Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘galileo

Do we see reality as it is?

No. We see what help us to survive

Dare to recognize that perception is not about seeing truth, it’s about having kids

Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman is trying to answer a big question: Do we experience the world as it really is … or as we need it to be?

Donald Hoffman. Cognitive scientist. Speech Posted Jun 2015

Donald Hoffman studies how our visual perception, guided by millions of years of natural selection, authors every aspect of our everyday reality. Full bio

I love a great mystery, and I’m fascinated by the greatest unsolved mystery in science, perhaps because it’s personal. It’s about who we are, and I can’t help but be curious.

0:25 The mystery is this: What is the relationship between your brain and your conscious experiences, such as your experience of the taste of chocolate or the feeling of velvet?

This mystery is not new. In 1868, Thomas Huxley wrote, How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the genie when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.”

Huxley knew that brain activity and conscious experiences are correlated, but he didn’t know why. To the science of his day, it was a mystery. In the years since Huxley, science has learned a lot about brain activity, but the relationship between brain activity and conscious experiences is still a mystery. Why? Why have we made so little progress?

Well, some experts think that we can’t solve this problem because we lack the necessary concepts and intelligence. We don’t expect monkeys to solve problems in quantum mechanics, and as it happens, we can’t expect our species to solve this problem either. Well, I disagree. I’m more optimistic.

I think we’ve simply made a false assumption. Once we fix it, we just might solve this problem. Today, I’d like tell you what that assumption is, why it’s false, and how to fix it.

Let’s begin with a question: Do we see reality as it is? I open my eyes and I have an experience that I describe as a red tomato a meter away. As a result, I come to believe that in reality, there’s a red tomato a meter away. I then close my eyes, and my experience changes to a gray field, but is it still the case that in reality, there’s a red tomato a meter away? I think so, but could I be wrong? Could I be misinterpreting the nature of my perceptions?

We have misinterpreted our perceptions before.

We used to think the Earth is flat, because it looks that way. Pythagoras discovered that we were wrong. Then we thought that the Earth is the unmoving center of the Universe, again because it looks that way. Copernicus and Galileo discovered, again, that we were wrong.

Galileo then wondered if we might be misinterpreting our experiences in other ways. He wrote: “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be annihilated.”

that’s a stunning claim. Could Galileo be right? Could we really be misinterpreting our experiences that badly? What does modern science have to say about this?

neuroscientists tell us that about a third of the brain’s cortex is engaged in vision. When you simply open your eyes and look about this room, billions of neurons and trillions of synapses are engaged.

this is a bit surprising, because to the extent that we think about vision at all, we think of it as like a camera. It just takes a picture of objective reality as it is. Now, there is a part of vision that’s like a camera: the eye has a lens that focuses an image on the back of the eye where there are 130 million photoreceptors, so the eye is like a 130-megapixel camera.

But that doesn’t explain the billions of neurons and trillions of synapses that are engaged in vision. What are these neurons up to?

neuroscientists tell us that they are creating, in real time, all the shapes, objects, colors, and motions that we see. It feels like we’re just taking a snapshot of this room the way it is, but in fact, we’re constructing everything that we see. We don’t construct the whole world at once.

We construct what we need in the moment.

there are many demonstrations that are quite compelling that we construct what we see. I’ll just show you two. In this example, you see some red discs with bits cut out of them, but if I just rotate the disks a little bit, suddenly, you see a 3D cube pop out of the screen. Now, the screen of course is flat, so the three-dimensional cube that you’re experiencing must be your construction.

 In this next example, you see glowing blue bars with pretty sharp edges moving across a field of dots. In fact, no dots move. All I’m doing from frame to frame is changing the colors of dots from blue to black or black to blue. But when I do this quickly, your visual system creates the glowing blue bars with the sharp edges and the motion. There are many more examples, but these are just two that you construct what you see.

But neuroscientists go further. They say that we reconstruct reality. So, when I have an experience that I describe as a red tomato, that experience is actually an accurate reconstruction of the properties of a real red tomato that would exist even if I weren’t looking.

why would neuroscientists say that we don’t just construct, we reconstruct? Well, the standard argument given is usually an evolutionary one. Those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage compared to those who saw less accurately, and therefore they were more likely to pass on their genes.

We are the offspring of those who saw more accurately, and so we can be confident that, in the normal case, our perceptions are accurate.

You see this in the standard textbooks. One textbook says, for example, “Evolutionarily speaking, vision is useful precisely because it is so accurate.” So the idea is that accurate perceptions are fitter perceptions. They give you a survival advantage.

Now, is this correct? Is this the right interpretation of evolutionary theory? Well, let’s first look at a couple of examples in nature.

The Australian jewel beetle is dimpled, glossy and brown. The female is flightless. The male flies, looking, of course, for a hot female. When he finds one, he alights and mates. There’s another species in the outback, Homo sapiens. The male of this species has a massive brain that he uses to hunt for cold beer. (Laughter) And when he finds one, he drains it, and sometimes throws the bottle into the outback.

Now, as it happens, these bottles are dimpled, glossy, and just the right shade of brown to tickle the fancy of these beetles. The males swarm all over the bottles trying to mate. They lose all interest in the real females. Classic case of the male leaving the female for the bottle.

The species almost went extinct. Australia had to change its bottles to save its beetles. (Laughter) Now, the males had successfully found females for thousands, perhaps millions of years. It looked like they saw reality as it is, but apparently not. Evolution had given them a hack. A female is anything dimpled, glossy and brown, the bigger the better. (Laughter) Even when crawling all over the bottle, the male couldn’t discover his mistake.

 you might say, beetles, sure, they’re very simple creatures, but surely not mammals. Mammals don’t rely on tricks. Well, I won’t dwell on this, but you get the idea. (Laughter)

 So this raises an important technical question: Does natural selection really favor seeing reality as it is? Fortunately, we don’t have to wave our hands and guess; evolution is a mathematically precise theory. We can use the equations of evolution to check this out. We can have various organisms in artificial worlds compete and see which survive and which thrive, which sensory systems are more fit.

A key notion in those equations is fitness.

