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Theory of perception without external objects

Posted May 26, 2014
Does our perception work like a human-computer interface?

Does our perception work like a human-computer interface? Image source: LSE Library/Flickr

No one doubts that external objects exist. Almost no one… Two researchers from California attempts to develop a philosophical theory of perception which does not posit things independent of our consciousness.

Cognitive scientist Daniel D. Hoffman and mathematician Chetan Prakash think that our perception works similarly to the desktop of Windows interface.

First of all, they try to deal with the fact that belief in the external world is so well-established in our common-sense psychology. If this fundamental belief is incorrect, why it was endorsed by natural selection at all? The researchers claim that evolutionary forces do not necessarily choose beliefs, which are true. Beliefs which enhance fitness are selected instead. “It favours perceptions that are fast, cheap, and tailored to guide behaviours needed to survive and reproduce. Perception is not about truth, it’s about having kids,” the scientists explain. These claims are well supported by various computer simulations such as genetic algorithms or Monte Carlo simulations of evolutionary game theory.

But how then our perception works? “Developments in computer technology have provided a convenient and helpful metaphor: the desktop of a windows interface,“ the scholars say. Basically, space and time are like computer desktop. Discrete objects which we perceive everyday are like icons on this desktop. They are just useful links, but they should not resemble the “real files”. “Indeed, a critical function of the interface is to hide the truth. Most computer users don’t want to see the complexity of the integrated circuits, voltages, and magnetic fields that are busy behind the scenes when they edit a file,” the researchers elaborate.

In their article, published on Frontiers in Psychology, they develop a mathematical theory of conscious agents which is intended to account for cognition without positing external objects. Prakash and Hoffman said that they wanted a theory of consciousness qua consciousness, i.e., of consciousness on its own terms, not as something derivative or emergent from a prior physical world.

Article: Hoffman D.D. and Prakash C., 2014, Objects of consciousness., Frontiers in Psychology. 5:577. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00577, source link.

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