Dr. Donald Hoffman has proposed a rigorous mathematical model of consciousness that leaves materialism out of the equation.
photo by: Skeptiko
I have an interview coming up in a minute with Dr. Donald Hoffman, who is, well, he’s a really, really smart University of California Irvine professor, known for his work in consciousness and known for being the first guy to propose a truly rigorous mathematical model for understanding consciousness. Here’s a clip.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:00:26] Are we preparing for another version of shut up and calculate?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:00:32] So one reason why scientists do mathematical theories is because they surprise us, they become smarter than us, and eventually we become the students of the theory.
I do agree that consciousness is the fundamental reality and that it transcends any of our theories and getting a direct connection with that conscious experience is very, very important. I actually spend time every day in meditation doing exactly that.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:01:02] And stick around after the interview for some analysis with me and Dr. Rich Grego:
Dr. Rich Grego: [00:01:07] Everybody has their metaphysical interpretation of the math and they have math that backs up their interpretation, but the math isn’t the interpretation.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:01:21] Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics.
I’m your host Alex Tsakiris and as you know, we spend a lot of time talking about consciousness on Skeptiko, but as you also know, if you bring this topic up with most people in your life, you get at best a blank stare and more likely, kind of a slow nodding of the head as they look for a way to get out of the room.
So I think that’s what makes it even more amazing that today’s guest, bestselling author and highly regarded University of California Irvine professor, Dr. Donald Hoffman, has been able to break through; The apathy in confusion over the mind/body problem, evolutionary psychology, and what we typically talk about as the hard problem of consciousness. He’s done that through, what is now kind of a, in our field, a famous TED Talk that’s received over 2.7 billion views and is titled, Do We See Reality As It Is?
That is quite a remarkable talk, if you haven’t heard it before, it not only shatters the existing brain centric neuroscience model of consciousness, but more importantly, offers a new testable theory to replace it. A theory that is spelled out in his excellent and bestselling book that we’re going to talk about today, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes.
So Don, it’s really great to have you here. Thanks so much for joining me on Skeptiko.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:03:13] Thank you, Alex, thanks for inviting me.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:03:15] Well as I mentioned, you know, there’s this TED Talk that is out there, that is really quite amazing, and I think a lot of people have seen, and there’s also this book. Can you tell us anything more about the TED Talk, how that came to be, and since I mentioned that most of us who have explored this topic or publicly talked about it, we’re just amazed and delighted that you’ve got such great traction with this, what you get the credit for, you’re the guy who delivered it. But were you at all surprised that so many people were interested in this topic and your ideas?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:03:55] Yes. Getting the chance to give the TED Talk was a big surprise to me. I was giving a talk at the Tucson Science of Consciousness conference. So that’s a lot of researchers, technical people there. And I was giving a more technical talk about perception and reality, evolution arguments that we don’t see reality as it is, and then a theory of consciousness. I had the chance to be on stage with David Chalmers and Dan Dennett, so we had some good discussions of the ideas that I was presenting there.
And after that talk, Chris Anderson, he’s the guy that runs TED, he was in the audience and he’d watched that whole conversation. So that was when he came up afterwards and invited me to talk about the first part of my conversation with them, which was about perception and reality. The stuff about consciousness, I didn’t really talk about in my TED Talk, because I have a whole mathematical theory of consciousness and so forth, and a TED Talk can only be 15 to 18 minutes maximum, so you have to pick one thing and go after that.
So Chris Anderson worked very well with me, he was very, very helpful in helping me shape my TED Talk and he really helped me get the ideas out there. He was interested in the stuff on consciousness as well, but we couldn’t do it all in one 18-minute thing.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:05:23] Right, but I think you, you lay the foundation for it, and for anyone who’s really kind of paid attention to the field, you definitely see where you’re going with the TED Talk. So, that was quite, quite exciting, really.
So, I’ll tell you what Don, as you know from the slides that I sent you in advance, I like to play a little game here I call Skeptiko Jeopardy. It kind of turns the tables around and lets you pick the topics that we talk about. So I’ve shared most of the information behind these slides with you in advance, so I’ll go over them for those who are listening and then we’ll have you pick.
So I have Reality, Robots, Science, The Spiritual Path, Math, Yogi-ism Extended and Philosophy.
So, Don, where would you like to go first?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:06:23] Well, maybe we’ll start with Science and just my view about what science is and what it’s about because that’s sort of the general framework that I’m working in, so that might be very, very helpful.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:06:38] Well, let’s go there. Now, I’m taking this in maybe a slightly different direction, but I think it ties back to what you’re saying.
So, you know, one of the reoccurring questions on Skeptiko has been, how can science, science as we know it, be so wrong about consciousness? I mean, we’re talking about a situation where poll after poll shows that 90% of people in the United States, or worldwide, completely disagree with this biological robot, meaningless universe, brain-centered idea that we have about consciousness. And maybe even more significantly, if we look at every civilization we’ve known throughout time, would just kind of reject out of hand, kind of laughingly, this idea that we are this narrowly defined grain-based kind of thing.
So this seems to me like an absurd notion that science has come up with about consciousness. So the real question I guess I had is, how can we really trust science going forward? You’re a great advocate of science. You speak eloquently about the scientific method, about how beautiful science is, done properly, but I guess I’d turn it around. Can we really trust science when they’ve dropped the ball so badly already?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:08:01] I agree that the current theories of consciousness among my scientific colleagues really do drop the ball. They really start with an unconscious objective reality of space, time and matter and they try to boot up consciousness from that, and of course, I disagree with them, I think that that’s not the right way to go about it. It’s interesting to ask why they do that, what’s the history behind that, and why I still have confidence in science?
So first I should should say that my colleagues who are physicalists, who assume that space, time and matter are fundamental, they’re well meaning, they’re doing the best that they know as scientists and human beings. So there’s no conspiracy, it’s not that at all. Here’s part of the history about why they’re thinking the way they do.
It has to do partly with Galileo and what happened between the Church and Galileo, right? So Galileo overthrew centuries of Church dogma that the Earth is the center of the universe with this telescope and his evidence for Copernicus, the Copernican theory that the Earth is not the center of the university, that the Earth goes around the sun. The religious people didn’t buy that and they put Galileo in house arrest and threatened him with torture if he didn’t recant and that sort of set the stage for this battle between science and spirituality way back then, and many scientists still have a feeling that, “If that’s what spirituality means, then I will have none of it.”
The other aspect to it is they feel like, starting with Galileo and then especially with Newton and following in, science made great strides in using the assumption that space, time and unconscious matter are the foundations and it’s truly stunning what’s happened in the last three, three and a half centuries. It has completely revolutionized our understanding of the universe, the technology that has come out has been stunning and it’s raised humanity’s level of life dramatically.
So, there’s this feeling among the scientists that, “Look, the physicalist framework was our way of getting away from the weirdness of the spiritual traditions and breaking free. Look what it’s done,” and it has been dramatically successful. So that’s part of where they’re coming from, it’s a big part of the whole culture.
But now, on the question of the origin of consciousness, how does consciousness arise? When I was a graduate student, that was not an acceptable topic. So I was a graduate student at MIT from 1979 to 1983 in the Artificial Intelligence Lab, in what’s now the Brain and Cognitive Science Department. And I knew that even if I was interested in consciousness that was not a serious topic for a serious researcher.
But what about 10 years later it became a serious topic that was viewed as a genuine, worthwhile scientific endeavor, largely perhaps due to Francis Crick who said we really need to take this quite seriously and when Francis said that then the rest of the scientists said, “Okay, if a Nobel Prize winner says that it’s legit, then we should jump in.”
What we’re finding, and I do have faith in science, all of the theories that my colleagues are proposing are, of course, physicalist theories. There’s integrated information theory, there’s collapse of microtubules, we can talk about these, there’s global workspace or global neuronal workspace theories. There are a variety of these kinds of theories that are all physicalist, but we know they don’t work, and when I go to conferences, I can actually say to my colleagues… And by the way there’s nothing personal here, I like these guys, and guys in the generic sense. They’re brilliant, they’re nice people, we disagree deeply but it’s not ad hominem. We’re all trying by our best lights to understand what’s going on.
So I will say to, like Stuart Hameroff, “So what is the collapse of microtubules that is the taste of vanilla?” and he can’t do that. So the thing about science is, at some point, because science requires mathematically precise theories and experiments, at some point you can no longer fool yourself, you realize you just don’t have the beef, you can’t do it.
So I know these guys, I’m friends with them and I’m telling them, “You don’t have the beef. I think in principle you don’t have the beef and you’re going to have to do something different. You’re going to need a deeper theory.”
Alex Tsakiris: [00:13:11] You are telling them, I agree. Let me play a clip from when I had Bernardo Kastrup, Dr. Bernardo Kastrup, who you know, right? You know Bernardo?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:13:21] Sure, oh yeah, we’re friends.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:13:22] So, that maybe gets more to the point that I’m trying to make here.
Alex Tsakiris: These people are just generally regarded as scientists, as the mainstream scientists, we’re talking about Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neil deGrasse Tyson, whether we like it or not, is the face of science for many, many, many Americans, so let’s see what mainstream science has to say about consciousness.
