Evolutionary theorist posits that evolutionary theory is not real

September 23, 2016 § 53 Comments

Given an arbitrary world and arbitrary fitness functions, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but that is just tuned to fitness.”

Now we are getting somewhere.  If evolutionary theory is true, as opposed to merely sophistry which has evolved as a political defense of metaphysically naturalist hubris, then the humans who evolved to become evolutionary theorists ‘see none of reality’.

Or, alternatively, it might just be time for some folks to check their metaphysical premises.

§ 53 Responses to Evolutionary theorist posits that evolutionary theory is not real

  • jamesd127 says:

    But the world is not arbitrary, nor are fitness functions arbitrary.

    Given that the world truly has internal logic and order, the easiest way to tune a creature to fitness is to tune it to see reality as it truly is.

    Bees are better off if able to see the beauty of beautiful flower, since beauty is likely to be a true sign of health, and healthy flower a better source of nectar.

  • dav says:

    Metaphysical premises ? Like what? The legends of Olympus? Or the folktales of Bronze Age goat herders from the Middle East?

  • caethan says:

    There was an interesting journal article from William Presd and Freeman Dyson a couple of years ago about the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. They showed that if you a fitness-maximizing agent that just does what gives it the most points can be exploited to an arbitrarily large extent by a more intelligent adversary. You just have to manipulate the rewards so that the fitness-maximizer does what you want it to. Turns out reality comes in useful occasionally.

  • Josh says:

    Dav,

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysics

    all the internet do ive ever used have had Google. Does yours not?

  • Josh says:

    two questions about the linked article:

    Isn’t this just Kant repackaged?

    Isn’t this just cant repackaged?

  • beyond taste says:

    kant can’t cant?

  • Zippy says:

    Josh:
    Yes to both.

  • Steiermark says:

    How much cant can canny Kant cant if canny Kant can cant cant?

  • Step2 says:

    It might be time to pay attention to the very end of the TED talk. While I’m not a fan of his Matrix-like ‘interface’ theory and prefer something less radical like gestalt psychology, he does limit the scope of his claims to sensory perception and excludes logic, math, and reason. Furthermore, his theory depends on the possible existence of a perception of reality as it is even if fitness pressure tends towards oversimplifying and distorting that reality for evolutionary advantage.

    Hoffman’s line: “Classic case of the male leaving the female for the bottle” was brilliant.

    How much cant can canny Kant cant if canny Kant can cant cant?

    One offenbach.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:
    Crazy people sometimes say brilliant things. And brilliant people sometimes say crazy things.

  • GJ says:

    Step2:

    he does limit the scope of his claims to sensory perception and excludes logic, math, and reason

    Using oversimplified, distorted and false premises for logical arguments is a great way to arrive at a good theory.

  • William Luse says:

    Re your opening quote from the article: he posits two creatures “of equal complexity,” but it seems to me the fittest will be an animal, not a person.

  • Zippy says:

    I do like Steiermark’s proposed tongue twister upthread, in terms of content and its perfect rhythmic mimicry of the classic Woodchuck. But it seems a little too easy to actually recite out loud to be an actual tongue twister.

  • Step2 says:

    GJ,
    If we are blaming dead philosophers for this theory blame Plato. His famous allegory of the cave, if taken literally, corresponds extremely well to Hoffman’s theory of oversimplified, distorted perception.

    The example Hoffman gave in the linked article of water volume being depicted in terms of an overly simple color scheme demonstrates some of the problem with calling the perceptions totally false. There is still a logical connection to reality despite the distortion and oversimplification; but according to his theory the organism doesn’t distinguish which of those two dangerous volumes are real – it only perceives one value. His theory doesn’t consider the possibility there might be other, partially-true perceptual clues which do convey that information.

  • Josh says:

    Canny Kant can’t cant, and he can’t can candy, and he can’t can-can, can he?

  • Zippy says:

    Now we are getting somewhere. This much disconnection from reality will doubtless confer survival benefits on our unreal genes.

  • Zippy says:

    In a way the theory creates its own self-confirming data.

    P1: True intellectual apprehension of reality wastes finite meat-based computational resources which would be better spent on reproductive fitness independent of the organism intellectually grasping reality as it actually is.

    P2: Evolutionary theory is a true intellectual apprehension of reality via meat-based computational resources.

    Therefore,

    Q: People who study evolutionary theory don’t reproduce as well as people who don’t study evolutionary theory.

    That seems to track, uh, reality. Or whatever it is that I am perceiving.

    Perhaps this is an example of God ultimately and generously giving everyone their heart’s desire. Philosophical materialists are people too.

