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https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160421-the-evolutionary-argument-against-reality/

Fascinating read, and I wondered what the wisdom of the crowd was on how closely they thought this notion fit with the principles of Buddhism, most notably the idea of reality being an illusion, and the liberation of ourselves from the chains of perception?

  • If you probe with reason, you will get a result within reason. If you probe with mind, you might loose reason. It is the same old scientific materialism trap: a mathematical model can only give mathematical results. Why these equate "reality"? There it lies, the true delusion. – Pragabhava Oct 21 '16 at 17:06
  • I was asking about points of concordance... I can clearly see the points of dissonance. :-) – T. B. Oct 24 '16 at 17:51
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Buddhism does not state 'perception' ('sanna') is a chain. In fact, without perception, enlightenment (perceiving the true nature of things, including perception itself) cannot occur.

Instead, Buddhism lists the following chains (fetters):

  1. belief in a self (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi)

  2. doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings (vicikicchā)

  3. wrong use of morals and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa)

  4. sensual desire (kāmacchando)

  5. ill will (vyāpādo or byāpādo)

  6. lust for material jhana, lust for material things (rūparāgo)

  7. lust for immaterial jhana, lust for immaterial things, such as status, fame, etc (arūparāgo)

  8. conceit (māna)

  9. restlessness (uddhacca)

  10. ignorance (avijjā)

Fetter (Buddhism) adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As for the perception of the 'illusion of perceptions', if this was actually seen clearly, desires & attachments would end because, in reality, the mind only desires & attaches with concrete (solid) self-belief to concrete (solid) objects .

It is one thing for a cognitive scientist to create concrete ideas & theories about the illusion of perception, which may not end the desires & attachments of the scientist. It is another thing to actually see the illusion of perception meditatively, which will certainly end desires & attachments.

Now suppose that in the last month of the hot season a mirage were shimmering and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a mirage?

In the same way, a monk sees, observes & appropriately examines any perception that is past, future or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in perception?

Phena Sutta

  • I was being metaphorical when I said 'chains of perception', but I sincerely thank you for your comment :-) – T. B. Oct 24 '16 at 17:52
  • After considering what I would say.. I'll try this: All 10 of these are conditioned by our perceptions. That is to say, we have derived what is 'good' and 'bad' from our ( and our ancestors' ) perceptions of reality, including the perceptions in meditation. If we agree that our perceptions of reality are distorted so seriously that we are not even close to seeing what "is there", or if we say there is no "there" to see, only our perceptions are real and there is no underlying reality.. can we not say with some confidence that we need to go much deeper to find Truth? – T. B. Oct 24 '16 at 22:07
  • My intention is not to discourage you posting questions of the main forum. Please post. But possibly you should learn more about Buddhism before making comments since your comments seem to be common esoteric generalisations rather than Buddhism per se. Ultimately, the 10 fetters listed are conditioned by ignorance and not by perception. Perception itself is not intrinsically distorted. There are ignorant/distorted perceptions & there are realistic perceptions of reality. Perception is not the problem in Buddhism. Ignorance is identified as the problem or leader of wrong views. Kind regards. – Dhammadhatu Oct 24 '16 at 23:22
  • Thank you. I am actually quite familiar with Buddhism, Madhyamaka in particular, and am being general intentionaly to explore the edges. I do not agree with all of the precepts (some of which you mention above) and do not wish to use this forum to get into philosophical nitty gritty. – T. B. Jan 3 '17 at 20:17
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I don't think it fits well.

The article claims there's an "independent reality"; and that evolution has shaped how we perceive reality (it's not specific, but if I'm to fill in the gaps and play devil's advocate, an example might be that we've evolved to see sex and violence as good?).

The article is full of words which aren't well-defined (e.g. "independent reality"). It evokes quantum mysticism again, which I'm averse to. It implies that "first-person conscious experience" is inescapable, perhaps the only possible view (which is naive and maybe contradicted by Buddhism).

It makes statements like ...

Its perceptions will be tuned to fitness, but not to truth.

... without defining what "truth" is, thence argues that perceptions are "illusion".

In a statement like ...

I can pull the W out of the model and stick a conscious agent in its place and get a circuit of conscious agents. In fact, you can have whole networks of arbitrary complexity.

... I think he's introspecting: he's thinking about the "I" and has reached "a thicket of views". He might be explicitly trying to discard "fitness" from his view: he thinks that viewing things as "fit or not fit" (e.g. for evolutionary survival) prevents us from seeing what "true" (which he hasn't defined, and which he argues we can't perceive without bias).


In contrast to that, if you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (or the Pali suttas) it categorizes things as good and not-good ... "things" including feelings, and views, and intentions.

So one of the differences between Buddhism and this article, IMO, is that Buddhism discusses what's good and not-good ... which this article doesn't, at all. Instead this article tries to discuss what's true and not-true, what's real and not-real (but the article doesn't succeed, and/or isn't useful).

Also I think that if Buddhism talks about "illusion" (and I'm not sure that it does), that illusion doesn't consist of failure to perceive reality, instead it's failure to assign the proper value to perception: e.g. the illusion is perceiving something that's unpleasant as pleasant, perceive something that's impermanent as everlasting, perceive something that's not-self as self, etc. I'm really not sure what Buddhism says about "illusion": but it might be a more accurate or a more common translation to say that Buddhism talks about "ignorance", and that "ignorance" is a cause of "wrong view" (as opposed to "right view").

  • I appreciate your criticism.. I think we need to be very careful about "what we think we know", and should always allow for error and misinformation, or a mistaken point of view. 100% of all view points can be mistaken, no matter how long they have been held, and so this is why I am being very open about assimilating this idea, and giving it a fair shot without going straight to "why this is wrong" on particular grounds.. The Suttas can be wrong, just as anything else can be. We need to be able to evolve to Truth, since it isn't a static thing. – T. B. Oct 24 '16 at 20:59
  • I might have missed the point/purpose of the article: I didn't find it prescriptive/actionable. It wasn't suggesting I change my behaviour in any (specific) way; nor change my views; nor did it give me a new tool or view which which to see/understand the world. It's only message was, "Your perceptions aren't evolved to perceive reality truly", which (in addition to other faults I find with it) isn't a constructive criticism. – ChrisW Oct 24 '16 at 21:36
  • Maybe it's intended as (maybe you value it because you see it as) an antidote to beliefs (e.g. "Science has always been a third-person description of the world" and "the very notions of ‘physical things’ sitting in ‘space’") that I'm already quite dubious about, so to that extent it's not news to me: the new bits aren't true and the true bits aren't news. – ChrisW Oct 24 '16 at 21:40
  • So... you are saying that you do not think it is important that how our mind models the Universe is based on inputs that are essentially bereft of meaning? For me, the fact that any scientist would tread on this ground is pretty impressive, and heralds the possibility of penetration into the halls of science for the "relative reality" which we are so familiar with in Buddhism. – T. B. Oct 24 '16 at 21:43
  • As a reference, I have studied many Pali Suttas, and am very familiar with Alan Watts and his work.and Robert M. Pirsig, etc. I am trying to be totally non sectarian when I ask this question. I may fail.. but Im trying :-) – T. B. Oct 24 '16 at 22:00

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