Interesting review of the book “The non-existence of the real world” by Jan Westerhoff (link: Really? - Los Angeles Review of Books).
First three paragraphs:
WHAT DOES “REAL” MEAN? To be real is to objectively exist — to not be hypothetical, imaginary, or illusory. How could anyone possibly make the outlandish and incredible assertion, as Oxford philosopher Jan Westerhoff does in his 2020 book, The Non-Existence of the Real World , that the real world does not actually exist?
UC Irvine cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman recently explored this issue in his discussion of his 2019 book, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Hoffman explains that, contrary to popular belief, perceiving the world accurately does not give organisms a survival advantage. It seems intuitively obvious that animals who see reality as it is would be better at finding food, avoiding predators, and seeking mates — but what really matters is adaptive behavior tuned to fitness payoffs. Hoffman and his mathematician colleague, Chetan Prakash, have constructed a “Fitness-Beats-Truth Theorem” that they have tested and confirmed in multiple computer simulations. Their research has been peer-reviewed and published in academic journals. Hoffman and Prakash stress that the structures of fitness payoffs differ from the structures of objective reality. As Hoffman says, “What we normally take to be reality is, in fact, a simplified virtual reality, shaped by natural selection to guide adaptive action.” According to his interface theory of perception, each perceptual system is a user interface analogous to the desktop screen of a laptop. The icons on the desktop hide reality but deliver functionality.
Hoffman claims that evolution hid the truth from us. Westerhoff goes one step further and makes the more radical assertion that the real world does not even exist. Westerhoff’s important qualification, however, is that, by “real,” he means independent of human “cognitive activities.” Since everything we believe and experience can be considered a product of cognitive activity, mind-independent reality is unknowable, and Westerhoff’s claim appears more plausible. He acknowledges that the brain creates a representation of external objects, but “nevertheless, this representation does not have any implications for existence beyond the representational framework.” This represented world is “built around a conceptual scaffold of notions like causation, time, space, logical implication, physical, mental, abstract, concrete, and so forth.” The point is that the representation and that which it represents are two different things. For example, the objects in a dream do not have an existence outside the dream. In a dream, the brain can generate our experience of an object (presumably via a storage retrieval process) without the presence of the object. We create the representation, but we do not have direct contact with the thing represented. Ordinary daytime experiences can be thought of as dreams constrained by sensory data. In both the dreaming and waking states, our brains create a virtual reality so automatically and so perfectly that we take it to be the real thing. We are totally unaware of this ongoing reality-construction process, which is invisible to us.
Just thought it was interesting
IMO “the brain creates a representation of external objects” becomes a bit circular though, since within this philosophical framework ‘the brain’ is a part of the virtual reality / dream, and can’t really explain anything being itself illusory.
Maybe this is dealt better with in the actual book, which i haven’t read