Donald Hoffman



DONALD HOFFMAN is a professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, best known for his ground-breaking studies of perception of visual shape and for his masterful exposition of the constructive powers of the brain in the 1998 book called Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See. Don is a proponent of an evolutionary view of perception. He advances the intriguing notion that perception is a species-specific user interface between the world and the mind that evolved to expedite adaptive behaviour and not to estimate truth.

Perception as a user interface

Don holds that evolution by natural selection does not, in general, favor perceptions that are true descriptions of the objective world. Instead, research with evolutionary games shows that perceptual systems tuned solely to fitness routinely outcompete those tuned to truth. Fitness functions depend not just on the true state of the world, but also on the organism, its state, and the type of action. Thus fitness and truth are distinct. Natural selection depends only on expected fitness. It shapes perceptual systems to guide fitter behaviour, not to estimate truth. Therefore, Don explores the possibility that sensory experiences constitute a multimodal user interface between the perceiver and an objective world, an interface useful precisely because it does not match, approximate, or resemble that world.