Consider this steak: What does this steak do for the fitness of an animal? Well, for a hungry lion looking to eat, it enhances fitness. For a well-fed lion looking to mate, it doesn’t enhance fitness. And for a rabbit in any state, it doesn’t enhance fitness, so fitness does depend on reality as it is, yes, but also on the organism, its state and its action. Fitness is not the same thing as reality as it is, and it’s fitness, and not reality as it is, that figures centrally in the equations of evolution.

in my lab, we have run hundreds of thousands of evolutionary game simulations with lots of different randomly chosen worlds and organisms that compete for resources in those worlds. Some of the organisms see all of the reality, others see just part of the reality, and some see none of the reality, only fitness. Who wins?

 I hate to break it to you, but perception of reality goes extinct. In almost every simulation, organisms that see none of reality but are just tuned to fitness drive to extinction all the organisms that perceive reality as it is. So the bottom line is, evolution does not favor veridical, or accurate perceptions. Those perceptions of reality go extinct.

 this is a bit stunning. How can it be that not seeing the world accurately gives us a survival advantage? That is a bit counterintuitive. But remember the jewel beetle. The jewel beetle survived for thousands, perhaps millions of years, using simple tricks and hacks. What the equations of evolution are telling us is that all organisms, including us, are in the same boat as the jewel beetle.

We do not see reality as it is. We’re shaped with tricks and hacks that keep us alive.

 Still, we need some help with our intuitions. How can not perceiving reality as it is be useful? Well, fortunately, we have a very helpful metaphor: the desktop interface on your computer. Consider that blue icon for a TED Talk that you’re writing. Now, the icon is blue and rectangular and in the lower right corner of the desktop. Does that mean that the text file itself in the computer is blue, rectangular, and in the lower right-hand corner of the computer? Of course not.

Anyone who thought that misinterprets the purpose of the interface. It’s not there to show you the reality of the computer. In fact, it’s there to hide that reality. You don’t want to know about the diodes and resistors and all the megabytes of software. If you had to deal with that, you could never write your text file or edit your photo. So the idea is that evolution has given us an interface that hides reality and guides adaptive behavior. Space and time, as you perceive them right now, are your desktop. Physical objects are simply icons in that desktop.

There’s an obvious objection. Hoffman, if you think that train coming down the track at 200 MPH is just an icon of your desktop, why don’t you step in front of it? And after you’re gone, and your theory with you, we’ll know that there’s more to that train than just an icon.

Well, I wouldn’t step in front of that train for the same reason that I wouldn’t carelessly drag that icon to the trash can: not because I take the icon literally — the file is not literally blue or rectangular — but I do take it seriously. I could lose weeks of work. Similarly, evolution has shaped us with perceptual symbols that are designed to keep us alive. We’d better take them seriously. If you see a snake, don’t pick it up. If you see a cliff, don’t jump off. They’re designed to keep us safe, and we should take them seriously. That does not mean that we should take them literally. That’s a logical error.

14:02 Another objection: There’s nothing really new here. Physicists have told us for a long time that the metal of that train looks solid but really it’s mostly empty space with microscopic particles zipping around. There’s nothing new here. Well, not exactly. It’s like saying, I know that that blue icon on the desktop is not the reality of the computer, but if I pull out my trusty magnifying glass and look really closely, I see little pixels, and that’s the reality of the computer.

Well, not really — you’re still on the desktop, and that’s the point. Those microscopic particles are still in space and time: they’re still in the user interface. So I’m saying something far more radical than those physicists.

Finally, you might object, look, we all see the train, therefore none of us constructs the train. But remember this example. In this example, we all see a cube, but the screen is flat, so the cube that you see is the cube that you construct. We all see a cube because we all, each one of us, constructs the cube that we see. The same is true of the train. We all see a train because we each see the train that we construct, and the same is true of all physical objects.

We’re inclined to think that perception is like a window on reality as it is. The theory of evolution is telling us that this is an incorrect interpretation of our perceptions.

Instead, reality is more like a 3D desktop that’s designed to hide the complexity of the real world and guide adaptive behavior. Space as you perceive it is your desktop. Physical objects are just the icons in that desktop.

We used to think that the Earth is flat because it looks that way. Then we thought that the Earth is the unmoving center of reality because it looks that way. We were wrong. We had misinterpreted our perceptions. Now we believe that spacetime and objects are the nature of reality as it is. The theory of evolution is telling us that once again, we’re wrong. We’re misinterpreting the content of our perceptual experiences.

There’s something that exists when you don’t look, but it’s not spacetime and physical objects. It’s as hard for us to let go of spacetime and objects as it is for the jewel beetle to let go of its bottle. Why? Because we’re blind to our own blindnesses.

But we have an advantage over the jewel beetle: our science and technology. By peering through the lens of a telescope we discovered that the Earth is not the unmoving center of reality, and by peering through the lens of the theory of evolution we discovered that spacetime and objects are not the nature of reality.

When I have a perceptual experience that I describe as a red tomato, I am interacting with reality, but that reality is not a red tomato and is nothing like a red tomato. Similarly, when I have an experience that I describe as a lion or a steak, I’m interacting with reality, but that reality is not a lion or a steak.

And here’s the kicker: When I have a perceptual experience that I describe as a brain, or neurons, I am interacting with reality, but that reality is not a brain or neurons and is nothing like a brain or neurons.

And that reality, whatever it is, is the real source of cause and effect in the world — not brains, not neurons. Brains and neurons have no causal powers. They cause none of our perceptual experiences, and none of our behavior. Brains and neurons are a species-specific set of symbols, a hack.

 What does this mean for the mystery of consciousness? Well, it opens up new possibilities.

For instance, perhaps reality is some vast machine that causes our conscious experiences. I doubt this, but it’s worth exploring. Perhaps reality is some vast, interacting network of conscious agents, simple and complex, that cause each other’s conscious experiences. Actually, this isn’t as crazy an idea as it seems, and I’m currently exploring it.

But here’s the point: Once we let go of our massively intuitive but massively false assumption about the nature of reality, it opens up new ways to think about life’s greatest mystery. I bet that reality will end up turning out to be more fascinating and unexpected than we’ve ever imagined.

19:00 The theory of evolution presents us with the ultimate dare: Dare to recognize that perception is not about seeing truth, it’s about having kids. And by the way, even this TED is just in your head.

19:31 Chris Anderson: If that’s really you there, thank you. So there’s so much from this. I mean, first of all, some people may just be profoundly depressed at the thought that, if evolution does not favor reality, I mean, doesn’t that to some extent undermine all our endeavors here, all our ability to think that we can think the truth, possibly even including your own theory, if you go there?

