Lately, I have become fixated on the idea that the world we live in and interact with is not as it seems. Many have seen the movie The Matrix. The themes in the movie have in some ways become a part of our culture. The idea that we may be living in a holographic world is becoming mainstream. It is clear that what Homo Sapiens perceive as the world is not how it actually is. A simple example would be a dog whistle. We can’t hear it but our dogs can. Another simple example would be x-rays. We cannot see them, but, we know they exist because of the effects of long-term, exposure to them.
The Interface Theory of Perception
One of the most interesting theories of how distorted our view of reality comes from the cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman, at the University of California, Irvine. In fact, Mr. Hoffman’s theory is so radical that it can be hard to grasp. I will do my best to explain it. The basis of his theory is that the world we interact with, such as the chair you may be sitting on or the device that you are reading this through are more like desktop icons. They are a representation but not the actual physical item. Through our perception, we assemble these items from data. Think of the lines of code from The Matrix movie. Our senses and the corresponding brain areas construct them. Now a question you may have is if each of us constructs the physical world through our senses why do we see and interact with the same objects. The answer would be that although we may look different between races and cultures, our brains all work the same. Your optical cortex is almost exactly structured as my optical cortex is with perhaps some slight variances. Therefore, we perceive similar objects the same. Our senses and brain construct them the same way. So a chair appears as a chair to you as it does to me. Although we might not see the same colors. The color red may have different tint than mine. We have no way of knowing that just yet. However, some people have radically different perceptions. These people possess a quality which is known as synesthesia. About 4% of the population possess this trait. This trait causes those who have it to see a sound or smell a color. For example, someone, when they see the letter B, would actually associate it with the color red. Or someone who may hear a sound would get the sensation of feeling. This isn’t just something they imagine in their mind it is real to them. Is someone who has a different perception because of the synesthesia any less accurate or valid than someone who does not. We must remember that we were designed through evolution. The body and brain you use to interact with the world was put together over the course of millions of years. In fact, it is still evolving. Our brains are getting smaller. This most likely is due to the invention of farming on a large scale. Our ancestors around 20,000 years ago who were primarily hunter/gathers and lived in smaller groups had bigger brains. The mass that has been lost is about the equivalent of a tennis ball. Natural selection is not concerned about intelligence or personality. It is a system that adapts and adjusts to keep species alive at least long enough to reproduce. For those who question evolution it is time to move on. It is not only intuitive, it just makes sense, and it has been proven mathematically. If you still cling to the Creationism theory it is time to let that go. It is a story or myth to convey a message. It is not how things happen. If you need proof beyond math think of germs and how quickly they adapt and change against stronger antibiotics. That is evolution.
What Mr. Hoffman is ultimately saying is that the physical world is not the foundation. Consciousness is the foundation. In other words, consciousness does not arise from matter. Matter arises from consciousness. Donald Hoffman and his colleges are working to prove it scientifically. They are putting together a science of consciousness through rigorous testing and advanced mathematical equations.
If you want to learn more about Donald Hoffman's theory, I will encourage you to watch his TED talk.
What does this mean for mindfulness?
If his theory proves to be accurate than this is another reason to practice meditation and mindfulness. If we seek an accurate picture of reality as it, that is of course if we are able to. We wouldn’t expect chimpanzees to understand quantum physics. Maybe we cannot grasp reality as it is. Well, then we must get control of that of the grey matter in our heads to see reality as best as we are able to, all the while knowing that we are living in an illusion. Perhaps future Homo Sapiens will be able to see reality as it is. We must not forget that natural selection is working right now, but she is a slow taskmaster. Regardless, you must be able to slow down your mind and observe it if you want to understand it.
What I find most fascinating about the potential for a science of consciousness is that one day we may have a better understanding of this elusive thing called consciousness. The hard question of conscious that science has never been able to answer, will be answered. But we have to start asking the right questions.