Here we go, I’m going to play this clip. You can see it there, I’m going to play it.
Richard Dawkins: But you can say something about the question which you really would wish to know the answer to, and for me it would be, what’s consciousness, because that’s totally baffling.
Neil de Grasse Tyson: Richard, you know what I think, not that you ask, but what I think on this is, consciousness has, kind of, baffled us for a while and evidence that we haven’t a clue about what consciousness is, is drawn from the fact of, how many books are published on the topic. We’re not really continuing to publish books, not really, on Newtonian physics, it’s done. So, the fact that people keep publishing books on consciousness is the evidence we don’t know anything about, because if we knew all about it, you wouldn’t have to keep publishing.
So, what I wonder, what I wonder Richard is, whether there really is no such thing as consciousness at all and that there’s some other understanding of the functioning of the human brain that renders that question obsolete.
Bill Nye: To that I’ve got to say like, oh wow!
Alex Tsakiris: I’m laughing, but what is so funny about that. Of course, that last voice was Bill Nye, The Science Guy.
Bernardo Kastrup: He was astonished, Bill was astonished.
Alex Tsakiris: He was.
Bernardo Kastrup: The idea that maybe consciousness is not there is probably the weirdest, stupidest idea ever conceived by human thought. I mean, where does thought take place? It takes place in consciousness. So, here we have consciousness, speculating about the possibility that consciousness does not exist and it may not be there. I mean, the very thought is an in-your-face contradiction and the fact that something like this is not only seriously entertained, but even verbalized by a person with the public exposure of the gentleman we just saw, is a worrying sign of cultural sickness, a very serious one.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:16:41] A worrying sign of cultural sickness. I guess that’s closer to kind of my position regarding science. So let’s loop back around and hit that again. What do you think?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:16:55] Well, yeah, I take a slightly different view. I’m more optimistic about, I mean, I know these guys, they’re my friends and what I see is that the way they’re thinking is physicalism, the idea that space, time and matter are fundamental, has worked for so many other problems that we’ve got to try our best to make it work on this problem. So it’s not like they’re degenerate or anything like that, it’s rather, “Look, this hammer has hit a lot of other nails, hopefully this hammer will hit the nail of consciousness and we need to keep trying.”
Alex Tsakiris: [00:17:34] The one thing I guess I’d interject there is at the same time, you know, you said you were in the AI lab at MIT in 1973, right?
Donald Hoffman: [00:17:40] I was yes, ‘79 to ’83.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:17:43] ‘79 to ‘83 great. I was studying AI as well at that time, a PhD program with the University of Arizona. At that same time in Stanford Research Institute, Hal Puthoff put and Russell Targ we’re way past this, right? They were doing experiments with remote viewing, the presupposed, the silly physicalism thing. They knew that was blown away because they’d already proven it over and over again in the lab.
So we have this kind of hidden college thing going on here as well, where there’s some people in the know who have moved way past this long ago, and they seem to really be closer to the folks who are in power. And then we have, kind of Neil deGrasse Tyson playing this little kind of, I mean, lost in the woods kind of thing, and we can all laugh at it, but are they really not where the action’s at? That’s another question I guess I’d have.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:18:40] Right. Well, I think that that’s the way revolutions in science happen. You usually have a few people who are doing something different than the mainstream, and it takes a long time for scientists. We’re a conservative group, we’re very, very conservative in the sense that, if you’re going to rattle a deep theory, you’re going to have to really rattle it hard before we take it seriously.
So yeah, a few people here and there finding some PSI phenomena and so forth isn’t going to be enough to rattle that cage, partly because there’s no theory. Now if, for example, if Hal Puthoff and his team has proposed a mathematically precise theory where they say exactly what the parameters of remote viewing would be, when it would happen, or like precognition the work that Daryl Bem did. If they had a mathematical theory that said, “Here’s why it’ll be a 400-millisecond precognition signal, not 4,000 or 400,000 milliseconds,” then that would really have shaken people up in the scientific community.
So there’s understanding what you have to do to get the attention of these people in the sciences. It’s not just the experiments, you need a predictive theory.
So, for example, if Einstein in 1905 had just said, “You know, I think Newton was wrong and I think the perihelion of mercury, the moving around is evidence of that,” we would never have heard of him. But what he did instead in 1905 and then in his general theory of relativity, he said, “Here’s my equation, I’m going to predict exactly how much light will bend and precisely where Mercury and we’ll test that against Newton.” And it was when the experiments confirmed the precise mathematical predictions of his equation of general relativity, that’s when he burst on the scene, until then he was a nobody to the world.
That’s what we’re going to have to have, this is just the way the game is played. If you don’t have a mathematical theory you’re not even in the game. Experiments by themselves are not enough. So that’s what I’m working on right now is trying to get a mathematical theory of consciousness that’s completely rigorous and try to make new predictions in space and time, in what I call our interface, that they cannot make. Once we do that, watch them take us very, very seriously.
So what we have to understand is how the game of science is played. It’s not just experiments, it’s really precise, mathematically precise theories that make stunning new predictions. That’s when we’ll get their attention.
So again, all of these people are my friends and they’re sharp and they’re waiting for us to come up with a theory.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:21:37] Maybe. Maybe. We’ll put a pin in that as they say and see if we can come back to that.
Where should we go next on these categories? Oh, actually, let me pick one because you’re generous to kind of skip past, just really talking about your book, your amazing book, which does lay out, as you just said, this theory of consciousness and how we may get to the math behind it.
So the book is, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Tell folks in a nutshell what the theory is about.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:22:20] So what I do in this theory is I assume, for sake of argument, that evolution by natural selection is true because all of my colleagues believe that, and I ask the question, if our senses evolved and were shaped by natural selection, would we be shaped by evolution to see truths about objective reality?
Now, no one thinks we see all the truth about objective reality, but the question is, would we be shaped to see some truths, like our perceptions of space and time of an apple, of the moon, of a table and chair? Are we truly seeing something about objective reality, a reality that would exist even if no one were there to look at it? So does that apple exist and have that red color and that apple shape, even if there were no creatures to perceive it.
So most of my colleagues would say, absolutely spacetime exists, the apple exists, the moon exists, and it has roughly the properties that we see, even if no one looks at it and they give an evolutionary argument, they say, “The reason we can believe that is because organisms that see reality as it is have a competitive advantage in the big processes of life, feeding, fighting, fleeing, and mating. They have a competitive advantage over those who don’t see reality as it is. So those who see more accurately or more likely to pass on their genes and so we can be confident that we see reality as it is.
And this is, by the way, one reason why physicalism is a dominant view. What we see as a space and time and physical universe that looks like it’s, you know, unconscious, you know, rocks don’t look conscious, planets don’t look conscious and so forth, space doesn’t look conscious, so I decided to tackle that question. Are we mistaken when we think that evolution shaped us to see the truth? And what I was able to show in simulations with with my graduate students, Justin, Mark and Brian, Maryann and then with my mathematical professor, colleague and friend Chetan Prakash, we were able to show that evolution does not favor creatures that see reality as it is, it drives them to extinction.
That’s important for this question about the physical world and consciousness for the following reason. What it means is that our perceptions of space and time and physical objects is not an insight into the truth, it’s just our user interface. Evolution has given us like a desktop interface that’s there to keep us alive and to hide the truth. I like to give the example of, like the desktop on your computer, right? If you’re writing a book and the icon for your book is green and rectangular in the middle of your screen, it doesn’t mean that the book itself on your computer is green and rectangular in the middle of the computer. Of course not, anybody who thought that is missing the whole point of the interface. It’s not there to show you the truth, which in that metaphor is the diodes and resistors and voltages and software. It’s there to hide, the interface is to hide the truth, to hide all that complexity and give you simple eye candy that lets you control the reality, even though you’re ignorant of it.
So that’s what evolution has done. It has given us an interface of virtual reality that hides whatever the objective reality might be and gives us just simple species specific, bells and whistles that we can use to interact with that reality. And the reason that’s important for my interaction with my colleagues on this is that they think that what we see, space, time and matter, we’re seeing the truth, I’m saying, “No, no, no, we create space, time and matter. That’s not fundamental, that’s something that our consciousness creates. Space, time and matter are the products of our consciousness, not vice versa.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:26:20] Let’s move on. Where would you like to go next?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:26:24] Well, let’s see.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:26:26] It gets harder from here, there’s double jeopardy in there too.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:26:29] Oh, there is, okay. Well, maybe we could talk a little bit about the math side of things.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:26:36] Okay, great. One of the things that we have on Skeptiko that I really appreciate is, we have an online forum where people can get on and talk about topics after we talk about them on the show. And I really appreciate, I’ve learned so much from people who’ve listened to the show. And as I was preparing for this, I remember one thing in particular, really one instance when I learned a lot. We were talking about simulation theory and the idea that maybe our reality, since we’re talking about reality, is a matrix kind of an AI driven version of a virtual reality. And I thought one very succinct comment from the forum was, “Simulation what?” Because those of us who are drawn to the simulation theory, except this idea that there’s a simulation, never asked a simulation of what, who is the designer, who was the grand master? Who’s simulating that and who’s simulating their reality? And it’s turtles all the way down, if you know what I mean.