Donald Hoffman: Well, this does not stop us from a successful science. What we have is one theory that turned out to be false, that perception is like reality and reality is like our perceptions. That theory turns out to be false. Okay, throw that theory away. That doesn’t stop us from now postulating all sorts of other theories about the nature of reality, so it’s actually progress to recognize that one of our theories was false. So science continues as normal. There’s no problem here.

CA: So you think it’s possible — (Laughter) — This is cool, but what you’re saying I think is it’s possible that evolution can still get you to reason.

DH: Yes. Now that’s a very, very good point. The evolutionary game simulations that I showed were specifically about perception, and they do show that our perceptions have been shaped not to show us reality as it is, but that does not mean the same thing about our logic or mathematics. We haven’t done these simulations, but my bet is that we’ll find that there are some selection pressures for our logic and our mathematics to be at least in the direction of truth.

I mean, if you’re like me, math and logic is not easy. We don’t get it all right, but at least the selection pressures are not uniformly away from true math and logic. So I think that we’ll find that we have to look at each cognitive faculty one at a time and see what evolution does to it. What’s true about perception may not be true about math and logic.

21:14 CA: I mean, really what you’re proposing is a kind of modern-day Bishop Berkeley interpretation of the world: consciousness causes matter, not the other way around.

DH: Well, it’s slightly different than Berkeley. Berkeley thought that, he was a deist, and he thought that the ultimate nature of reality is God and so forth, and I don’t need to go where Berkeley’s going, so it’s quite a bit different from Berkeley. I call this conscious realism. It’s actually a very different approach.

Are we able to see Reality as is?

I love a great mystery, and I’m fascinated by the greatest unsolved mystery in science, perhaps because it’s personal.

It’s about who we are, and I can’t help but be curious.

The mystery is this: What is the relationship between your brain and your conscious experiences, such as your experience of the taste of chocolate or the feeling of velvet?

This mystery is not new. In 1868, Thomas Huxley wrote,

“How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the genie when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.”

Now, Huxley knew that brain activity and conscious experiences are correlated, but he didn’t know why.

To the science of his day, it was a mystery. In the years since Huxley, science has learned a lot about brain activity, but the relationship between brain activity and conscious experiences is still a mystery. Why?

Why have we made so little progress?

Well, some experts think that we can’t solve this problem because we lack the necessary concepts and intelligence.

We don’t expect monkeys to solve problems in quantum mechanics, and as it happens, we can’t expect our species to solve this problem either.

Well, I disagree. I’m more optimistic. I think we’ve simply made a false assumption.

Once we fix it, we just might solve this problem. Today, I’d like tell you what that assumption is, why it’s false, and how to fix it.

1:58 Let’s begin with a question: Do we see reality as it is?

I open my eyes and I have an experience that I describe as a red tomato a meter away. As a result, I come to believe that in reality, there’s a red tomato a meter away.

I then close my eyes, and my experience changes to a gray field, but is it still the case that in reality, there’s a red tomato a meter away? I think so, but could I be wrong? Could I be misinterpreting the nature of my perceptions?

We have misinterpreted our perceptions before. We used to think the Earth is flat, because it looks that way. Pythagorus discovered that we were wrong.

Then we thought that the Earth is the unmoving center of the Universe, again because it looks that way. Copernicus and Galileo discovered, again, that we were wrong.

3:00 Galileo then wondered if we might be misinterpreting our experiences in other ways. He wrote: “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be annihilated.”

That’s a stunning claim. Could Galileo be right? Could we really be misinterpreting our experiences that badly? What does modern science have to say about this?

Neuroscientists tell us that about a third of the brain’s cortex is engaged in vision. When you simply open your eyes and look about this room, billions of neurons and trillions of synapses are engaged.

This is a bit surprising, because to the extent that we think about vision at all, we think of it as like a camera.

It just takes a picture of objective reality as it is. Now, there is a part of vision that’s like a camera: the eye has a lens that focuses an image on the back of the eye where there are 130 million photoreceptors, so the eye is like a 130-megapixel camera.

But that doesn’t explain the billions of neurons and trillions of synapses that are engaged in vision. What are these neurons up to?

Neuroscientists tell us that they are creating, in real time, all the shapes, objects, colors, and motions that we see. It feels like we’re just taking a snapshot of this room the way it is, but in fact, we’re constructing everything that we see. We don’t construct the whole world at once. We construct what we need in the moment.

Now, there are many demonstrations that are quite compelling that we construct what we see. I’ll just show you two.

In this example, you see some red discs with bits cut out of them, but if I just rotate the disks a little bit, suddenly, you see a 3D cube pop out of the screen. Now, the screen of course is flat, so the three-dimensional cube that you’re experiencing must be your construction.

In this next example, you see glowing blue bars with pretty sharp edges moving across a field of dots. In fact, no dots move. All I’m doing from frame to frame is changing the colors of dots from blue to black or black to blue. But when I do this quickly, your visual system creates the glowing blue bars with the sharp edges and the motion. There are many more examples, but these are just two that you construct what you see.

 But neuroscientists go further. They say that we reconstruct reality. So, when I have an experience that I describe as a red tomato, that experience is actually an accurate reconstruction of the properties of a real red tomato that would exist even if I weren’t looking.

6:12 Now, why would neuroscientists say that we don’t just construct, we reconstruct?

Well, the standard argument given is usually an evolutionary one. Those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage compared to those who saw less accurately, and therefore they were more likely to pass on their genes.

We are the offspring of those who saw more accurately, and so we can be confident that, in the normal case, our perceptions are accurate. You see this in the standard textbooks. One textbook says, for example, “Evolutionarily speaking, vision is useful precisely because it is so accurate.” So the idea is that accurate perceptions are fitter perceptions. They give you a survival advantage.

Now, is this correct? Is this the right interpretation of evolutionary theory? Well, let’s first look at a couple of examples in nature.

The Australian jewel beetle is dimpled, glossy and brown. The female is flightless. The male flies, looking for a hot female. When he finds one, he alights and mates.

There’s another species in the outback, Homo sapiens. The male of this species has a massive brain that he uses to hunt for cold beer. (Laughter) And when he finds one, he drains it, and sometimes throws the bottle into the outback.

