Let’s go a bit further down the rabbit hole today.
As regular readers of this blog know, I often say reality is an illusion. Our brains did not evolve to give us truth. Our brains simply evolved to give us little movies that we treat as truth. According to this way of thinking, nothing exists – or nothing exists the way we perceive it – including science itself.
Oh, and your brain probably doesn’t exist either, at least not in any shape and form you imagine to be real.
That stuff sounds crazy, I know. But today I point you to the work of a real scientist, Donald Hoffman, who does a better job describing the illusion you think is your life. You should read it. It will change your life, or at least your experience of it.
When I was in my twenties, I started seeing reality as probability and illusion. In my imaginary world – which is the only world I perceive – when you get an important email, for example, the message in the email is variable until the moment you read it. The email doesn’t become “real” to your mind until you observe its contents.
Yes, that is actually how I observe the world and how I interact with it. I literally assume nothing is real until observed, and even then it only becomes the backstory to my movie that isn’t real either. And yet my world works just as well as yours, if not better.
For example, you probably thought you could not become a famous cartoonist and writer because you have no special artistic talent and you have never taken college classes in writing. That described my starting point too, and it would stop a rational person from even attempting the career I have now. But unlike rational people, I don’t see the world as an objective truth. I see it as a movie I am writing as I go. So I wrote some scenes in which I get rich and famous and develop six-pack abs.
I’ll turn 59 in June. How’s this level of fitness possible, you ask? Well, the 2D explanation is that I systematically replaced my need to use willpower with both knowledge and habit formation. I explain that simple process in my book that talks more generally about using systems instead of goals.
But the other explanation is that none of my reality is real. I just steer my imagination to the perception I desire, creating my own movie and then living in it. Under that worldview, affirmations – the act of writing down what you want 15 times a day – is nothing more than the user interface for steering your perceptions to the movie you want.
Now let’s talk about the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my career. In my book The Dilbert Future, published in 1997, I predicted that Donald Hoffman’s description of reality (or something of that flavor) would replace our current understanding. I predicted that we would come to see time itself as perception and not reality. And by that way of thinking, nothing is real, including science itself. So far, so good.
But then I did a dumb thing.
I branded my prediction.
And by branding I mean I made the prediction sexier to get more attention. It doesn’t excite people when I say science itself is an illusion. That seems too general. So I picked a subtopic of science that gets more attention, just to stand out with my prediction.
I picked evolution, because people would notice that.
I predicted that science would debunk evolution in our lifetime, in favor of some sort of Donald Hoffman view of the universe. My reasoning was that if all of reality is an illusion, and science is part of our perceived reality, it follows that all the branches of science are illusions as well. Evolution is just one of the branches.
In the standard model of science, horses and zebras evolved from a common ancestor. But in the Hoffman view of the world (and mine), neither the zebra nor the horse actually exist. So neither of them evolved anywhere except in your minds.
My big mistake was not accounting for confirmation bias. The pro-evolution folks saw my critique of evolution as some sort of creationist hypothesis in disguise because that’s what they expected from their “enemies.” I was accused of being ignorant of science (which is largely true) and I was practically disemboweled on the Internet for “providing cover” to the intelligent design crowd. My prediction about evolution isn’t the smartest thing I have ever done.
But fast-forward to today, and now we have two competing hypotheses to replace the standard theory of evolution. One is David Hoffman’s vision of a world that is mostly imagined and beyond our ability to understand. The other is my oft-described idea that we are one of perhaps billions of software simulations created by some original species. (I didn’t invent that idea.) But in both worldviews, zebras and horses are not real. So evolution makes no sense in those models.
This post should bring out the outragists, especially the one I call the Bearded Taint. Expect to see me quoted out of context in the comments so it looks like I hate science, babies, women, and kittens. That has been their pattern so far. Look especially for the “point-by-point takedown” that is a tell for cognitive dissonance. That process involves many quotes taken out of context to create a greater sense of circumstantial evidence.
So just to be clear, my view is that if science is real, so is evolution. I’m pro-science and pro-evolution in the movie I am playing in my mind. But if science is not real – because nothing is real – then the subtopics of science are illusions like everything else.
That’s what I meant nineteen years ago when I wrote The Dilbert Future. I hope I described it better this time.
Update: Neil deGrasse says the universe might be a simulation. Weirdly, that story is also out today.