So I wonder the same thing about math. I appreciate what you said earlier about science at its core is driven by models that are best expressed as mathematical equations, but those are abstractions of reality at the same time, and we appreciate that, but I wonder if we kind of gloss over the fact that the model is a model of what, what is the underlying reality of that model?
And before I even let you jump in there, I’d kind of point out our history here, which we know the history of quantum physics, if you will, a hundred years ago, all the great quantum physicists who basically reached this same point and said, what Max Planck is famous for saying, “I regard consciousness as fundamental,” which is very close to what you’re saying as well.
But then as you basically recounted in the segment we did about science; what we’ve done is just an end run on that, which we can understand and appreciate that the shut up and calculate, forget about the philosophical implications of that, let’s just see what we can crank out in terms of dazzling technology that we can build off of that.
And I guess that’s my concern about the modeling that you’re doing and where we’re going with that, and are we just preparing for another version of shut up and calculate where we don’t really address the underlying implications of that reality shattering new reality? So any thoughts on any of that?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:29:30] Yes. Well, first I certainly agree with Max Planck, that consciousness is fundamental and matter as derivative. Absolutely. It’s well-spoken and other of the great quantum theorists at the foundation of it thought that. Wigner I think thought that and Von Neumann thought that consciousness was important and fundamental.
Many of the early quantum theorists were very interested in the broader implications of the theory. It seemed to be challenging our thoughts about reality and they wanted to really explore that. And then World War II came along and that really sidetracked everything because what happened was they needed all of these quantum physicists to help them with technology to win the war. And they did. They built the atomic bomb. It was revolutionary, and all of a sudden there was big, big money.
So that, that changed the whole framework of physics. It became a part of the military industrial complex and the shut up and calculate attitude came out of World War II and the big money.
So that was a big, a big tragedy. World War II was a big tragedy in a number of ways. It stopped this deep philosophical inquiry into what the mathematics was telling us and it got us into this more military, industrial, complex kind of attitude. And we’re now slowly wrestling our way out of that attitude.
And going back to trying to ask the deeper questions, but the question you ask is a good one. What is the math about? And one reason why scientists love mathematics is it forces you to be absolutely precise in what you predict. You can’t hide. It’s much, much harder to hide. And you know, when Einstein wrote down his equations, if he was off by 5% or 10% on predictions about where Mercury is, then that’s going to be a problem for him.
So you do mathematics impart to be precise. You can find out precisely where you’re wrong, but also because once you write down a mathematical theory, the theory becomes smarter than the person who wrote it down. Like when Einstein wrote down the equation of general relativity, he had no idea that it was going to predict black holes, he didn’t know that. But the equations do predict black holes, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t believe in them, but he was wrong and the theory had a deeper, in some sense of deeper insight into reality than the person who wrote it down.
So one reason why scientists do mathematical theories is because they surprise us, they become smarter than us, and eventually we become the students of the theory. Now, of course, Einstein’s general relativity is not the final answer. His equation, we know there has to be something deeper. We know that because his equation is so precise, we begin to get in insights into precisely where it fails, and that’s the power of the mathematics. It’s so precise that it tells you when the mathematics stops and fails. So Einstein’s equations have a singularity, it had a black hole. When you have an infinity in your equations, that means you’ve got an error. That’s a big, big error signal. So we know that general relativity can’t be the final answer, and it tells it to us itself by saying, I get the answer infinity here. There’s something wrong with the theory.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:32:58] Hold on, because again, it is still an abstraction. So it’s a great tool and you do an awesome job of eloquently describing how beautiful that tool is, right? But we don’t want to slip into the mode of starting to believe that the tool is the ultimate reality, right? Because I think that is fundamental, that is the philosophical part and maybe we’ll even jump to the philosophical slide in this, because philosophy, in my view, it begins where science cannot go.
So the philosophical quote that I’ve popped up on the screen is one of my favorite ones from Albert Camus; “There’s only one true, serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” The reason I like it is because it’s so stark in drawing our attention to the fact that the true deepest questions that we can ask about who are we and why are we here? Always get down to a question of meaning and models can never answer the meaning question.
So it’s fun to play with the models and explore the limits of the models, the equations like you’re talking about, but I do think there is peril in avoiding the deeper philosophical questions. And this one in particular, do you have any thoughts on how we get to the meaning questions, because that’s where I think people really live?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:34:41] Right? Your point is well taken. So for example, if I’m using a mathematical model to simulate the weather, and I bring you into the computer room where I’m running this simulation, you don’t need an umbrella, you’re not going to get wet. The math isn’t the territory and the math will never create the phenomena that you’re modeling.
So the math is just a model. It’s not the reality, so we shouldn’t make that mistake, I absolutely agree with you on that point. This comes up with the spirituality thing as well. So someone at one point, when I was giving them my mathematical theory of consciousness, at the end quoted a famous spiritual teacher, his name will come to me, he said, “The language of God is silence. All else is poor translation.”
Alex Tsakiris: [00:35:33] That’s great.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:35:33] great. Of course the point that this person was making was that my mathematical model of consciousness is just math and the reality transcends anything that math could possibly discuss.
So my attitude is this. I think the point is well taken. If someone says to me, the language of God is silence, all else is poor translation, then being consistent says nothing else, I would actually very much respect that. I’m not being facetious. If someone said, “Look, the reality transcends math and words, end of story and you just have to be with the reality,” I completely respect that. But when you look at the spiritual traditions, what most of them do is they write lots of words. There’s the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and so forth. So my attitude then is, if we’re going to not be silent, then the question is, don’t we want to use the most precise language we possibly can so that we can find out as quickly as possible if what we’re saying is nonsense or not?
And it turns out with mathematics, you can quickly find out if you’re being inconsistent and you can actually quickly find out if you are making predictions that are false. It’s hard to do that with just everyday language. It’s easier to hide if you use everyday language, it’s very easier to hide and even to say nonsense and not be caught. So my attitude is again, and I’m not at all being facetious, someone who says, “Silence is it,” and remains in silence, I completely respect that. That may be the deepest point of view and may be far, far deeper than a mathematical point of view, and I really mean that.
But if we’re going to talk, if we’re going to have discussions, then I think there’s no reason for us not to use the best tools we have to avoid self-deception, to avoid making mistakes.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:37:41] Okay. Okay. I’m not sure I can let you off the hook quite so easily on that one, so I’m going to pick this topic. I’ve titled it Yogi and it’s really nonduality as well.
You’re pretty well plugged into the nondual, you’ve been at the Science of Nonduality Conference, you know shtick and you were a contributor, a keynote speaker there, people love you there for good reason, because you are approaching these topics in a brilliantly new way. But at the same time, there’s a lot of very well-established wisdom that seems to kind of not totally square with what you’re talking about.
One of the problems I see is that spirituality, as I understand it, particularly this nondual understanding of spirituality, is really about creating space between what I guess we might call our habitual consciousness and this higher consciousness that resides inside of us. And I don’t have a mathematical equation for that, but again, I challenge this idea that she had before that experience kind of doesn’t matter. That’s not exactly what you said, so I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think we could turn that around and say experience is the only thing that matters and yogis who have experienced and played with this consciousness idea for thousands of years, they don’t have any theorems, but they can prove it over and over again and have, and that’s why people have found this to be a meaningful way of doing it.
One of the things I had in an earlier slide is this idea that sums it up very quickly, is we are not, cannot be anything which we observe, right? We observe the computer screen. We know that we are not the computer screen because we’re observing computer screen. We are the observer of the computer screen.
And in the same way, when we observe consciousness, when we observe the habitual mind, we know we are not the habitual mind, and yet that habitual mind as well as the higher mind is residing in what we call consciousness.
So let me share, you know, one guy, he’s not exactly in this community. He’s very popular and does a good job of kind of summing up some of these ideas, Eckhart Tolle. Another person I really appreciate, I think doesn’t even better job, is Michael Singer, Mickey Singer of The Untethered Soul. But let me play this clip from Eckhart Tolle and then we’ll talk about nonduality and the observer.
So you get up all knowing, accumulating knowledge, the mind made self that consists of accumulated thought forms. So as we sit here we are dying a little death and realize that nothing real actually died, only the illusion of a false self. What remains is consciousness, the very bare fact that you are. So in this moment is the opportunity of sensing something much more fundamental than the history of who you think you are in the mind, my past, your sense of identity but who are you really beyond the story?
Alex Tsakiris: [00:41:32] Well, I think a lot of folks in the spiritual community will relate with that question, who are you really beyond the story? And I just can’t quite connect that hierarchy, if you will, that he’s pointing to with your theory. So let’s jump in there and talk about that.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:41:51] Yes. I like Eckhart Tolle’s ideas very much. I’ve listened to a number of his talks, and I do agree that consciousness is the fundamental reality and that it transcends any of our theories, including my own scientific theories, my own mathematical models. And that going into silence and letting go of our thoughts and getting a direct connection with that conscious experience is very, very important. I actually spend time every day in meditation doing exactly that.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:42:27] actually feel rejected. Question right there. She, I do too. Not so much because I don’t know, I think medication is an ongoing process if we really kind of take it seriously, but in that moment. What is going on as you would understand it or explain it in terms of your model.
