us at the core level. Who knows what the world inside an atom looks like?
Too keep things short and classy 🎶, I’ll give simplified versions of these three observations. But, I’ll provide links & resources for your brain to go on an internet exploration journey. Vaminos!
Aka “melding of senses.”
People with synesthesia have funky experiences and correlations when it comes to their senses.
For example, they might see specific colours float through the air when they hear certain words. Or whenever they think of “numbers,” they have their own colours: 1 is blue, 2 is red, 3 is purple and so on.
Another example is when they taste different flavours (bitter, spicy, sour, etc…), they might feel different objects. Like a basket of flowers, coldness, or spikes. In their hands, they’ll be experiencing a different and weird — unrelated reality.
There are tons of examples of synesthesia, these were just a few to name. The implication is: not everyone experiences the same reality. Synesthesia is a [supposedly] neurological, which supports the argument of our brains creating reality around us.
Further readings: Background , Neurology , recent news … enjoy the hole 🕳
Double Slit Experiment
The famous is light a particle-or-wave quantum comfuzzlment. (Pretty sure I just made a world but let’sblame quantum mechanics).
If you want the technical bits to the experiment, watch here.
When a wave is passed through a screen with two slits, it causes an interference pattern, alternatively particles cause a double straight line pattern.
When we let photons (smallest unit of light) go through the screen with two slits, we will always see the interference pattern. Which is unexpected because photons are supposed to be particles and exhibit the particle pattern.
Scientists wanted to see ‘what’s up’ so they went to “measure” the particles before the slit, to see what naughty business is going on 🤓. When they get a deeper look, the photons stop doing the whacky wave stuff — they created the particle pattern. WHAT!
The particles change their reality — which means that objective reality (that is, the world around us), at a quantum level, can completely change any freaking second. Photons will change their pattern if observed. However, if we let them do their thing (without trying to observe the quantum naughty business) they’ll be all silly. It’s like they’re watching…
But the world we see doesn’t change much; the Eiffel tower doesn’t become the CN tower at random. Our world is constant, which doesn’t work with quantum mechanics. So, our world could be re-imagined. 😶
Dive into QuAnTuM: double slit video here…
Split Brain Experiments
People with “split brains” go through an operation that cut their corpus callosum (which is the cord that connects your left and right hemispheres of the brain.) The surgery is for people with epilepsy, to prevent the spread of their “epileptic seizures” across the 🧠.
Scientists experimented with split brain patients and concluded that we have 2 “minds” with different personalities which fuse their inputs to create a bigger picture(reality).
One experiment took a split brain patient and showed them the word: key ring.
It was a paper with key to the left, ring to the right, and a plus sign in the middle. Like: KEY + RING.
The brain is also not intuitive; the right controls the left side of the body, and the left controls the right.
What the study found is that, when then showed the patients the paper, and were asked to recall the word, all of them said “RING”. When they were asked what type of ring, they shrugged.
This made a lot of sense because the left brain, which is responsible for speech, only saw the right side (aka RING). Since there is no connection, the right could not send its inputs.
After they gave patients a box of different items. They were asked to pull out the word they read with their left hand (controlled by the right brain).They pulled out the key from the box, not the ring.
This is because the left hand (controlled by right brain) didn’t see the word ring.
There’ve been tons of similar studies the point out that there are two different conscious minds.