Rethinking Reality With Cognitive Scientist Donald Hoffman

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This episode is for you science nerds (and I include myself in that category). I speak with Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine who has been studying visual perception for over 40 years.

His research has led him to some intriguing and compelling theories about our ability (or inability) to see a true picture of reality -- and even about the nature of reality itself. His TED Talk “Do We See Reality As It Is” has garnered over 3 million total views on TED.com and YouTube.

In our conversation, we talk about two subjects I find endlessly fascinating and think about quite often: Perception and evolution. What does one have to do with the other, you might ask? 

In this episode, Don explains his controversial Interface Theory of Perception and brings forth compelling and rigorous scientific evidence to address this question and others, such as:

  •  Do we see a true picture of reality?
     
  • What is the nature of reality?
     
  • Do objects exist even when we're not looking?
     
  • What are the practical implications if his theory proves to be true?

We also touch on some of the arguments against his theory, which I found super interesting.

Other Topics We Cover

If you find this subject matter is too dense for you, don't worry -- we also talk about more intuitive topics like:
 

  • The relationship between science and religion
     
  • What certain Eastern religions have in common with his scientific theory
     
  • Don's antidote to anxiety
     
  • Why anxiety is normal and how it has helped our species survive
     
  • His hope for the future of science
     
  • What makes science such a powerful tool

(If you want to jump to this part of the conversation, start at around 43:50).

Fair warning: Don is a super intelligent guy and this interview does get a little dense in some parts (like when we talk about string theory and the future of spacetime). But if you’re a curious soul like I am, I assure you, it is absolutely worth the cognitive investment. Personally, I had to listen to this interview several times to really absorb some of the concepts that went over my head the first time around.

I think you are going to find this conversation fascinating and thought-provoking, just as I did. However, you may find that you end up with more questions than answers. Alas! Such is the nature of these deep topics. So, prepare your cognitive faculties and get ready for some head-spinning theories...

Hope you like this episode! Let me know what you think in the comments below :)

Selected Links and Resources From The Episode

Confirmation bias

Large Hadron Collider

Don's TED Talk, "Do We See Reality As It Is?"

Visual Perception by Donald D. Hoffman

Do We See Reality? by Donald D. Hoffman (book coming soon)

The Enigma of Reason by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber


People mentioned:

Albert Einstein

Theoretical physicist Edward Witten

Physicist Niels Bohr

Theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson


Ruben Chavez is a writer, personal development educator, and host of The Think Grow Podcast. His Instagram account, ThinkGrowProsper, has amassed over 3 million followers. Along with his blog, these platforms are his way of inspiring and connecting with thoughtful, creative, and ambitious people just like you.