Now, as it happens, these bottles are dimpled, glossy, and just the right shade of brown to tickle the fancy of these beetles. The males swarm all over the bottles trying to mate. They lose all interest in the real females.

Classic case of the male leaving the female for the bottle. (Laughter)  The species almost went extinct.

Australia had to change its bottles to save its beetles. (Laughter)

Now, the males had successfully found females for thousands, perhaps millions of years. It looked like they saw reality as it is, but apparently not. Evolution had given them a hack.

A female is anything dimpled, glossy and brown, the bigger the better. (Laughter) Even when crawling all over the bottle, the male couldn’t discover his mistake.

Now, you might say, beetles, sure, they’re very simple creatures, but surely not mammals. Mammals don’t rely on tricks. Well, I won’t dwell on this, but you get the idea. (Laughter)

So this raises an important technical question: Does natural selection really favor seeing reality as it is?

Fortunately, we don’t have to wave our hands and guess; evolution is a mathematically precise theory. We can use the equations of evolution to check this out. We can have various organisms in artificial worlds compete and see which survive and which thrive, which sensory systems are more fit.

9:32 A key notion in those equations is fitness.

Consider this steak: What does this steak do for the fitness of an animal? Well, for a hungry lion looking to eat, it enhances fitness. For a well-fed lion looking to mate, it doesn’t enhance fitness.

And for a rabbit in any state, it doesn’t enhance fitness, so fitness does depend on reality as it is, yes, but also on the organism, its state and its action.

Fitness is not the same thing as reality as it is. And it’s fitness, and not reality as it is, that figures centrally in the equations of evolution.

10:20 So, in my lab, we have run hundreds of thousands of evolutionary game simulations with lots of different randomly chosen worlds and organisms that compete for resources in those worlds.

Some of the organisms see all of the reality, others see just part of the reality, and some see none of the reality, only fitness. Who wins?

10:47 Well, I hate to break it to you, but perception of reality goes extinct.

In almost every simulation, organisms that see none of reality but are just tuned to fitness drive to extinction all the organisms that perceive reality as it is. So the bottom line is, evolution does not favor vertical, or accurate perceptions. Those perceptions of reality go extinct.

This is a bit stunning. How can it be that not seeing the world accurately gives us a survival advantage?

That is a bit counterintuitive. But remember the jewel beetle. The jewel beetle survived for thousands, perhaps millions of years, using simple tricks and hacks.

What the equations of evolution are telling us is that all organisms, including us, are in the same boat as the jewel beetle. We do not see reality as it is. We’re shaped with tricks and hacks that keep us alive.

11:47 Still, we need some help with our intuitions.

How can not perceiving reality as it is be useful? Well, fortunately, we have a very helpful metaphor: the desktop interface on your computer.

Consider that blue icon for a TED Talk that you’re writing. Now, the icon is blue and rectangular and in the lower right corner of the desktop. Does that mean that the text file itself in the computer is blue, rectangular, and in the lower right-hand corner of the computer? Of course not.

Anyone who thought that misinterprets the purpose of the interface. It’s not there to show you the reality of the computer. In fact, it’s there to hide that reality.

You don’t want to know about the diodes and resistors and all the megabytes of software. If you had to deal with that, you could never write your text file or edit your photo.

So the idea is that evolution has given us an interface that hides reality and guides adaptive behavior. Space and time, as you perceive them right now, are your desktop. Physical objects are simply icons in that desktop.

There’s an obvious objection.

Hoffman, if you think that train coming down the track at 200 MPH is just an icon of your desktop, why don’t you step in front of it?

And after you’re gone, and your theory with you, we’ll know that there’s more to that train than just an icon.

Well, I wouldn’t step in front of that train for the same reason that I wouldn’t carelessly drag that icon to the trash can: not because I take the icon literally — the file is not literally blue or rectangular — but I do take it seriously.

I could lose weeks of work. Similarly, evolution has shaped us with perceptual symbols that are designed to keep us alive. We’d better take them seriously.

If you see a snake, don’t pick it up. If you see a cliff, don’t jump off. They’re designed to keep us safe, and we should take them seriously. That does not mean that we should take them literally. That’s a logical error.

Another objection: There’s nothing really new here. Physicists have told us for a long time that the metal of that train looks solid but really it’s mostly empty space with microscopic particles zipping around.

There’s nothing new here. Well, not exactly. It’s like saying, I know that that blue icon on the desktop is not the reality of the computer, but if I pull out my trusty magnifying glass and look really closely, I see little pixels, and that’s the reality of the computer. Well, not really — you’re still on the desktop, and that’s the point.

Those microscopic particles are still in space and time: they’re still in the user interface. So I’m saying something far more radical than those physicists.

Finally, you might object, look, we all see the train, therefore none of us constructs the train.

But remember this example. In this example, we all see a cube, but the screen is flat, so the cube that you see is the cube that you construct. We all see a cube because we all, each one of us, constructs the cube that we see.

The same is true of the train. We all see a train because we each see the train that we construct, and the same is true of all physical objects.

15:23 We’re inclined to think that perception is like a window on reality as it is. The theory of evolution is telling us that this is an incorrect interpretation of our perceptions.

Instead, reality is more like a 3D desktop that’s designed to hide the complexity of the real world and guide adaptive behavior. Space as you perceive it is your desktop. Physical objects are just the icons in that desktop.

15:52 We used to think that the Earth is flat because it looks that way. Then we thought that the Earth is the unmoving center of reality because it looks that way. We were wrong. We had misinterpreted our perceptions.

Now we believe that spacetime and objects are the nature of reality as it is. The theory of evolution is telling us that once again, we’re wrong.

We’re misinterpreting the content of our perceptual experiences. There’s something that exists when you don’t look, but it’s not spacetime and physical objects.

It’s as hard for us to let go of spacetime and objects as it is for the jewel beetle to let go of its bottle. Why?

Because we’re blind to our own blindnesses. But we have an advantage over the jewel beetle: our science and technology.

By peering through the lens of a telescope we discovered that the Earth is not the unmoving center of reality, and by peering through the lens of the theory of evolution we discovered that spacetime and objects are not the nature of reality.

When I have a perceptual experience that I describe as a red tomato, I am interacting with reality, but that reality is not a red tomato and is nothing like a red tomato.

