Donald Hoffman: the case against reality

40 minutes

Newton’s three-body problem

6 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Elsewhere

30 minutes

Acadiana

10 minutes

Dani

8 minutes

It’s impossible to see the world as it is, argues a cognitive neuroscientist

Many scientists believe that natural selection brought our perception of reality into clearer and deeper focus, reasoning that growing more attuned to the outside world gave our ancestors an evolutionary edge. Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, thinks that just the opposite is true. Because evolution selects for survival, not accuracy, he proposes that our conscious experience masks reality behind millennia of adaptions for ‘fitness payoffs’ – an argument supported by his work running evolutionary game-theory simulations. In this interview recorded at the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival from the Institute of Arts and Ideas in 2019, Hoffman explains why he believes that perception must necessarily hide reality for conscious agents to survive and reproduce. With that view serving as a springboard, the wide-ranging discussion also touches on Hoffman’s consciousness-centric framework for reality, and its potential implications for our everyday lives.

A millimetre makes a world of difference when calculating planetary trajectories

Calculating the trajectories of two gravitating bodies is straightforward mathematics. But introducing even just one more variable into an orbital system can make its long-term trajectory impossible to predict. In 2009, two researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz investigated just how difficult this mathematical phenomenon – known as the ‘N-body problem’ – makes forecasting the eventual fate of our own corner of space. The team ran 2,000 simulations of the solar system’s trajectory up to 5 billion years into the future, with the only variable being less than a millimetre difference in the distance between Mercury and the Sun. The simulations yielded a stunning array of results, including the possibility of Mercury careening into the Sun, colliding with Venus and destablising the entire inner solar system. This animation from TED-Ed breaks down the N-body problem with rich visuals and methodical clarity, and concludes with scientists’ efforts to minimise N-body unpredictability as humans press further into space.

Video by Ted-Ed

Director: HypeCG

Writer: Fabio Pacucci

Eight men reflect on their paths to prison – and imagine their alternative lives

An idiosyncratic patchwork of reflection, fantasy and atonement, the German director Adrian Figueroa’s experimental documentary Elsewhere invites viewers to step inside the minds of eight men serving extended terms in a German prison. As each inmate talks about the path that led him to incarceration, their distinct life stories, personalities and talents emerge, with the only clear connection between them being their shared quarters. While discussing topics ranging from the unparalleled highs of performing a robbery to the clarifying power of meditation, the men are green-screened into escapist settings aligned with their imaginary selves, and far removed from the drudgery of their locked-away lives. The result is at once enlightening and disorienting – and quite unlike any other ‘behind prison walls’ documentary you’re ever likely to see.

Elsewhere was awarded online distribution by Aeon Video at the 2020 Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.

Director: Adrian Figueroa

Producer: Sibylle Arndt

The uncanny allure of the annual Cajun crawfish festival in Louisiana

Crawfish – small crustaceans also known as crayfish, crawdads or mudbugs – have long been a staple of Cajun cuisine, with the lobster-like creatures plentiful in the freshwaters of Louisiana. With an observational style and an experimental flair, Acadiana gathers scenes from a day at the state’s annual crawfish festival in Breaux Bridge. A crawfish eating competition, crawfish-inspired costumes and a float procession featuring the 2019 crowned Crawfish King and Queen are captured with a mix of anthropological curiosity and familial respect by the Québécois filmmakers Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin. While its title references the French-Canadian roots of Cajun culture in the United States, there is something otherworldly about this short film, which went on to win several awards on the Canadian film-festival circuit.

Directors: Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau, Yannick Nolin

Producer: Jean-Pierre Vézina

Website: Kinomada

‘I hate giving you bad news’: when a daughter with breast cancer calls her mother

Danielle Hernandez is 30 and has Stage 4 breast cancer. As she calls her mother Violeta in Florida to deliver an update on her treatment from her home in Los Angeles, she oscillates between medical jargon and silver livings, with the more difficult pieces of information hidden in the subtext, only occasionally bubbling to the surface. This intimate conversation is captured by her roommate, the US filmmaker Lizzy Hogenson, in the short film Dani. Using a stop-motion technique that combines felt figures and claymation, Hogenson places her own veneer on the discussion, which is pierced by intermittent cracks of raw emotion, hard truths and silence. The result is at once affecting and distressing, as small moments of love, courage and pain spark and fade into uncertainty.

Director: Lizzy Hogenson

Producer: Kyle McClary

It’s impossible to see the world as it is, argues a cognitive neuroscientist

Many scientists believe that natural selection brought our perception of reality into clearer and deeper focus, reasoning that growing more attuned to the outside world gave our ancestors an evolutionary edge. Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, thinks that just the opposite is true. Because evolution selects for survival, not accuracy, he proposes that our conscious experience masks reality behind millennia of adaptions for ‘fitness payoffs’ – an argument supported by his work running evolutionary game-theory simulations. In this interview recorded at the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival from the Institute of Arts and Ideas in 2019, Hoffman explains why he believes that perception must necessarily hide reality for conscious agents to survive and reproduce. With that view serving as a springboard, the wide-ranging discussion also touches on Hoffman’s consciousness-centric framework for reality, and its potential implications for our everyday lives.

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Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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