And I think you get what I mean when you realize that separation between you and the habitual mind that is always, that is doing the math, that is doing the observation, both good and bad. Not to kind of put down that a bitch will mind, but when you are in that other space, where are you in dr Donald Hoffman’s model?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:43:09] Well, I’m a, I’m a consciousness what I call a conscious agent and in effect, in the meditation process, when you’re letting go of your thoughts and emotions and so forth, you are in some sense letting go of your interface. Instead of having this virtual headset on. By which you’re interacting with the reality of consciousness.
You’re slowly learning to let go of that and appreciate consciousness on its own terms, to be, be the consciousness and be aware of the consciousness. And I think that there are fundamental limitations to mathematics and what it can model that comes out of unbelief. Something called girdles sterile.
It’s, it’s the mathematics itself and girdle serum that makes me think that no scientific theory. Can ever be truly fundamental in the sense that every scientific theory always has to have certain assumptions
Alex Tsakiris: [00:44:05] in completeness,
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:44:07] right? That’s right. It’s all, it’s always going to be incomplete. And, and my, my take on girdle’s theorem is it says that.
quest for mathematical models is never ending and it will never fundamentally reach the bottom. There’ll always be the deeper reality that goes beyond any mathematical quest. So, but, so the question that we have as as human beings is we can, again, this goes back to the silence versus non silence issue.
If we. As Eckhart Tola was you encouraging us in that meditative piece? If we let go of all of our models and mathematics and go into the silence, we are approaching facing that reality without the screen of mathematics or ideas and so forth, and I think that’s very legitimate. But in our everyday life, we do talk.
We’re doing it right now. And so my attitude is, if we’re going to talk, then let’s be as precise as we possibly can. Let’s not be us ourselves. Let’s be as absolutely, because we don’t want to spin around in silly circles for thousands of years, and I do believe that there are, as you point out, many deep insights from spiritual practitioners and spiritual traditions over thousands of years, but they’re not infallible.
And the question is, how do we find out what are the genuine insights and how do we find out what is the nonsense? And there’s always going to be nonsense. And again, I think it’s the precision. So I absolutely agree. If someone doesn’t want to do the mathematics at all. And just wants to be silent.
I’m, I’m on board, but if we’re going to talk at all, then I say be precise.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:45:48] Awesome. I, I love it. I love the passion there. Where should we go next? I’m going to suggest one or two either ism where we have a little guest present guests question about your theory further, or we can jump into this spiritual path that you were just talking
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:46:06] about.
I’ll let you pick this time.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:46:08] let’s push through to the, the spiritual path since we were just talking about that, because, you know, one of the things I did when I was preparing for this show is I kind of looked up anything I could find on. Your understanding of spirituality, and I found an interesting article that you wrote a while back, I think it was titled dismissing God,
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:46:32] right?
Alex Tsakiris: [00:46:33] In which you explain how your discoveries don’t prove God, but. Kind of deal, a death blow to some of the common explanations for why there never could be any God. So I thought that was really interesting, and you might talk about that, but then more importantly, I’d like to know more about what your spiritual.
Path is of your understanding of spirituality, why you do meditate, what you think is the, you know, you mentioned the map and the territory thing. Yes. Maybe what is the territory? So a bunch of questions bundled. Sure. To start where you like,
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:47:13] well, so just a little bit about my own personal history.
My, my father was a Christian fundamentalist minister. And so I was raised, um, for, for a couple of decades and in that, and so it was very, very narrow. It’s, it’s my way or the highway kind of, um, view if you turn or burn, believe go to hell. And, and, um, meditation was definitely not something that was encouraged.
If you meditated, it opened you up to the devil. And who knows what would happen. So it was, um, it was. It was an interesting experience. Um, and. I’m in recovery from it. I mean, it, it, it, it was, it’s a kind of spirituality, but, but it’s, um, you know, when you’re saying
Alex Tsakiris: [00:48:04] that, I take what you just said, literally, and I’m glad that you said that.
I mean, it’s, maybe you want to even go there a little bit because you one could make the case, and I have on this show and I’ve got some more guests coming up. That the cultish practices that go hand in hand with Christianity really need to be viewed from a further mind control aspects. And that’s not judging it any more.
That we have a lot of things in our society that are based on mind control techniques or just stumble into it. But the, the fact that we’re doing that to kids especially, is not exactly a promoting. Free thinking and the deep programming from that. I know from my own experience being brought up in the Greek Orthodox church and having to walk up to communion and kiss the hand of some old man as he dropped bread into my hand to feed me.
I mean, there’s some deep symbology there that I think a lot of people couldn’t understand that there is. For a lot of folks, genuine, deep programming. There’s no other way to saying it. Then two, to discover whatever your real underlying, true spiritual understanding is for yourself. I’ve gone on there for a while, but I would like you to maybe speak to that before we jump off of that topic.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:49:19] I agree with you completely on that. I, I felt that the, the institutions that I was subjected to were there not to help me to explore and find out who I am. They had the answers. I needed to understand their answers and, and, and believe their answers and to question anything that they said was to not be a believer and therefore be subject to hell.
And so it, it, it really is a mind control thing that goes deep into your limbic system and gets you at your emotions. If I dare question and think for myself, and, and. Think outside of this little box, um, the flames of hell are right there. And so, and when you’re young, you’re defenseless against that.
That mean you, the adults are telling you that you believe it. So it really gets wired into your emotional system. So it’s taken me a long time to deprogram myself. I mean, knowing it intellectually, of course, it didn’t take that hard, but, but. Deprogramming emotionally is a very, very different thing.
And so, so I’ve had to let, let go of that, that programing. And one thing that I do is I, I do meditate. Um, and part of the meditation is letting go of that programming. I mean, I, by being in silence, I’m facing the, all the fears that were programmed into me and the anxieties and so forth, and realizing that, you know, even though intellectually understand that, that that was wrong.
It’s emotionally, I have to understand that deep but at a deep emotional level and let that, that healing take place. And so I do spend time every day. I have for the last 17 years, um, quite a bit of time in, in silent meditation. Um, where I, there’s no specific rules of pose or breathing or anything like that is just silence and letting whatever comes up.
Come up and then letting it go. So it’s really letting go of my model’s letting go of my mouth, letting go of all that stuff being. Naked to reality without my models, without my mouth. And then during the day I’d go back to my models and my mouth and, and so being in both worlds, it’s really quite, it’s, it’s very interesting being a human being because both seem to be an essential part of the human experience.
The silence might being myself without any models of myself. And not knowing, going as as Eckhart total likes to go beyond knowing, into unknowing. Um, that seems to be really critical. And then going back into the knowledge space and, and somehow in a way that I don’t deeply understand yet. That going back and forth between the two is, is part of what it means to be human and as part of our growth experience.
I also see it, by the way, I’ll just mention this, it’s there. There may be an analogy was something that we see in quantum computation. In quantum computation. On the one hand, you have to be very, very precise, mathematically, rigorously precise, engineering, precise to set up the quantum bits and quantum Gates and so forth.
That says like the most advanced science, mathematics. But then when you start the computation, you cannot look, if you touch that at all, you’d destroy. The power. And so we have this thing in quantum computation where it’s again, a yin and yang kind of thing where absolute rigor on the one hand and then you cannot look at all, you have to let go completely.
And when you let go completely, you unleash this incredible power that we don’t understand. And then at the end you can go back to the math and the registers and so forth and get a thimble full of that, that incredible power that was unleashed. And so the reality is telling us something that, that don’t get.
Addicted just to the math and models. Yeah. Don’t be, there’s no payoff for sloppy thinking. So just sloppy thinking that that’s just, there’s no payoff for that. I mean, we just get into dogmatic disputes and hate each other and find that, that there’s nothing there, but absolute precision on the one hand, trying to be as precise as we can.
And then absolute silence on the other hand seem to go hand in hand as unleashing something deeply powerful in us and in the universe. And so I’m very interested in that.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:53:24] Awesome. That’s awesome stuff. Do you want to talk for a minute about dismissing God? I thought there was some kind of interesting points in there that especially our atheistic kind of friends might be surprised about.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:53:37] Right. So.
Many of my colleagues will just say that, that there is no God because we have a completely adequate space, time, physicalist framework that can answer all, all of the questions. And when we, when we go out and doubters face, you know, look around, we don’t see God, you know, there was a cosmonaut you went out there and say, I don’t know.
I don’t know. I don’t see anything out here and so forth. And many of my colleagues have. A view about God is the God of the gaps. So as so God used to be, God fills in where science doesn’t have an explanation, but you know, so you know. But as science progresses,
Alex Tsakiris: [00:54:16] I just, I, I interject with a related quote that I often hear from atheist, and that is that I don’t need God to explain X.
