Metaphysics & Psychology
Are we all living in a 'conceptual prison' ?
By T.K. Randall
September 5, 2016 · 18 comments
How much of reality are we actually capable of perceiving ? Image Credit: sxc.hu
Our brains may actually perceive only a fraction of reality to help ensure the survival of our species.
It might be difficult to imagine experiencing the world around us with a greater degree of perception than what we are accustomed to, especially given that we ourselves tend to assume that we already possess the pinnacle of conceptual awareness, yet by looking at some of the other species we share our world with it is possible to get an idea of the limitations that may, and probably do, exist.
The Australian jewel beetle for instance spent millions of years reproducing in the same way, but when humans appeared on the scene and started discarding empty beer bottles on the ground, the beetles were unable to distinguish between those and a potential mate - a perceptual limitation that almost resulted in the extinction of their entire species.
When it comes to humans therefore, are we really any different ? According to cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, mankind may also be locked within a similarly restrictive conceptual prison.
"Evolution isn't about truth, it's about making kids," he said. "Every bit of information that you process costs calories, meaning that's more food you need to kill and eat. So an organism that sees all of reality would never be more fit than one tuned only to see what it needs to survive."
It is possible that our perception of reality is fundamentally restricted in much the same way as a two-dimensional creature living in a flat universe is incapable of perceiving a third dimension.
"Our perceptual system is our window on the world, but it's also a conceptual prison," said Hoffman. "It's difficult to conceive a reality outside of space and time."
Perhaps we are not all that different to the Australian jewel beetle after all.
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