Similarly, when I have an experience that I describe as a lion or a steak, I’m interacting with reality, but that reality is not a lion or a steak.

And here’s the kicker: When I have a perceptual experience that I describe as a brain, or neurons, I am interacting with reality, but that reality is not a brain or neurons and is nothing like a brain or neurons.

And that reality, whatever it is, is the real source of cause and effect in the world — not brains, not neurons. Brains and neurons have no causal powers. They cause none of our perceptual experiences, and none of our behavior. Brains and neurons are a species-specific set of symbols, a hack.

18:01 What does this mean for the mystery of consciousness? Well, it opens up new possibilities.

For instance, perhaps reality is some vast machine that causes our conscious experiences. I doubt this, but it’s worth exploring.

Perhaps reality is some vast, interacting network of conscious agents, simple and complex, that cause each other’s conscious experiences. Actually, this isn’t as crazy an idea as it seems, and I’m currently exploring it.

But here’s the point: Once we let go of our massively intuitive but massively false assumption about the nature of reality, it opens up new ways to think about life’s greatest mystery.

I bet that reality will end up turning out to be more fascinating and unexpected than we’ve ever imagined.

19:00 The theory of evolution presents us with the ultimate dare: Dare to recognize that perception is not about seeing truth, it’s about having kids. And by the way, even this TED is just in your head.

19:31 Chris Anderson: If that’s really you there, thank you. So there’s so much from this. I mean, first of all, some people may just be profoundly depressed at the thought that, if evolution does not favor reality, I mean, doesn’t that to some extent undermine all our endeavors here, all our ability to think that we can think the truth, possibly even including your own theory, if you go there?

19:56 Donald Hoffman: Well, this does not stop us from a successful science. What we have is one theory that turned out to be false, that perception is like reality and reality is like our perceptions. That theory turns out to be false.

Okay, throw that theory away. That doesn’t stop us from now postulating all sorts of other theories about the nature of reality, so it’s actually progress to recognize that one of our theories was false. So science continues as normal. There’s no problem here.

20:22 CA: This is cool, but what you’re saying I think is it’s possible that evolution can still get you to reason.

20:31 DH: Yes. Now that’s a very, very good point. The evolutionary game simulations that I showed were specifically about perception, and they do show that our perceptions have been shaped not to show us reality as it is, but that does not mean the same thing about our logic or mathematics.

We haven’t done these simulations, but my bet is that we’ll find that there are some selection pressures for our logic and our mathematics to be at least in the direction of truth. I mean, if you’re like me, math and logic is not easy.

We don’t get it all right, but at least the selection pressures are not uniformly away from true math and logic. So I think that we’ll find that we have to look at each cognitive faculty one at a time and see what evolution does to it.

What’s true about perception may not be true about math and logic.

21:14 CA: I mean, really what you’re proposing is a kind of modern-day Bishop Berkeley interpretation of the world: consciousness causes matter, not the other way around.

21:23 DH: Well, it’s slightly different than Berkeley. Berkeley thought that, he was a deist, and he thought that the ultimate nature of reality is God and so forth, and I don’t need to go where Berkeley’s going, so it’s quite a bit different from Berkeley. I call this conscious realism. It’s actually a very different approach.

21:42 CA: Don, I could literally talk with you for hours, and I hope to do that.

Donald Hoffman on March 2015

Note: The way I comprehended this awesome speech is:

1. There are only 2 realities:  The survival process of the species and Death

2. If mankind tampers with the survival process we are doomed (as we already decimated countless other species)

3. We don’t love Death. We don’t love making babies: we just deal with this survival reality as best we can.

4. Love is not within the realm of making babies: we just fall in love.

5. Keep mathematics and logic out of the survival process and do not allow them to give us new ideas on that topic

A Portal to Chaos and Adventure

In a Playground?

Braden Swenson wanders into a semi-rickety wooden shed on his search for gold, treasure and riches.

“Is there any treasure in here?” he asks in the endearing dialect of a 4-year-old. “I’ve been looking everywhere for them. I can’t find any.” The proto-pirate toddler conducts a quick search, then wanders away to continue his quest elsewhere.

Eric Westervelt in MindShift | August 5, 2014

Not far away, Ethan Lipsie, age 9, clutches a framing hammer and a nine-penny nail. He’s ready to hang his freshly painted sign on a wooden “fort” he’s been hammering away on. It says, “Ethan, Hudson and William were here.”

Joseph Straus, 6, rides a zip line at the Berkeley Adventure Playground, where kids can "play wild" in a half-acre park that has a junkyard feel. (David Gilkey/NPR)

Joseph Straus, 6, rides a zip line at the Berkeley Adventure Playground, where kids can “play wild” in a half-acre park that has a junkyard feel. (David Gilkey/NPR)

“There’s a lot of things that kids built,” he explains, looking around at the playground. “It’s not adults doing work; it’s kids doing work!”

That could almost be the motto for the Adventure Playground.

This half-acre of dirt and quirky chaos hugging the Berkeley Marina on San Francisco Bay is ranked among the most innovative and creative places for kids to play in the U.S.

It’s got a semi-orderly, beachside junkyard feel. Nothing fancy or slick. Grab a bucket and brush: Kids can can paint on almost anything here, except each other. Grab some wood and nails; it’s hammer time.

Parker Swenson, 12, and his 7-year-old cousin, Tyler, have spotted some long tubes of sturdy plastic. “I dare you to go inside one and I’ll push you down the slide.”

“Yeah!” Tyler yells.

They climb in: The tubes are perfect for barreling down the modest hill here into the dirt below.

“Whoa, that was so awesome! I’m going again,” yells Tyler.

There are only a handful of these “wild playgrounds” in the country.

They embrace the theory that free, unstructured play is vital for children and offer an antidote to the hurried lifestyles, digital distractions and overprotective parents that can leave children few opportunities to really cut loose.

“It’s really central that kids are able to take their natural and intense play impulses and act on them,” says Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychologist and the founding director of the National Institute for Play.

Children need an environment with “the opportunity to engage in open, free play where they’re allowed to self-organize,” he adds. “It’s really a central part of being human and developing into competent adulthood.”

Brown says this kind of free-range fun is not just good; it’s essential. Wild play helps shape who we become, he says, and it should be embraced, not feared.

Some educators advocate “dangerous play,” which they say helps kids become better problem solvers.