And for our purposes, we can say reality. You know, I don’t need God to explain reality. And I think your theory kind of blows that off the table right away and says, well, no, you have not explained reality in an adequate way with your science as we know it.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:54:45] Right. The absolutely. So they, they’re saying that the scientific explanations, um, as they advanced, there’s less room for, for forgot.
And the problem that they’ve got is that. As science advances, it’s only become more and more clear that our standard explanations cannot deal with consciousness. The thing that’s most important to us, my feelings of emotions, the, the taste of chocolate, a headache, the feeling of velvet, all these things without which I wouldn’t even really be here if I didn’t have any experiences.
There’s not really any sense in which I would exist. And that most central thing about us science right now in his current physicalist framework is woefully inadequate. And scientists are beginning to understand that their mathematical models. Don’t cut the mustard here. And that’s, that’s the power of the mathematics is there.
They’re being forced by their own mathematics to say, this doesn’t work. This doesn’t work, and I’m helping them, you know, I come along as a gadfly and say, see, it doesn’t work. And so there is, if we’re going to have right, an understanding of consciousness. We’re not going to be able to get it starting with a physicalist framework, it just won’t happen.
We’re going to have to let consciousness be fundamental in our theories. And so now the word God itself is a loaded word, right? Everybody uses the word, but if you, if you notice, it’s never defined. It’s or defined very, very loosely. It’s the infinite consciousness or the consciousness that includes all the other consciousnesses or whatever it might be.
You and, and, and maybe we’re stuck with that, but as a scientist, I’ve got this theory of, of conscious agents and conscious agents can be finite, but when they interact, conscious agents create new conscious agents that can be more complicated. And the mathematics. Indicates to me that this can go on to infinity.
So I can actually have conscious agent’s combining to create infinite conscious agents. So I’m probably wrong. Of course I’m probably wrong. But I have, and I’ve proposed a mathematically precise definition of God. It’s conscious agent where I’ve given a definition of a conscious agent that has an infinite set of possible conscious experiences.
So, so for the first time that I know of. We have a proposal for a precise definition of God, and of course I’m probably wrong, but the point is to be precise so we can now start the conversation, where is it wrong? How is it wrong? Let’s fix it. And now we can actually start to try to develop a precise understanding of what we mean by the letters God.
So that’s what I’m, I’m very much interested. It’s also open to someone to say. It transcends any science and any experience and any, any description. And you can’t go there. And again, if someone says that, I completely respect it, but that means then we’re not going to argue back and forth about your God versus my God.
And that my God is right and your God is, is wrong. We’re not gonna do that. So, so if we want to do the game of trying to get precise ideas about God, we need to go mathematical on it. And we, and. We, we’ve never done that in human history until now. So now for the first time, I can be wrong.
I’m the first person to be wrong about God because I’m being precise. And so I’m probably precisely wrong, but that’s how we start the conversation, the scientific conversation, and evolve the mathematics. But if someone says, again, that whole, we just need to be in silence. I understand that and I, and I, I respect that
Alex Tsakiris: [00:58:28] you pronoun to that as they say, Hey, let’s play our guest question from rich Grego.
I think it’s a good one. We’ll have fun with it.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:58:38] Yes.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:58:41] Hello, Alex
and Donald Hoffman. This is rich Grego philosophy faculty at Florida state college and sometimes skeptical contributor.
so much for the opportunity to present a quick query that as an enthusiastic advocate of his work in. Uh, consciousness studies, among other things.
It would be great to hear Dr. Hoffman address what you think the nature of consciousness
beyond just its function
of the physical world that you’ve already described so well in so many places. Is it
in itself a realm of Pure mathematical equations is some current physicists like max Tegmark
comes to mind and other philosophers in the platonic tradition
Or is it a bunch of individual
centers of subjective first-person
personal awareness and agency that collectively create
the user interface
maybe via mathematics or
state vector collapse or something like that as some pants, cyclists and guys like Penrose and Hameroff
seem to suggest, or is it, is consciousness some
combination of those two things?
Maybe. But underwritten by an all encompassing
universal source of conscious
awareness as more idealistic philosophers of mind claim, um, Bernardo CAS drop and it’s a Shawnee and mere all Buhari come to mind. But basically I just like to get a better description of consciousness in itself
just its role in generating a user interface.
Let’s, thanks again guys.
Alright, great. Let’s go there.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [01:00:25] Great. So. First, I think that consciousness is not just mathematics and that mathematics is not consciousness. So I’m not a reductionist at all about about consciousness. And in fact, even in my F the physicalist theories, the mathematics is just the mathematics.
If you’re a physicalist, you believe that do space, time and matter are objective real things. The mathematics only describes them. It is. It isn’t them. Now that. There are, obviously I’m disagreeing with max Tegmark who thinks that mathematics is, is the whole thing. Um, now what’s interesting is that consciousness.
Has been studied. Our conscious experiences have been studied by scientists for many, many decades in a field called psychophysics. Not, not a lot of people know about the field of psychophysics, but this one of the fields that I, that I work in, and what we’ve found is that we can predict with mathematical precision, you’re conscious experiences.
So conscious experiences are not these amorphous, weird things that, that are unpredictable. We can actually write down mathematical equations, for example. I can. Write down an equation that says, when you see a bunch of moving dots on a screen, when all of a sudden they will pop into 3d and you’ll see them as a three dimensional sphere, it turns out, I can predict that.
I can write down an equation that the motion of the dots must satisfy. Um, when, when you actually see the pop out in a new dimension of conscious experience, and there’s, there’s hundreds of things like that in, in, in psychophysics. In fact, one reason why we can build virtual reality.
Simulations that are so powerful is because we understand with mathematical precision how our consciousness works, how our conscious experiences of space and time and colors and objects work. And that’s why we can actually program virtual reality machines to make you see any worlds we want. It’s because of that mathematical precision.
But given that. So mathematics is not divorced from consciousness. I think of it more as like the bones of consciousness. Consciousness is as living thing, but it has structure. It has bones, and mathematics is sort of like the structure of it. So when I say that consciousness is fundamental in the universe, I’m also saying I, I believe that mathematics is fundamental.
Not that consciousness arises from mathematics, but that is an Andrew girl. Part, but not the whole. It’s a part of consciousness and conscious experiences, so there
Alex Tsakiris: [01:02:53] really wouldn’t be any conflict. If I’m understanding you right between what you’re saying and let’s say what Bernardo was saying in terms of.
We are rather than say, we are in consciousness. So those experiences, the models you’re talking about and their predictions are in consciousness. I think that’s part and parcel with what you th that doesn’t. Really conflict with what you’re saying. You’re just kind of pushing for more rigor in understanding more and more that we can about the structure of those bones.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [01:03:28] Absolutely. Bernardo and I are in broad agreement and you know, we know each other and we’re, we’re friends and. I, I would say his idea that, uh, you know, we’re whirlpools and ripples and in a bigger consciousness is, is a very, very good metaphor for what I’m talking about. Because in my model, there are all these, there’s infinitely many of these finite conscious agents that are interacting, but they also form various infinite conscious agents.
And. It’s true. Both that there’s one infinite conscious agent, and it’s also true that there’s infinitely many phonic conscious agents, and both are true in the mathematics. And so initially, I
Alex Tsakiris: [01:04:03] mean, almost by, right, I mean, that’s right. That infinite. We’ve been in there. You’ve gotta have a lot to deal with
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [01:04:09] that, that, that’s right.
It gets, it gets pretty hairy, but, but what’s nice is that I can talk about the one consciousness, but then as a scientist, I’ve got this analytic framework to actually look at the dynamics of the internal structure of the one. So I can talk about the one, but I don’t then just give up. I can have a very, very rich mathematical model of the internal dynamics of the one in terms of other conscious agents.
So there’s a lot of mathematics to explore there. And, and again, I’m not reducing consciousness to mathematics, but I’m saying that consciousness and mathematics are intimately related, almost like the living organism to its bones.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:04:46] Great. Tell you what, this has been so awesome and exciting for me.
I have one last. Category for you, if you will. Sure. Let’s talk about extended consciousness. One of the topics we’ve spent a lot of time covering on this show, literally hundreds of episodes at this point, so if we’re talking about near death experience science, which now as you know, there’s hundreds of peer reviewed published papers on it, consciousness after bodily death, which we normally don’t think about in any of our models or any of our understandings yet.
It seems to be a reality. Kind of mentioned remote viewing. We also have out of body experience, again, there’s a little God, good science there, and even after death communication. I always pointed dr Julie by Shel, who’s done excellent peer reviewed science on the reality that after death communication happens, and then we even have, you know, our friend Dean Raden, who’s gone from rigorous double slit experiments with his little photon machine and a meditator to now of the last time he was on the show talking about spirits.
And, uh, how spirits might manifest into our physical reality, which I think is very challenging notion for all these ideas that we’re talking about. So you get a sense where I’m going and I also have E T in there and I don’t want to leave ITI off the table because just cause people are uncomfortable with it.
