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Perception Deception

Do we perceive reality as it is?
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One of the deepest problems in epistemology is how we know the nature of reality. Over the millennia philosophers have offered many theories, from solipsism (only one’s mind is known to exist) to the theory that natural selection shaped our senses to give us an accurate, or veridical, model of the world. Now a new theory by University of California, Irvine, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman is garnering attention. (Google his scholarly papers and TED talk with more than 1.4 million views.) Grounded in evolutionary psychology, it is called the Interface Theory of Perception (ITP) and argues that percepts act as a species-specific user interface that directs behavior toward survival and reproduction, not truth.

Hoffman’s computer analogy is that physical space is like the desktop and that objects in it are like desktop icons, which are produced by the graphical user interface (GUI). Our senses, he says, form a biological user interface—a gooey GUI—between our brain and the outside world, transducing physical stimuli such as photons of light into neural impulses processed by the visual cortex as things in the environment. GUIs are useful because you don’t need to know what is inside computers and brains. You just need to know how to interact with the interface well enough to accomplish your task. Adaptive function, not veridical perception, is what is important. (continue reading…)

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Shermer on The Colbert Report

Being interviewed (if that’s what you can call it) by the inimitable Stephen Colbert was one of the wilder experiences of my career. I would imagine by now that most readers of eSkeptic know that Comedy Central’s hit series The Colbert Report features the comedian Stephen Colbert playing a role that is largely a parody of Bill O’Reilly and The O’Reilly Factor. Exaggerating the extremes of the conservative position on nearly everything, Colbert gets in his hilarious digs by arguing against liberals and liberalism. Well, words don’t do the show justice. You just have to see it. Anyway, I was on last Tuesday night. The show is taped in New York. (continue reading…)

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