Review of “The Case Against Reality,” by Donald D. Hoffman

As you can see from the book cover, the entire title was a lot longer than the title of this post. I heard an interview with the author on Lex Fridman’s podcast, and I was intrigued because I’m working on a novel (i.e. fiction) with a similar theme. This book is not a work of fiction (at least, not explicitly), however, but an overview of multidisciplinary research by the author and several collaborators on Evolutionary Biology, with a focus on Evolutionary Psychology. That got my attention because I think that is an oxymoron: Evolutionary Psychology–give me a break!

The book is well written, or else it had a good editor. (I think that Hoffman probably didn’t need a lot of corrections.)

I am not qualified to comment on the validity of his research or his conclusions. He is very honest about voicing criticisms made by his peers; however, his dismissal of their complaints is a bit too quick and unconvincing. The second major complaint I have is that the subtitle, How evolution hid the truth from our eyes, is repeated so often (often as a refutation of criticism) that it begins to sound like a mantra. Just keep saying it and you will believe. Who is he trying to convince?

He saves the quantitative basis of his work for the appendix. I would have appreciated more of a discussion of the unenumerated parameters his “mathematical” model incorporates to represent choices made by virtual “beings” in his game-theory-based model, which he declines to describe in adequate detail for the supposed semi-literate reader of the book to comprehend. I think he doesn’t want to say the obvious: he ran thousands of simulations, tweaking parameters, until he got the result he wanted. This is not scientifically unethical–by no means–but it is disingenuous, especially when presented to the non-expert as a scientific result.

For someone who has read a variety of “non-fiction” books on psychology and neuroscience (both medically and computationally based), the sickeningly common references to apples, vision, evolution “choosing,” and so on, are filler. Boilerplate. Nevertheless, his conjecture that our perceptions are nothing more than an interface with reality is interesting; however, until his research produces more than an infinity of simulated results using a model of (admitted) simplicity, his conclusions remain nothing more than speculation. To Hoffman’s credit, he admits this openly; but dismisses it just as quickly.

How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?

I don’t know and don’t care because I don’t believe in angels…

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