Yeah. I just, like I say, I only believe what the New York times tells me. And since December, 2017 with, uh, the release of the DOD certified flying saucers, UFO driven craft, I now feel justified in bringing that up as a serious topic. But I don’t want to go too far down that digression.
The point is. There does seem to be a reality to these extended consciousness realms. How do we fit those back into your model?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [01:06:57] That’s right. So now there’s a lot to say here. Uh, things like the out of body experiences are interesting because we can induce them at will. Now, if I take a transcranial magnetic stimulator, a TMS unit, and touch it to the right temporal parietal junction.
And inhibit, you will have an outer body experience. So, so we now know how to induce those at will, um, with, with a magnet. And so the question about these. Paranormal phenomena and psychic experiences. If you’re a physicalist, there’s no room for it, right? Space, time and matter are fundamental.
There is no consciousness outside of space and time. So they, they’re pretty much, um, required to reject all this. And so most of my colleagues reject this stuff out of hand. Now my framework absolutely allows it. I’m saying that space time that, that the, the objective reality is a vast social network of interacting conscious agents.
Think like the Twitter verse. So there’s all these conscious agents interacting, they’re tweeting and following and they’re communicating with each other. And what we call space and time is just our visualization tool that allows us to understand this vast social network that would be too overwhelming without the visualization tool.
So. So there’s lots going out on outside space and time that, that, um, is not stuck in space and time. And so these kinds of, you know, paranormal phenomena are absolutely allowed, but, but here’s the, here’s the thing.
Most of my friends and I’m, I’m again, I go to the science and nonduality conference. I’m friends with many people doing this work. Most of my friends who are doing the kinds of paranormal experiments have a view like this that that. The fundamental reality does have space and time and physical stuff, but in addition to this physical reality, there’s a ghost in the machine.
Now that’s a fairly, it’s a fairly wimpy ghost. It doesn’t have very, very strong muscles. So you have to do long experiments with w w and then you find something that’s second or third decimal place effect. If you do hundreds and thousands of trials and so forth. And so it’s, it’s, it’s a dualist kind of framework.
There’s a, the physical world with this law’s is doing most of the heavy lifting, but there is a ghost and it can do, you know, one 10th we’ll have 100th of a percent or something like that. In careful experiments, my attitude is very, very different. I don’t need to ghost in the machine.
Consciousness is everything. And what I, what we call space and time and the laws of physics is exactly how we perceive our interactions with other conscious agents. I don’t need any ghosts in the machine. Every, all the laws of physics I’m going to, I want to show that all of the laws of physics are in fact a projection of the laws of dynamics of consciousness.
So we’ll have this theory of conscious agents that the fundamental conscious. World and the fundamental scientific theory. When we projected back into our interface, we will get all of general relativity, quantum field theory, evolution by natural selection. We will realize that we’ve just been seeing consciousness through a visualization tool.
So if it turned out that most of these paranormal experiments. Are false. That’s no problem. For me, consciousness is still fundamental and I don’t need these results to be true. To have the deeper, I’ll still have this deeper theory of conscious agents and have the science that shows that by projecting it into space and time, we get our current scientific theories.
So that’s, that’s where I’m
Alex Tsakiris: [01:10:39] headed. Hold on. I mean, I’m glad you’re headed in that direction and you make some great points that rigor is needed, but I’m not sure we’re really. Hitting on all cylinders there. I mean, they’re all, science is this process of observing and explaining. So there does need to be some observing going on.
So near death experience. Science, if you will, is at the beginning stages of observing a phenomenon that. that we can begin describing so that we could even start putting it, we could start testing some of the assumptions or start crafting what those conscious agents look like.
So I’m not sure sure that we can really blow past that that quickly, especially when we look at how miserably poor a job science as we know it has done. In, in kind of dealing with some of these fundamental meaning questions. What does it mean to survive bodily death? What does it mean to encounter these other, if you want to stick conscious agents in it, fine, but what does it mean to encounter the hierarchical nature of conscious agents that is conscious agents who can tell you your past.
Your future and what it means in a way that kind of transcends any experience you’ve ever had, in this existence. So isn’t there a lot of territory there that we need to map out?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [01:12:10] Absolutely. I completely agree with you. And, and in my framework, um, death is not the end. So think about it this way.
Suppose that you go with some friends to a virtual reality arcade to play safe virtual volleyball, and you put on your headset and bodysuit and, and you, you and your friends find yourself immersed in a virtual, um, you know, volleyball at the beach. So you see sand and net and Palm trees and you start playing volleyball for a while.
And then one of your friends, you know, Joe says, excuse me, I’m thirsty. I need to get a drink. He takes off his headset. And bodysuit and his avatar collapses motionless on the sand. Well, from the point of view of the interface, it looks like he’s dead, but he just stepped out of the interface.
He’s, he’s just fine. He’s getting a drink. And by saying that spacetime and what we call the physical world is just our interface. I’m saying that. When you die. Yeah. Your avatar is, is motionless from the point of view of the interface. You’re, you’ve unplugged from the interface and, but, but that doesn’t mean that your consciousness is gone.
The consciousness still survives. And so this, the framework that I’m dealing with does absolutely. Now, the issue, technical issue for me will be what aspect of your memories and your self identity will survive death. The consciousness itself clearly survives death. How much of of what I call me and my S my history and my memory of myself, that I’m going to be very interested.
That’s a technical question for my model to try to work on, but that’s the nice thing. It’s actually now a scientific question for me to ask that question. Um, whereas in the physicals framework, it’s just off the table.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:13:48] Well, Dr. Hoffman, that’s how outstanding the whole thing is. Just so exciting.
And I love the way that you’ve kind of reinvigorated science about these important questions. Who are we? Why are we here? That’s what science was supposed to be about from the beginning. Anyway, I agree. What’s next? Where are you going with this? Uh, new books. Uh, do presentations. How do people.
Stay on top of what you’re discovering.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [01:14:17] Uh, while I have a Twitter feed, um, and I’m, I try to be good about putting stuff on the Twitter feed at Yama. I’m an academic, and so I’m not a social media girl, but I do try to put stuff on my Twitter feed one when it comes up. So it’s at Donald D.
Hoffman at Donald D. Hoffman. Um, and where I’m going is I have a, uh, a small team of researchers that are very talented. And our goal is to really work out the mathematics of this conscious agent network. I want to understand and study the dynamics, actually build an ethical systems of conscious agents and ultimately show how that dynamics, when it gets projected back into space and time gives us back the science that we already know and love.
General relativity, quantum field theory and evolution by natural selection. I want to show that those, that science is a projection of a deeper evolution of consciousness that we can get mathematically precise. So that’s, by the way, that, you know, that’s not going to be just a year or two. I mean, we’re talking multi decade, um, effort here.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:15:22] Well, so what, it’s been absolutely terrific having you on the show today and again, congratulate you and just thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [01:15:31] Thank you, Alex has been a great pleasure. Thank you for the great questions and the great pushback.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:15:37] So after the interview I called up my buddy Rich Grego, got his thoughts on some of what we talked about.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:15:45] Maybe you just want to introduce yourself.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:15:48] Okay, sure. I’m Rich Grego, a faculty at Florida State College and I am a sometime contributor to Skeptiko.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:15:56] We’ve had this kind of ongoing interest in dialogue on parapsychology, consciousness and the crossover with philosophy. So I always kind of lean on you when we get to these questions, because we just have a lot of fun and interesting dialogue going back and forth.
So when this thing came up with Don Hoffman, the possibility to interview him, you actually helped me reconnect with Don, I had interviewed him a while back, and then set up this interview. So that was really cool and I appreciate all that help.
So what I thought we might talk about here at the beginning, and I’m thinking what might be included in is, who is Donald Hoffman? Because this is a guy who, people are going to run into on Sam Harris’s show or on Michael Shermer’s show, but he sits in kind of this strange space between us, if you will, and them, you know?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:16:57] Yeah, definitely. In terms of what you asked, I think one of his great contributions, like he’s doing the research in consciousness studies, and he’s one of the leading figures there, but you see him everywhere, right? He’s online, he’s really got a strong media presence as well.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:17:18] So Rich, how would you sum up for people this idea that, you know, like one little thing, like he plays up this evolution shit.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:17:27] Absolutely, yeah. I think, probably in his defense, any criticism that you hear from me about him, I say in the most constructive, respectful way possible, because I think, like you, I really appreciate what he’s doing in the field of consciousness studies. He’s certainly one of the pioneers, in terms of coming a long way from, really the reductive materialism that was all you heard, maybe a decade ago even, or two decades ago certain.