PATTY’S PLACE

In Europe there are lots of these kinds of free-range public playgrounds.

They flourished after World War II. Europeans more readily embraced spaces for children to engage in what developmental psychologists like to call “managed risk.”

But in the U.S. today there are barely a half-dozen. There are the Anarchy Zone in Ithaca, N.Y., which is just two years old, and a handful of others including a few in New York City.

This one in Berkeley is run by the city’s parks and recreation department. It’s funded largely by docking fees from the adjacent marina.

But, in many ways, this is Patty’s place. “I’ve been involved here at the adventure playground since its inception — about 35 years,” says Patty Donald, the playground’s longtime coordinator.

Donald has been on a crusade to promote kid-driven, hands-on play. “A lot of people learn by touching and feeling and doing, and they excel that way,” she says. “People drive two, three hours to come here.”

Five staff members handle everything from replenishing the zip line’s dirt landing zone to facilitating wood-painting and other play activities.

They keep a careful — yet mostly distant — eye on the children and what they’re doing. If kids turn in wood with splinters or with a nail sticking out — called a “Mr. Dangerous” — they can earn paint and tools.

“You got it! Yay, Aly!” one staffer yells to a young girl as she makes her way across an old surfboard precariously balanced on a barrel.

THE CELLPHONE PROBLEM

So … why are there so few of these wild playgrounds in the U.S.?

Fear of litigation is certainly an issue.

But there are other factors, too, experts say. Among them are safety-obsessed, overprotective parents shepherding hyper-scheduled children, and the fact that in America’s cities and suburbs, play itself is in decline.

Donald worries that today’s kids are controlled, coddled — and over-scheduled. And some parents, she says, are often too distracted. “I find there are a lot of adults who don’t know how to play with their kids.”

Wait a minute, I ask: What do you mean there are parents who don’t know how to play with their kids? I’m imagining awkward, distracted parents, fiddling with their iPhones because they don’t get that they can actually interact with their children.

“Probably 75% of the parents that come in do that,” Donald says. “The cellphone probably is the biggest problem we have. The parents are standing here, they’re physically here.”

But … they’re not really present, she says.

LIKE A PILLOW

“This is awesome; this is a neat little place,” says Dave Davirro. He and his 11-year-old son, Nicholas, are in from Hawaii visiting relatives in California.

He says kids need more places like this. “They’re tearing down swings in my city,” because they’re dangerous, Davirro says. “We’re way overprotective. I want my child to experience that, you know, there is some danger in everything.”

Right now, father and son are checking out the zip line. It’s a huge draw at the Adventure Playground, and the rule is kids go first.

Any child over 6 can just let it rip, sliding right into a pile of dirt. “You know, to fall in the dirt like this is just great!” says Davirro.

At its apex, the line is about 8 or 9 feet off the ground. There’s no net.

I cautiously climb the zip line’s wooden ladder to a waiting area that’s kind of like the crow’s nest of a ship.

It overlooks the bay, all blue, calm and sunshine this day.

But the kids up here are not taking in the view. All eyes are on me. Six-year-old Rhiannon Edison seems annoyed that an adult is encroaching on the Good Ship Zip Line.

“Wait, why are you here?” Edison asks skeptically.

I tell them I’m here to do a story on the playground. The kids nod. The adult with the fuzzy microphone can stay. For now.

I ask them what they like about this place, and get a host of answers:

“The zip line.”

“It’s nice how you can build your own things.”

“I like how you can land in the dirt, but the dirt is really soft. It’s so soft that it just feels like a pillow to me.”

Enough talk — one of them zips away, down into that soft pile of sand.

Now it’s my turn.

With all my recording gear, what could possibly go wrong? I ask a little girl, a zip line pro, for advice.

“Point your feet towards the dirt so that the sand doesn’t get in your underwear” she says, adding, “and have fun.”

The kids give me a bon voyage countdown in unison. Swoosh.

The ride is quick, fast and fun. My recording gear gets a little sandy and roughed up, like it used to when I was reporting from the Middle East.

Don’t tell the NPR engineering shop, but I just might have to ride that zip line again.

This post originally appeared on NPR.

The easy ride was posted by Seth Godin on July 29, 2014

We know what you want to accomplish. We know how you’d like everything to turn out.

The real question is, “what are you willing to push through the dip for?” What are you willing to stand up for, bleed for, commit to and generally be unreasonable about?

Because that’s what’s going to actually get done.

Is it you sprout a piece of memory here and there, now and then?

It is hard to chew on the adage in Ecclesiastes that “all is vain” on the premise that we are doomed to die anyway.

How many generations mankind needed to suffer and struggle in order to climb down from trees and then walk on two?

How many generations did mankind need to sprout a piece of memory here and there before fabricating a hand tool?

How many generations before this hand tool was mass-produced?

How many generations to communicating verbally?

How many genration to learning to write?

If pain is far more powerful than life, love, dignity, and loyalty then, how mankind specie managed to barely survive over a million of generations?

Even in the last century, life expectancy was no longer than 40 years:  People died of normal diseases (small-pox, measles…), and all kinds of pains lingered for many years without effective pain killers or any convincing remedies (think of the favored blood-letting method).

What happened that, in just the last four generations, mankind moved from fabricating tools into this world of instant communication facilities, including images and video, and in “streaming” platforms?

Certainly mankind’s brain must have changed, altered, and added a few pieces of hardware to make this qualitative jump!

When scientist throw numbers in the billion and trillion of neurons and synapses in the brain then, you know that efforts are lacking into investigating any additional thousands of neurons and synapses in every new generation.

Certainly the hardware of our current brain has changed in many ways and it is urgent to know how, how much, and why.

Mankind had been observing and recording data from time immemorial since he mastered the written languages, but mostly, mankind has been pondering and working on premises that could not be validated or experimented with (namely measuring the variables).  Galileo said:” measure what can be measured and then, learn to measure what could not be measured”.

In the last four centuries, scientists have been analyzing simple data of simple experiments (mainly, one independent and one dependent (or data) variables and then matching data to a simple equation.)

Then, in 1920, scientific methods for designing complex experiments could be performed because a method for analyzing data was available to scientists: working on the variability of errors (after controlling for consistent errors or confounding variables).

This method might not be that convincing, but it was something to start with.  After the invention of computers, a paradigm shift occurred that says: “collect data and let data talk and reveal the relationships among variables or factors.”

