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Hoffman's Conscious Realism:
A Critical Review

3. Interface Theory of Perception (ITP)

3.1 What's Good about ITP

Book cover: Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett

In the previous section, I examined the shortcomings of Hoffman et al's attempt to show that the mathematical simulation of evolutionary processes proves that veridical perception is beaten to extinction in favour of a strict interface strategy. In that section, I dealt with some of the methodological and conceptual challenges facing how the Fitness Beats Truth (FBT) simulation is framed. Hoffman's Interface Theory of Perception (ITP) is a natural corollary of his FBT Theorem as it spells out explicitly the relation between what is perceived and the perceiver. His ITP extrapolates beyond the perceptual inabilities of the highly simplified players in his team's mathematical games to the limitations of highly developed creatures like you and me. To illustrate his ITP, Hoffman relies on a computer analogy. He and his team put it like this:

Suppose that there is a blue rectangular icon in the upper right corner of the desktop for a text file that you are editing. Does this mean that the text file itself is blue, rectangular, or in the upper right corner of the laptop? Of course not. Anyone who thinks so misunderstands the purpose of the desktop interface. No features of the icon are identifiable with any features of the file in the computer. Moreover, one would be hard pressed to find a natural sense in which the icon is a veridical representation of the file. However, the icon is intended to guide useful behaviors. If, for instance, you drag the blue icon to the trash you can delete the text file; if you drag it to the icon for an external drive, you can copy the file.

[Hoffman et al 2015a: 1484]

Even though Hoffman's ITP is underpinned by the game theory used in his FBT Theorem and thus stands or falls with it, his use of the computer analogy has come in for separate criticism. It is to those objections that I will turn to in this section.

Let me start by saying that I have a lot of sympathy with Hoffman's ITP, as do many, if not most, neuroscientists. What he writes about how our perception of the physical world is mediated is not remarkable given what neuroscientists have known for several decades about the neural cognitive processes behind illusions and the top-down processing of sensory information. Reflecting this dominant line of research, I think prominent neuroscientist Metzinger puts it well when he writes:

... a fruitful way of looking at the human brain, therefore, is as a system which, even in ordinary waking states, constantly hallucinates at the world, as a system that constantly lets its internal autonomous simulational dynamics collide with the ongoing flow of sensory input, vigorously dreaming at the world and thereby generating the content of phenomenal experience

[Metzinger 2003: 52]

One point that I will be driving home in this section is that the fact that our perceptions of the external world are mediated by a range of factors does not preclude them from being 'veridical' in any ordinary or technical sense of the term. Realism about external mind-independent objects cannot be so easily dismissed.

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