To Reality and Beyond

Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Furthermore, our perception is influenced by what we want and what we believe. Psychologist Paul Bloom describes how not only does the same food or wine taste differently according to what we believe about it, our brain actually responds differently to it. A study showed that golfers significantly improved their putting ability when they believed the putter they were using belonged to a celebrity golfer. And multiple studies on memory implantation demonstrated how easy it to manipulate our brain and make it record and reconstruct events that never occurred, ranging from false court testimonies by “eye witnesses” to detailed personal experiences of alien abduction.

Reality is Created Inside of Me

“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Matrix

“Brains and neurons have no causal powers. They cause none of our perceptual experiences, and none of our behavior. Brains and neurons are a species-specific set of symbols, a hack.” Prof. Hoffman

The modern view in Neuroscience is that our brain constructs (or “invents”) reality. Read How, Exactly, Do Our Brains Construct Reality or watch the short clip Your Brain Perceives Reality By Hallucinating. Our brain is not a camera reflecting accurately some external universe. It is more like a mother telling her child stories intended to keep him safe and happy.

Objection! I agree that what I perceive is indeed an internal representation within my brain, and it may be flawed or biased, but it is an internal model of reality. If I see a train then there is a train out there!

Is there? What if I am dreaming? It seems real enough. When I see a train in a movie, I know the train on the screen is merely a display, but do I know if the the “real” train exists? The answer is obviously no. I recall watching Jurassic Park in 1993 with a friend who is a professional painter and has incredible visual perception. When the dinosaurs first appeared on the screen he gasped, and after a few seconds said: “wow, I don’t see any defects!”. Since then the technology in movies, computer games and VR devices has reached a level where the synthetic reality easily seems as real (or more 🙂 as physical reality.

“Welcome to Jurassic Park Scene” (Universal Pictures & Amblin Entertainment)

I wrote recently about the advances in AI. Take this real or synthetic test. Can you tell which videos are real?

There is no Objective Reality

“What is ‘real’? How do you define real?” Matrix

“We’re inclined to think that perception is like a window on reality as it is. The theory of evolution is telling us that this is an incorrect interpretation of our perceptions. Instead, reality is more like a 3D desktop that’s designed to hide the complexity of the real world and guide adaptive behavior.” Prof. Hoffman

Science is telling us that we have no direct access to reality. The attributes we ascribe to this imaginary reality, such as color, sound, touch, smell, and taste do not exist outside of us. If you still insist that an objective reality exists and that we know something about it, then you are are engaging in philosophizing, defined as “speculating or theorizing about fundamental or serious issues, especially in a tedious or pompous way.”. I prefer research.

Conclusion

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth…there is no spoon. Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is you.” Matrix

It seems that we have reached a point where our study of the external world and our study of our own consciousness are converging. It might be a good time to pause and ask: where are we?

If what we perceive as reality is just a display, what is the true reality? How can we go though the rabbit hole, decipher “the code”?

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

― Albert Einstein