Since then, all kinds of statistical programs have been written to mine abundant data, analyzing them, jugling with far many interrelated variables (interconnection), and then interpreting them.  Instead of cause and effects relationship we frequently hear of correlations.

Fast digital communication and efficient transmission of data and studies have allowed scientists to select vast amount of research studies and data and then evaluate a trend in any subject matter.

Thus, scientists felt inclined to accepting results and conclusions on theories and hypotheses based on the excuse that research studies are peer-reviewed and professional publishers must have validated the reliability and accuracy of data and information.

We have reached a stage that many scientists don’t even bother to using statistical analysis methods or validating experiments:  They are confident relying on the already acquired “scientific evidences and procedures“.

The second qualitative jump is creating sophisticated precision measuring tools and precision manufacturing facilities based on digital computing.

The generations of the 40’s and 50’s had the most exciting and tougher times of all generations:  They lived to witness a halucinating quantity of new inventions that they barely could fathom or use in timely fashion, conmmensurate with the quick stream on the market of new inventions and products.  Any problems using the consumer products? No problem:  We will ponder on these difficulties (after hundreds have been injured and harmed.)

Do you think I went into a tangent?

Let me refocuse on the intended purpose of this article.  Is it too tough chewing on the adage “all is vain in this life?”

Large communication and transmission highways to connecting with people and trends have been established.

First, this mentality of marketing products and services has strengthened the concept “You cannot succeed unless the masses rally to your product.”

Thus, catering to the vast majority of the population is the first step toward other more impotant advances into reducing pain, suffering, famine, and poor economic statuses.  Every one has to be able to afford certain consumer products in order for companies to outpace competitors.

If hungry people can have facilities to communicate and acquire the ability to connect with this illusory world of their’s then, at least hope of being integrated to other populations can come to the rescue of this wretched life.

Forget ethics, moral, and political rights of the downtrodden.

If they can be saved from famine and pain for economic reasons then, invest in poorer States and the poorer classes.  At least, this attitude cannot be vanity under any twisting of the mind.

Note: you may read my previous articles: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/new-generation-newer-brain-structure/

Dawn of Philo-Ethics; (Jan. 28, 2010)

In the previous post “Twilight for love of knowledge or philosophy”, I explored the theme that philosophy is reaching an end.

Before the 16th century, sciences in Europe were towed by philosophy until Galileo enforced the notion of empirical experimentation and measuring what was not measured. By the time of Descartes, philosophy started to limp and relied on religion as crutch to survive.

Sciences have taken over: they can extend answers to what can be answered.

Sciences are far more efficient than philosophy: faulty answers go unnoticed very effectively.  There are very few practiced scientists, and every man is a philosopher: man can feel what’s wrong with a philosophical system but he refrains to claim knowledge in sciences.

Knowledge is acquired by reasoning on the alternative options formed by perception of man and universe.  When we investigate our opinions and feelings we ultimately want to open up alternatives for the mind to discovering the immutable elements in the relationships. The brain is the field where perceived senses and reasoning procedures or processes interacts: without these interactions there are no perceptions, no actions, and no survival of any species.

It is not necessary to be a practicing scientist to have a scientific critical mind; otherwise, not many people would feel comfortable believing that they are endowed with sensible rational and empirical thinking. When I claim that we need to think philosophically, I mean that we need to combine the ethical component to whatever scientific thinking we undertake. The ethical mind should be the guiding rod to solutions or resolutions of any question.

For example, (it might sound a simple interrogation, but it might carry complex implicit ramifications), suppose that I stirred my Nescafe cup with a spoon.  My Nescafe includes no sugar or milk; just plain hot filtered water and Nescafe.  I got into wondering: should I rinse the spoon in tank supplied water (many germs) or just let the spoon dry when removed from the cup?  The idiosyncratic reaction is to rinse the spoon no matter what, isn’t it?

If I discover that the accumulated potent germs on a dried spoon are far less than the rinsed one then what would be your behavior?  The whole exercise is that we generally extend ready behaviors to our answers; we do not take a deep breath to wonder whether there are implicit reasons in the questions.

Philo-ethics (a new term that I invented) is to work on a set of stringent ethical reasoning that you feel are right.

The purpose is that you feel you have the right to state your ethics because you applied them.  The other advantage is that you won’t feel obligated to impose your ethics on people you like their company: you are in a position to be lenient and to compromise because relationships are more important than strict rules and regulations.

What can be the immutable norms that distinguish right from wrong?

What kinds of realities are eternal?

Cannibalism is not an immutable norm since many tribes still eat man in this century. Anyway, mankind is a carnivore and has been eating his own kind with various aspects of ceremonies such as eating the flesh, heart, liver, and brain boiled, raw, or roasted.  Thus, we need to be more attuned to ethnological studies and observations of the remaining tribes living separate from urban centers. We need to comprehend the behavior, customs, and traditions of primitive tribes since they resembled ours before we opted for urban life style, within mostly a fast developing virtual civilization.

Arne Naess disseminated the eco-philosophy which stated that western paradigm line of thinking is taking the wrong direction for a sustainable earth: Man is not in the upper chain of evolution and he has no right to destroy the other living creatures for his perceived universe. We are in a period of technological development that feed on itself and proliferates pretty much independently of any other sciences; technology feels confident that it does not need validation or control by third parties.

Fact is we need to have better understanding of the effects of our behaviors: mankind is on the same boat and everyone is asked to think that he is the captain of the boat.

Things have changed.  The world can be felt as reduced to a Town Square: instant audio-visual communications around the world is discouraging people to move out and investigate “his universe”.  Mind you that the Renaissance man had to travel on horses for long distances to educate his curiosity and talents.

The new wave of occultism, New Age, alternative lifestyle, mysticism, spiritualism, healing, astrology, clairvoyance, and telepathy are consequences of collecting mass “coincidental” happenings among the billions of people and which are relayed instantly on the Internet.  These coincidences can be explained rationally, especially if we believe in the power of the subconscious for erratic behaviors.

The worst part is that millions are still brandishing old Books or Bibles claiming every word for “truth”; as if we are in the Dark Ages.  Sciences and technologies have done serious empirical attempts to answering most of the dialectical problems in philosophy such as how the universe was started, how knowledge developed and progressed.