    Artists and the like do seem to ‘unsafely’ fraternize more with the opposite sex than evolutionary theorists specifically / ‘freethinking’ (on opposite day) philosophical materialists generally.

  • Aethelfrith says:

    Evolution is what I refer to as a Dagon–an idol that keeps collapsing in the presence of Truth that its devotees need to keep propping up.

  • GJ says:

    Thinkers like Plantinga and C.S Lewis have previously argued that naturalistic evolution is a self-defeating theory on the basis that given naturalistic evolution, truth-correspondence of perception should not be selected for. The general rejoinder is precisely Step2’s line: that there must be sufficient correspondence for survival.

    The only interesting bit of this whole ‘new’ conception by Hoffman is that he’s rejected the rejoinder, using as support some relevant math and computer simulations, thereby admitting the key premise used by the Christian thinkers. (The embrace of nihilism instead of reinspecting priors is, however, all too common and banal.)

  • Zippy says:

    GJ:
    That’s good — one way to view Hoffman is just as an ‘agree and amplify’ of metaphysically realist critique of evolution. It is no accident that metaphysically realist critique predominantly arises from Christendom, as did pretty much all of natural science and probably the large majority of manmade beauty in the world.

    As one blogger recently said (I’ve lost the reference but if someone knows by all means post a link), paraphrasing: Christianity is either by far the most successful memeplex of all time, orders of magnitude more successful than any other; or, you know, true.

    Aethlefrith:
    That only a very small minority perceive evolution as the scientific theory equivalent of Monty Python’s “The Black Knight” tends to support Hoffman’s theory, I guess.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    As I mentioned earlier, your P1 does not follow from his claims which are limited to sensory perception. Be sure to keep oversimplifying and distorting his theory, there has to be a fitness advantage somewhere in that strategy.

  • Zippy says:

    All that sensory perception of creatures, laboratories, fossils, genetic experiments, textbooks, lectures, and TED talks.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    If all you got out of the list you provided is a sensory perception then you weren’t trying to intellectually apprehend those things were you?

  • Zippy says:

    Is “all you got” all you got?

    If I can’t trust the veracity of my sense perceptions, then flurgle snooft blarg vlon snifftles.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    The theory claims you can’t trust the veracity of your sense perceptions as reality in itself. I already brought up Plato’s allegory of the cave which he probably borrowed from the Pythagoreans. As you like to remind positivists, communication and signals are always open to interpretation and sometimes work at different levels of background knowledge, metaphor and even cryptography. There are mountains of evidence about how we interpret our perceptions through our knowledge, desires, and bias. Maybe you would prefer a famous biblical quote: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

  • Zippy says:

    That we are sometimes wrong about stuff is as profound as the observation — assuming its veracity — that water is wet. Like evolution more generally, it seems that the specific “theory” under discussion here – perhaps as a survival tactic – phases between obvious banality and manifest insanity.

  • Step2 says:

    Fine, according to you the thought experiments of Plato and observations of St. Paul were prone to obvious banality and manifest insanity.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:
    Hoffman either is or is not saying something interesting and new. Take your pick.

  • donnie says:

    Step2,

    Your argument looks a heck of a lot like the motte and bailey doctrine

  • donnie says:

    I’m actually a bit surprised this theory has taken so long to enter mainstream thought.

    When I was in college I didn’t believe in God and I couldn’t understand people who claimed to. I figured that if the YHWH of Abrahamic monotheism existed, He did so at a level preceding logic, and if I couldn’t comprehend or experience Him, I certainly couldn’t believe in Him – at least, not without tearing the word “belief” from its proper Bayesian context.

    But it only took me about a semester or two to realize that if I insisted on not acknowledging any precedents to logic, it was only a matter of time before I would have to entertain all sorts of absurdist notions like, “it is probable that we are sentient code within a computer simulation”, and “there is no reason to believe anything we perceive corresponds to reality, except perhaps by accident.”

    So I’m genuinely surprised it’s taken serious-thinking people this long to reach the same conclusion.

  • GJ says:

    donnie:

    Oh, they’re well aware where this line of thought leads; they’re just averse to avoid acknowledging this nihilism (one of many that result from the denial of God). For unlike embracing moral nihilism or teleological nihilism, to name some examples, embracing Hoffman’s view immediately leads to the whole Babelic edifice crashing down, so it’s not something that people who want to appear as ‘serious thinkers’ would readily do.