I think what he’s trying to do is, he’s trying to make spirituality in some sense palatable for a scholarly audience that is still enthralled to the old scientistic, materialistic paradigm that needs to have anything you say about spirituality couched in that jargon, that traditional materialist jargon.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:18:27] He does find a way to fit in with some of those folks that kind of, sometimes rub us the wrong way.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:18:37] Yeah, absolutely.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:18:38] So maybe you want to kind of state that he does that and how he does that?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:18:43] Yeah. I think what’s great about Donald Hoffman is, he has found a way to both sort of go against the prevailing grain of traditional theories of consciousness, which tended toward the materialistic side of the materialist versus consciousness spectrum, and he has done it in a way that articulates the notion that consciousness is what generates material reality, but he’s done it in terms of things like evolution and mathematical, empirically verifiable mathematical theories that make it palatable or at least somewhat palatable. At least it enables him to talk to the majority of the scientific community that does not agree with that.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:19:37] And I almost get the sense sometimes, in listening, like to his interview with Michael Shermer or his interview with Sam Harris, that they don’t quite totally know what he’s saying because he throws out these terms like evolution, and he throws out these terms like, provable mathematical models, and they’re like nodding their head, and then he kind of says, “But of course, consciousness is fundamental and time, space is doomed and reality isn’t what…” So he’s kind of very cleverly throwing them for a loop there.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:20:15] Yeah, if that’s his intention, I agree, yeah, he’s at least articulating very anti-materialist ideas in terms that a materialist could relate to, and if they’re not particularly subtle thinkers or trained well in philosophy of mind, they might just think that he’s one of them. I don’t know if that’s the case.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:20:43] So here’s another thing I thought we might chat about, because again, it’s inside baseball, and then when you break it down, I think it really can be very revealing to people.
I thought his story on the TED Talk and the origins of his TED Talk, which is kind of a breakthrough event for someone of his position, you know, in this kind of obscure consciousness studies thing, and he does this TED Talk and he has 2.7 million views on it. But the origins of it is interesting because of course, people who listen to Skeptiko will remember Rupert Sheldrake’s famous TED Talk that was banned for a lot less controversial stuff than Don Hoffman said, and maybe that is somewhat of an indication of the times and how things have changed a little bit. There’s two ways of looking at it. Even there is a genuine change inside of TED, or as I suspect, they just can’t quite get away with it to the extent that they could before, so now they let him talk.
What do you make of the backstory of the TED Talk as he describes it and how he was kind of asked to kind of, “Hey, maybe shift it over and talk about this more,” and just that whole thing, what did you make of that?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:21:58] Yeah, I really wasn’t sure exactly how he meant that. You seem to understand that on a more subtle level than I did, and I was wondering if you knew more than I did about the backstory to that whole scenario.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:22:13] Well, I remember when this thing happened with Dr. Rupert Sheldrake a few years ago, and I remember talking to Sheldrake and he actually said that he talked to Chris Anderson, who was the creator of the TED Talk series, and still is actively involved in it, and this is Rupert saying that he got a pretty good vibe from Chris and he was just like, “Hey man, I do need to kind of make sure that we are not spreading kind of crazy ideas, and I do have this secret scientific board that anonymously decides and guides me in doing that,” which sounds very, very shaky. But it does sound like he’s somebody who is involved and I could see him kind of shaping this and saying, “Hey, we can go here, but let’s not go there,” kind of thing. But I don’t want to make a bigger deal out of it than it is, because I do not have any inside information. I just thought it was kind of curious.
Here’s the other thing that I kind of wanted to just throw on the table, and that is this whole idea of mathematics and mathematical modelling. The first thing that I wanted to chat about is, there’s a reality to what Dr. Hoffman is talking about there and that he’s so excited about. It’s great that there are deep thinkers, scientists like him who are excited about math and excited about math models.
What I wanted to throw on the table is, in defense of him, if anyone has ever looked at the math behind quantum physics, you just are kind of blown away, because to a lot of us quantum physics still has this woo-woo element, the way that it’s talked about, and for people who are in the field they’re like, “Are you kidding? The math here folks is like super-duper at the cutting edge of complexity and it yields unbelievably reliable, predictable results,” and Dr. Hoffman is understandably very impressed by the results that quantum physics generates.
So I wanted you to maybe, kind of pick it up there and tell us how your field looks at mathematical models as they may relate to consciousness. What role do they play?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:24:38] Well, you know, again, I think contemporary philosophy of mind is becoming increasingly interested in the implications of various interpretations of quantum physics and as everyone knows, at conferences they’ll say, “Just Google it. Look up quantum physics on Wikipedia.” Everybody has their metaphysical interpretation of the math and they have math that backs up their interpretation. But as you pointed out in the interview, the math isn’t the interpretation.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:25:18] The way I kind of read what you’re saying is, to even be a player, you have to do the really good math, but everyone is going to not only have the math but then they’re going to have their interpretations of the math and that’s where the philosophy comes in and that’s why we have these differences but underlying that is the math. I think, until you said it one second ago, I did not have that insight Rich.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:25:48] His confidence in the mathematics and then the empirical justifications based on those mathematics, I think very close to some of the pioneers in the field of quantum physics, Von Neumann and Wigner and those guys who said that the implications of quantum physics are such that we have to retain a very foundational place for consciousness.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:26:12] A lot of people aren’t aware of how powerful the mathematical models of quantum physics are. Like one of the things you’ll hear Hoffman just kind of throw out and it takes a while to digest it, is like, CERN, when they smash those atoms together, I forget what the stats are, but every time they run one of those they produce like 10 terabytes of data. So somebody is then running that data through all of these complex mathematical models, and then they’re coming up with these results, like he says, where they go, “Oh, space time is doomed.” It’s like, someone has crunched the numbers, the terabyte of numbers, and the formula works out that way and we can only imagine how appealing that is to someone who really gets the math at a level that maybe 99.9% of people don’t get, to say, “It’s right there. We’ve just crunched the numbers. That’s it.”
So the shut up and calculate thing has an appeal that most of us just don’t get because we don’t understand the extent to which these guys really are calculating. So yeah, you don’t need the calculations to do the interpretation and the philosophical stuff, but maybe it helps us understand it better if we understand that there’s some really fantastic math going on here and that that has an allure.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:27:44] Yeah, certainly, and again, as he said, in terms of making empirical predictions and being useful for extremely practical and important aspects of our lives, the mathematics of quantum physics is really important.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:28:03] But then Rich, I love what you kind of shot back to me in an email, is you immediately picked out this idea that, even if we can agree with Dr. Hoffman, do we have to go all the way? Do we have to say that mathematics is the be all/end all? And I love how you bring up, “Well, what about poetry?” And I love the juxtaposition of that.
I was just helping my daughter who’s in high school, help her with her essay on why poetry deserves a stronger place in our curriculum and in doing that it would replace some of this math, but are there other ways of understanding? That’s what you were kind of pushing back for, and is that sometimes maybe a limitation of the physics-centric kind of approach to consciousness?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:28:53] Yeah, definitely. This is kind of one of my areas of research interests lately, is sort of the paradigm shaping hold that science and mathematics, which are kind of part and parcel of the same thing, have had in shaping our cultural paradigm. I sense it in consciousness studies when you go to conferences about it and listen to the guys like Donald Hoffman who are shaping the parameters of the discussion and the dialogue. They equate scientific and mathematical descriptions of reality with reality. And frankly, besides being a cultural bias of modern Western secular society, I never hear them really give a justification for that.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:29:48] Well, let’s take that one step further. You use the word precision, and we both love the way that Dr. Hoffman brought that into the conversation and especially how he connected it to spirituality, and that if we’re going to talk, let’s be as precise as possible. Bravo. But then what you point out is, why do we assume that poetry isn’t a more precise way to describe it? And that’s such a head spinner, but I love that idea.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:30:18] Yeah, I think that’s really important, especially now and again, because I think we live in such a scientistic technocratic kind of a culture that we have just sort of equated science with fact and other realms, other modes of knowing like poetry or literature or spirituality or philosophy even with, sort of myth or sort of fanciful thinking without question and that’s an assumption that I think is largely unchallenged in our culture. When we want to talk about real facts about the way reality is, of course, you’ve got to be scientific, but I just, especially when it comes to consciousness, don’t see any justification for that. I mean, you can say it and assume it, but in terms of explaining to me why reading a novel by Camus or reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, isn’t a more precise description of conscious life than a bunch of mathematical equations, for God’s sake? I don’t get.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:31:33] Let me throw on the pile an Emily Dickinson quote. “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” This is not a mathematical equation, but it touches our heart in a way that is precise. It precisely opens up our heart to this larger field of consciousness. And maybe I’m stretching the use of the word precise, but I would kind of throw that on the table.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:32:04] Absolutely, and I think it also speaks to the notion of, besides ironically precision and success, they talk about the success of science in vague terms, in terms of, so how do you define that?
They’re also circular, I mean the reasoning behind them are circular. Why is mathematics more precise than poetry? Well, because you can demonstrate it mathematically. Right? Why is science more successful than spirituality? Well, because you’re using scientific standards of success. I’ve never heard them make arguments, fundamental arguments for that.