What is outside the realm of sciences is in the domain of faith, which should not be confounded with religious philosophical belief systems.

A few facts can now be settled that set the stage for the dawn of philo-ethics or for questions related to the dignity of man for freedom, liberty, opinion, shelter, clean water, health, safety, food, clean air, voting rights, anti-discrimination attitudes relative to color, religion, gender, and country of origin.

The hardship that you subjected yourself to is to keep sensible relationship working: a climate of genuine compassion to human frailty gives incentives to overcome shortcomings that may be surmounted.

Twilight of “Knowledge lovers”: Part 2

In part 1, I exposed the theme that philosophy was the super-structure of the dominant class in any period of what is now called “Class Ideology”, and that the economical aspect was not included in the philosophical system of reasoning.

Man has been asking questions; he has been cultivating doubts.

Every question generated many non-answered questions.  Every man is a philosopher once he starts jotting down coherent questions and then realizes that his “universe” is based on doubts.

Most of his questions have no satisfactory resolutions to constitute a perceived “structured comprehensive world” in his brain.

A philosopher sets out to devise a set of structural questions that he thinks are “logically deductive” in nature (it means that it would not be feasible to answer a previous question before resolving several basic questions).  Thus, philosophers have been driven to accepting a few fundamental “given” solutions, or “elemental facts,” or principles just to get going in their projects of building structured understanding of man and the universe.

Since Antiquity, philosophy (love of knowledge) was a catch-all term to represent all aspects of knowledge, including metaphysical concepts.  Since sciences were barely founded on facts or empirical experiments (not appreciated within the dominant classes), except during the Islamic Golden Age (9th to 12th century) and after Galileo in the 16th century “what is not measured should be measured”, philosophers fundamentally based their structure on abstract premises and deductive logic.

This makes sense: Once knowledge is firmly grounded on empirical facts (assuming the design of the experiment is valid) then philosophy should take secondary place in rational societies.

Sure, the name and meaning of philosophy was lost in the absurd long gestation toward the advance of knowledge.  The mathematician Descartes was the first who tried to delimit boundaries between sciences and philosophy: Descartes differentiated between invariant primal impressions and secondary perceived variables. It was the period when sciences got ascendance over abstract philosophical structures.

Before the 16th century, Europe’s philosophical systems were towing sciences (principally natural sciences).

Descartes influence stems from differentiating between forms of realities or “substances”.  The first kind of  substance is the mind which cannot be subdivided; examples of such substances are the notions of time, space, and mass with which quantitative properties of an object can be measured.  The second kind of substance or “extensions to the matter” represents the qualitative properties of an object such as color, smell, taste, and the like.  Descartes division in forms of reality is being validated in equations: the right hand side and left hand side in any equation must be compatible with the same dimensions of time, space, and mass (what is known as compatibility in units of measurement). By the way, Descartes was a lousy philosopher but first-rate mathematician.

There are attempts at “refreshing” interest in philosophy by giving new names and labels to ancient philosophical schools and beginning with the prefix “neo-something”.  For example, we hear about neo-empiricism, neo-Marxism, neo-Darwinism, neo-materialism, neo-existentialism, analytical philosophy and so forth.

All these new lines of current philosophical structures have historical roots that reach to antiquity and pre-Socratic philosophers. The new “refreshed” lines of thinking apply current scientific fields (such as anthropology, ethnology, archaeology, or sociology) to ancient philosophical systems to validate their contentions.

For example, current nuclear physicists are fundamentally pre-Socratic in their quest for the elemental matters; they want to be able to offer a satisfactory explanation of “what is matter?” This problem is thus a vital part of their “life’s philosophy”, the “essence” or an answer to the question “what is my nature”?

I conjecture that most universities have branches called “philosophy” or something related to logical processes: students need topics to write thesis and dissertations.

Sciences have taken over: they can extend answers to “what can be answered”.  Sciences are far more efficient than philosophy: faulty answers go unnoticed very effectively.

There are very few practiced scientists, but every man think he is a philosopher: man can feel what’s wrong with a philosophical system, but he refrains to claim knowledge in sciences.

First “mathematical” philosopher: Descartes; (Dec. 20, 2009)

Theoretically, Descartes started by doubting all previous knowledge handed down since Antiquity. The philosophical structures of Plato and Aristotle were good historical knowledge, but were of no use in comprehending the universe, the natural world, and the connection between body and mind.

Obviously, the mathematician Descartes of the 17th century could not doubt everything, otherwise, he would have no ground to start his modern “philosophical system”.

Philosophical systems, like mathematics, must be constructed from fundamental building blocks or propositions that we are certain that are real and exist. A few fundamental evidences or axioms had to be established:

The first evidence was that he doubted. Since he doubted, then Descartes proved that he was a thinking man: “I think, thus I exist”

The second evidence is that we cannot trust our senses for certainties: Since our dreams are more real and more vivid than our waking impressions then the conscious senses should not be trusted.  This evidence was known by most philosophers but they failed to go any further in their investigations.

The third evidence is that Descartes had a distinct idea of a “perfect entity” since childhood. His question was “how can an idea of a perfect entity be generated by an imperfect man”?  (I would be interested if someone can mail me an experiment that shows at what age a child construct an idea of a “coherent world”.  For me, that would be the stage when the brain has already built the main structure for perceiving the universe as a perfect entity.)

The fourth evidencewhat we grasp with our reason is more real and tenacious than what we grasp with our senses”: we know that, as individual men, we are more real than the material world since we feel and sense a wide array of pains and emotional experiences.

The fifth evidence is that the outside world (example, sun, moon, and stars) is real when we can quantitatively measure the properties and characteristics of the outside world which is the realm of reason and not of perceptual senses. Galileo was the first scientific empiricist when he wrote “Measure everything that can be measured. What is not measurable then make it measurable”

When you work out a mathematical problem you are guided by rules of thinking that symbols help redirecting the correctness of our logical system.  In philosophy, there are no symbols that can be used mathematically.

Descartes started coherently, but got diverted from pursuing his logical reasoning out of loss of patience or because he died at the age 54 and could not re-think his system: he jumped to the conclusion that God exists and he is the reason why we recognize the universe as a perfect entity.

From then on, Descartes was just stating corollaries; for example that mind is a distinct substance than the body.


adonis49

adonis49

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