  • RichardP says:

    In reading the Hoffman article, this sentence stopped me cold: “That means evolution would tune the organism’s behavior …”

    I was taught that evolution has no intellect, no intention, no goal. It is totally random (in the form of mutation, environmental change, and natural selection for fitness to the new environment). Has the definition changed (serious question)?

    If the definition has not changed, then how can Hoffman’s ideas even find a foothold? There has to be some evolutionary intelligence to see that too much or too little are the same (deadly) and code them red. There has to be a goal to color them red in order to actually color them red. (I realize this was an analogy, but it was intended to have an application in real life – an application to that my thinking requires intelligence and goal seeking.)

    As long as intelligence and goal seeking are required in order to make the idea work, I thing that talking in terms of evolution is perposterous. I suppose the proof would be in whether Hoffman can describe his idea in a way that demonstrates complete randomness of outcome and no goal seeking.

    Hoffman basically posits two situations: one with thinking (perceives “reality”) and one with no thinking but is “tuned” for fitness. … And then describes “tuned” for fitness as requiring perceiving reality and devising a goal to defeat that reality (in other words, thinking and perceiving). I’m shaking my head, but I also realize that I may be missing something.

  • Zippy says:

    RichardP:
    The dissonance comes from evolution’s metaphysical attempt to make purpose arise purely by accident.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    As far as I know Hoffman is saying something interesting and new within the context of evolutionary theory. How that is in any way relevant to whether or not his theory is true escapes me at the moment.

    Hoffman’s theory cannot be fairly characterized as “sometimes being wrong about stuff”. He is making a controversial claim about sensory perception and only sensory perception. For someone who is a Thomist it should be simplicity itself to separate the concepts of sensory perception and intellectual apprehension but you’ve been conflating the two concepts. For someone who is Catholic and is required to believe in transubstantiation it should be obvious heresy to declare your sense perceptions necessarily convey essential reality. For someone who is a theist and believes in immaterial entities of many different kinds it should be deranged nonsense to imply that sensory perception illuminates fundamental aspects of reality. I hope this clarifies why I’m frustrated with your arguments so far.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    As far as I know Hoffman is saying something interesting and new within the context of evolutionary theory.

    What is that, precisely?

  • Step2 says:

    He is saying that the sensory shortcuts of evolutionary fitness can be directly exploited to the point of extinction. Mimicry and exploitation aren’t new but showing by mathematical modeling how evolution creates those vulnerabilities is new as far as I know.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    A capacity to perceive reality accurately though is (both in general and in specific instances) the opposite of being subject to mimicry, exploitation, and etc. Capacity to perceive reality accurately is a defeater of mimicry and illusion by definition.

    So again there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with how the theory has been framed metaphysically.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Step2:
    How are sciences possible if one doubts general relablity of sensory perception?

  • jamesd127 says:

    Given a completely arbitrary world, induction will not work, and evolution would not produce rational beings. Given the world as it is, induction works, and in a rational and lawful world evolution produces rational creatures that recognize laws.

  • Zippy says:

    jamesd127:
    Which evolution is that?

    The version where small numbers of beneficial genetic mutations are culled by natural selection to produce new cell types, tissues, organs, and species has been falsified by microbiological evidence. (You won’t find this trumpeted in mainstream media, just like you won’t find realtalk about racial differences and sex differences in mainstream media, or truespeak about prescription drugs, or any number of other non-PC hatefacts).

    In fact every version of evolution which is concrete enough to check by experiment has been falsified. All that remains at this point is question begging hubris papered over grade school metaphysics, as best as I have been able to determine.

  • Alex says:

    I am sorry for nosing in, especially if I am wrong. But after reading the comments, I think Step2 may be arguing something a lot more simple (if, perhaps, uninteresting) than what you seem to be assuming.

    I think (please correct me if I am wrong, Step2) he is simply saying that this evolution theory would be corroborated by how our sensory organs can be fooled by “illusions” (such as using colour and perspective to give the illusion of depth or our perception of of temperature being influenced by the temperature in which we were before.

  • Zippy says:

    Alex:
    That our senses can be fooled is uncontroversial. The metaphysical claim – as I understand it – is that failure to perceive reality accurately is advantageous, from an evolutionary perspective, over capacity to perceive reality accurately. (Or in its weaker form, capacity to accurately perceive reality conveys no evolutionary advantage).

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Here’s a different way to think about the problem:

    There’s an awful lot of reality out there to perceive. Big chunks of it (like arcane facts about the geology of the planet Mercury) aren’t very relevant to our personal, clan, or species survival. It would be unsurprising if we weren’t evolved / designed to not notice or think about such things.

