Donald D. Hoffman

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Donald D. Hoffman
Donald Hoffman.jpg
Born (1955-12-29) December 29, 1955 (age 65)
Alma materUCLA (B.A. 1978)
M.I.T. (Ph.D. 1983)
Scientific career
FieldsCognitive science

Donald David Hoffman (born December 29, 1955) is an American cognitive psychologist and popular science author. He is a professor in the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, with joint appointments in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, and the School of Computer Science.

Hoffman studies consciousness, visual perception and evolutionary psychology using mathematical models and psychophysical experiments. His research subjects include facial attractiveness, the recognition of shape, the perception of motion and color, the evolution of perception, and the mind-body problem. He has co-authored two technical books: Observer Mechanics: A Formal Theory of Perception (1989) offers a theory of consciousness and its relationship to physics; Automotive Lighting and Human Vision (2005) applies vision science to vehicle lighting. His book Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See (1998) presents the modern science of visual perception to a broad audience. His 2015 TED Talk, "Do we see reality as it is?" explains how our perceptions have evolved to hide reality from us.[1]


Donald Hoffman is being interviewed for the Dutch TV-show The Mind of the Universe.

Hoffman received a Bachelor of Arts degree in quantitative psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1978, and earned his Doctorate of Philosophy in computational psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1983 under David Marr and Whitman Richards. He was briefly a Research Scientist at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of MIT, and then became an assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) in 1983. He has remained on the faculty of UCI since then, with a sabbatical during the 1995-1996 academic year at the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung of Bielefeld University.[citation needed]

Donald D. Hoffman


Introduction and overview[edit]

Hoffman notes that the commonly held view that brain activity causes conscious experience has, so far, proved to be intractable in terms of scientific explanation. Hoffman proposes a solution to the hard problem of consciousness by adopting the converse view that consciousness causes brain activity and, in fact, creates all objects and properties of the physical world. To this end, Hoffman developed and combined two theories: the "multimodal user interface" (MUI) theory of perception and "conscious realism".

Multimodal user interface (MUI) theory[edit]

MUI theory[2] states that "perceptual experiences do not match or approximate properties of the objective world, but instead provide a simplified, species-specific, user interface to that world." Hoffman argues that conscious beings have not evolved to perceive the world as it actually is but have evolved to perceive the world in a way that maximizes "fitness payoffs". Hoffman uses the metaphor of a computer desktop and icons - the icons of a computer desktop provide a functional interface so that the user does not have to deal with the underlying programming and electronics in order to use the computer efficiently. Similarly, objects that we perceive in time and space are metaphorical icons which act as our interface to the world and enable us to function as efficiently as possible without having to deal with the overwhelming amount of data underlying reality.[3]

Conscious Realism[edit]

Conscious Realism is described as a non-physicalist monism which holds that consciousness is the primary reality and the physical world emerges from that. The objective world consists of conscious agents and their experiences that cannot be derived from physical particles and fields. "What exists in the objective world, independent of my perceptions, is a world of conscious agents, not a world of unconscious particles and fields. Those particles and fields are icons in the MUIs of conscious agents, but are not themselves fundamental denizens of the objective world. Consciousness is fundamental."[4][5]

Perception of physical world is a byproduct of consciousness[edit]

Together, MUI theory and Conscious Realism form the foundation for an overall theory that the physical world is not objective but is an epiphenomenon (secondary phenomenon) caused by consciousness.

Hoffman has said that some form of reality may exist, but may be completely different from the reality our brains model and perceive.[6] Reality may not be made of space time and physical objects.[7]

Implications for evolution[edit]

Hoffmann has argued that fitness for evolution may be higher in entities that see some of reality, or create models of reality, than in those which see more or all of reality.[8][9] One criticism of the models used in Hoffman's simulations of evolution is that they implicitly assume that all brains base their preferences on bell curves which would force realistic brains to prefer habitats of intermediate quality and not the best ones, and does not at all address the possibility of brains whose preferences are not based on bell curves for which truthful perception would not imply a preference for intermediate habitats over the best.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Hoffman, Donald D. (2010-09-01). "Sensory Experiences as Cryptic Symbols of a Multimodal User Interface". Activitas Nervosa Superior. 52 (3): 95–104. doi:10.1007/BF03379572. ISSN 1802-9698.
  3. ^ Amanda Gefter. "The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality". Quanta Magazine. Retrieved 2019-12-08.
  4. ^ Hoffman, Donald (2008). "Conscious Realism and the Mind-Body Problem". Mind and Matter. 6 (1): 87–121. [1]
  5. ^ The Case Against Reality | Prof. Donald Hoffman on Conscious Agent Theory Nov 9, 2019
  6. ^ Interview with Annaka and Sam Harris, 12/19,
  7. ^ TED talk, Do we see reality as it is? Jun 2015,
  8. ^ TED talk, Do we see reality as it is? Jun 2015,
  9. ^ The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes, Donald Hoffman, published 8/19
  10. ^ Evolution of the Human Brain: From Matter to Mind, Michel A. Hofman, published 2019-11-06


External links[edit]