I would accept Donald Hoffman or anybody else saying that the mathematics of consciousness is going to be a great revolutionary breakthrough for a scientific understanding of consciousness, but they speak about mathematical descriptions of consciousness as, sort of an ultimate metaphysical, ontological, absolute, superior to other modes of thought, description of consciousness, and that, I do not think they make an adequate case for.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:33:19] Okay, so we’re, I think, coming around the bend. Let’s try and see if we can tackle this last one. I think one aspect of what Dr. Hoffman brings to the table that we both appreciate, is that he tries to connect what he’s discovering or his theory with a deeper spirituality, and maybe that’s a way to connect it with this broader understanding that you and I are kind of grappling with of what consciousness really is. Do you think he makes the case?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:33:49] Yeah. In preparing an interview with a radio station who wants to talk about the influence of Gnosticism. It’s kind of influenced the way I thought about this interview when I listen to it a couple of times on the Gnostic tradition and philosophy and religion, not to digress. But basically one of their fundamental premise is that we live in an illusional world, very much the way Donald Hoffman says it, except this is a spiritual tradition. One of the assertions that they make, that I think maybe applies to his thinking about math and science, in terms of understanding and approaching, an ultimate sort of understanding of physicalism and the physical world and consciousness in relation to it, is that the physical world, in his estimation, is certainly illusory, the perceptions and cognitions and conceptual constructs that we come up with generate this illusion, and that would include mathematics and science.
So essentially, doing more math and science it would seem would perpetuate the illusion that they’re trying to transcend more than transcending it, if that makes sense.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:35:17] That’s perfect. What I’d again ask if you could do, for the benefit of the audience, because that’s such great stuff, I love where you’re going with that, you’re such a deep thinker on this stuff, but maybe phrase it more as a question? Just what you said, are we going further down…? You get what I’m saying.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:35:47] Yeah, I guess so.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:35:49] And connecting that, however you want to connect it with Gnosticism. But I think it’s even beyond Gnosticism, I think we all have this sense, this deep spiritual sense that moving further into math and knowing, maybe moving us away from this deeper spiritual part of us, that that is then the constant struggle of science. You get what I’m saying.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:36:15] Absolutely, yeah, and like you, I think like you, I give Donald Hoffman a tremendous amount of credit for, not only trying to overcome the materialist paradigm and to do it via science, rigorous science, empirical science and mathematics, but also to understand how mathematics and science may play a fundamental role in, I guess… Again, this is where I’m not sure exactly, and maybe you know, maybe you get it, but this is one of the things I’m unclear about what he’s saying, and my question was intended to try to discern.
Obviously, if everything is in consciousness, everything in the world is part of consciousness, but he also thinks that math and science give us some privileged access with a particular kind of precision to what it’s all about in some ultimate sense and how we generate this user interface illusion. It seems as though his thinking is sort of similar to the platonic ancient Greek philosophers who felt that we do live in this sort of idealistic world of consciousness, but it’s, at some foundational level, mathematical.
Again, I’d love to have him here to ask him that, and you kind of did, but I wasn’t sure what his answer meant. It sounded as though that’s what he was saying, but I don’t know, what do you think?
Alex Tsakiris: [01:37:59] Before I answer that, I want to bring you back to your point that you made earlier about Gnosticism and I want to see if you can do it again, because I love where you wound up with that Rich. Is it moving us? You have to wonder if that illusion of moving towards knowing is maybe moving us away from the deeper spirituality. That’s what I took out of what you were saying about the Gnosticism thing. So, I think I’d got that the first time around, but again, if you could simplify it for folks, tighten it up.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:38:34] “What Donald Hoffman is trying to accomplish and doing a really great job of it on many levels, is trying to provide a mathematically rigorous description of both consciousness and how consciousness generates this illusional material world that we live in. Illusional in the sense that a user interface on a computer is illusional.
Again, my concern though is that if the constructs of our consciousness are what generate the user interface, then the math and science that he has a lot of faith in, instead of leading us out of the illusion or helping us transcend the illusion, they may be generating further illusions, bringing us further down the rabbit hole, so to speak.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:39:26] . So, what else from this Rich, do we want to kind of throw on the table for people to consider? I’ve hit on some of the high points from your email to me. Is there anything else that jumped out?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:39:44] I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s pretty amazing some of what he’s talking about, maybe even more shocking than coming up with a measurable, objectively mathematically, confirmable definition and description of consciousness. Apparently he’s doing this with the concept of God, which is fascinating. You guys didn’t dwell on it too much in your conversation but I would imagine that would jump out at a lot of people.
He says he’s the first person to ever do this but I do know that Kurt Gödel actually, I believe, when he was at the Advanced Studies Institute at Princeton I think, came up with a mathematical proof of God. But that to me again, it illustrates, sort of the problems you’re going to run into if you try to… I can’t say he’s trying to reduce reality to mathematics, but if you restrict your purview to mathematics and empirical science, I think the notion that somehow you’re going to fit God, whatever that might be, into that box, it sort of highlights some of the problems you’re going to have. If you limit yourself to his approach, I guess, if that makes sense.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:41:15] Nice, nice, all great stuff.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:41:23] What do you think? I’m really interested to really know what your take is, in terms of all of those issues, and where he stands. I guess if I had to place myself, in terms of the guys right now that I like in consciousness studies, I really like Bernardo Kastrup and obviously the constituency of Skeptiko know him very well. I’m always trying to place you, because as a good interview, sometimes it’s hard to discern, but I gather that’s kind of where you stand are would like to stand, if you had any conclusions.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:42:06] Yeah, I think so. You were chatting a minute ago about the Gnostic kind of thing, and I always kind of pull back a little bit on the Gnostic idea because it seems to have a little bit of the backdoor materialism feel that you alluded to, “Okay, here it all is and there are all of these spirits or Gods and they’re doing this and they’re waging war with this,” and it’s like “Whoa.”
So from a kind of nondual, kind of yogic philosophy, one of the things that kind of seems and feels right to me is all of this middle zone, and what we’re really trying to do is transcend it, and if we have to stop along the river at a rock that is panpsychism or idealism or even a rock further back which is a mathematical model of consciousness, then that’s okay. But I think on more of a kind of faith-based thing, where we’re heading is toward something that transcends all of that, and that would be the measure of whether we’re really getting close.
I actually kind of said this and this is maybe just private between you and I, but the Skeptiko thing, I didn’t even know what I was getting into, but it’s the inquiry to perpetuate doubt and continually doubting, continually saying, “We’re not there yet,” which I do respect and appreciate about Hoffman; “This can’t possibly be right, and this will undoubtedly be proven wrong.”
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:43:43] Yeah.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:43:44] That, in a way, is the deepest, most profound spiritual thing he can say. And I’d say the same thing, you know, it’s the neti, neti, neti, not this, not this, not this, kind of thing. For me that is not only an axiom but it is maybe closer to an ultimate truth, that if we ever think we’re getting toward some answer to this, then we are, as you said, we need to kind of check ourselves, because we’re moving further away.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:44:16] Yeah, I guess me too. Do you accept his sort of, because sometimes he speaks that way, do you accept his sort of stark contrast between this kind of spiritual science that he speaks about on one hand, and then, “But if you’re going to talk about it, mathematics and science is the most successful and precise way to do it,” how do you feel about that? You have obviously scientists on your show a lot of times, not a lot of poets or novelists or composers.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:44:55] Well, you know what I thought was so awesome is when the interview brought him to that level, he seems so authentically spiritual, and at that point I say, that is your path, you’re being true to your path, so bravo. Do you know what I mean?
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:45:17] Absolutely.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:45:18] I see the limitations the same that you do, and I think with a wink and a nod, he sees the limitations as well, but he, like all of us says, “This is the road that I’m on and I am obligated to pursue it,” kind of thing.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:45:33] Yeah. I thought, really, that was just such a great, I thought it was a fantastic interview, because there was so much there and he’s saying some things that are really important and revolutionary and pioneering, at least in a contemporary ethos and you, simultaneously I think, affirmed but also clarified and sometimes pushed where it was necessary and he acknowledged that. So I just thought that was a very productive interview.
I wanted things clarified about his thinking that were clarified in that interview, which was fantastic because I’ve listened to plenty of interviews and read plenty of his essays and things like that. So I think you really accomplished a lot there.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:46:17] That’s nice of you to say Rich. I also appreciate you not backing down on the fact that, in a way he didn’t really answer your question.
Dr. Rich Grego: [01:46:30] Yeah, and maybe I don’t know what he would say ultimately or what he thinks ultimately. Maybe he thinks that in a sense consciousness is such that silence, whatever you say it’s going to be about it, rather than be an authentic experience of it. So maybe he realizes that and maybe that’s why he can’t answer the question.
Alex Tsakiris: [01:46:53] Thanks again to Dr. Donald Hoffman for joining me today on Skeptiko and thanks to Dr. Rich Grego for helping me set up this interview. I would love to have more people help me set up interviews the way that Rich has done here. As a matter of fact, if you have an itch for show producing and would like to do something even more extensive, I would love to have you collaborate with me , no matter how ambitious your plans are, let’s find a way to make that happen. I’m actually, kind of trying to make some of those projects happen right now, so let me know on that. Let me know if you have any questions or comments on the show. Skeptiko Forum, you can go there. You can email me, Facebook. I don’t really stay up on Facebook, I’ll try and do a better job on Facebook, but let me know what you think. Share the show with only those people who need to hear it.
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