    Our brain is only so big, and the world is a tricky place, so it makes sense that the brain is better adapted to knowing *those truths* which are of use to us.

    Note that this is very different from the TED talk, which strongly implies that we are evolved to believe false / misleading things in order to reproduce more successfully.

    In order to have *the complete truth* about reality in our heads, we’d have to be able to do something like solve the quantum mechanical equations for all of the matter and energy in the entire universe. This is Hard(TM), and we have a name for the singular sort of being who would be able to do this. So instead of “the complete truth”, we have very good heuristics which sacrifice a bit of accuracy for computational / cognitive tractability.

    It might make sense sometimes for a being to have less accurate information about its environment if getting the limited information was significantly cheaper in time and scarce resources than getting a more complete picture. We call this “being in a hurry.” However, getting more accurate information for the same cost should almost always be at least as good.

    Hoffman gives the example of the Earth not being flat, and that our understanding of the Earth prior to the discovery of its spherical shape being fundamentally wrong. A better way to look at this situation is to say that people in the past believed the surface of the Earth had zero curvature. Viewed this way, the ancients were pretty close to correct: the curvature was not zero, but was very, very small, such that for their purposes the flat Earth model was just fine. Indeed, we all still use the flat Earth heuristic for local navigation without difficulty.

    TLDR: This Hoffman guy is a bit funny in the head. A bit of a Gnostic?

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    Your thoughts are well stated. Perhaps Hoffman is in the grips of a kind of phenomenological (that is, applied to sense experience) version of the positivist-postmodern catastrophe: because we can’t perceive everything that is real (sensory completeness is impossible), it follows (for the phenomenological positivist) that we don’t really perceive anything that is real (sensory definiteness is impossible).

    Kant cant rebooted, as Josh suggested upthread.

    It is hard to say though. By its nature crazy can be hard to pin down.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    It is very odd that the modern scientifically oriented people believe in the models more than the reality that they themselves perceive.
    To them, the world as physics describes it, curved spacetime, fields, electrons and quarks is real and the world directly perceived–blue sky, free will– is illusion.
    It is a profound and terminal confusion when a map is real but territory an illusion.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    Capacity to perceive reality accurately is a defeater of mimicry and illusion by definition.

    Sure, but if you are stressed for time and resources the cost of that capacity might be too expensive.

    …truespeak about prescription drugs…
    Ruh roh. Please tell me you are not an anti-vaxxer.

    vishmehr24
    How are sciences possible if one doubts general relablity of sensory perception?

    I suppose it depends on much disconnect there is between sensory perception and reality. If it is a total break then science is impossible. If there is a logically consistent distortion/simplification then science retains most of its predictive ability. Counter question: How are the sciences accurate if this part of the universe is a false vacuum?

    Robert Brockman
    Note that this is very different from the TED talk, which strongly implies that we are evolved to believe false / misleading things in order to reproduce more successfully.

    While our perceptions do sway what we believe, the belief or disbelief itself is still a choice and thus far beyond the scope of evolution.

  • William Luse says:

    How are sciences possible if one doubts general relablity of sensory perception?

    I suppose it depends on much disconnect there is …

    You were drinking when you wrote that comment, weren’t you?

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:
    There is a whole “prescription drugs” category in my sidebar; though I don’t think I’ve written much on vaccines specifically.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Step2,
    “How are the sciences accurate if this part of the universe is a false vacuum?”

    I do not fully understand the question. False vaccum is one of the inferences of modern physics itself and depends upon the accuracy of the physics. That is, the concept of false vaccum itself is dubious if physics were not accurate.

  • Step2 says:

    Bill,
    Contrary to appearances and, I’m guessing, popular local belief I was sober when I wrote that comment. Let’s go back to Hoffman’s computer interface analogy. It is undoubtedly true that you do not perceive all the operations, filters, microscopic switches, electrical currents and other nitty gritty of the hardware interacting with the software. Yet because there is an underlying logical consistency in how those interact you can successfully utilize that reality and make logically correct inferences about it even though those hidden details seem vastly distorted and much more complex than the regular interface perception of “what is really happening”. If there was a flaw in the hardware or software which disrupts that logical consistency, then depending on how pervasive it is you may have limited or no utility with a large possibility of random negative effects.

    vishmehr24
    The point is physics can in principle be accurate and also indicate its own instability.

  • c matt says:

    Every time I hear some theorist saying “given x (or y or z) . . . then I am correct” it always brings to mind that joke about the economist stranded on an island trying to open a coconut “First, assume a hammer. . . “

  • […] discover that evolutionary theory combined with natural selection produces crap science.  Film at […]

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