The Interface Theory of Perception

Perception is a product of evolution. Our perceptual systems, like our limbs and livers, have been shaped by natural selection. The effects of selection on perception can be studied using evolutionary games and genetic algorithms. To this end, we define and classify perceptual strategies and allow them to compete in evolutionary games in a variety of worlds with a variety of fitness functions. We find that veridical perceptions—strategies tuned to the true structure of the world—are routinely dominated by nonveridical strategies tuned to fitness. Veridical perceptions escape extinction only if fitness varies monotonically with truth. Thus, a perceptual strategy favored by selection is best thought of not as a window on truth but as akin to a windows interface of a PC. Just as the color and shape of an icon for a text file do not entail that the text file itself has a color or shape, so also our perceptions of space-time and objects do not entail (by the Invention of Space-Time Theorem) that objective reality has the structure of space-time and objects. An interface serves to guide useful actions, not to resemble truth. Indeed, an interface hides the truth; for someone editing a paper or photo, seeing transistors and firmware is an irrelevant hindrance. For the perceptions of H. sapiens, space-time is the desktop and physical objects are the icons. Our perceptions of space-time and objects have been shaped by natural selection to hide the truth and guide adaptive behaviors. Perception is an adaptive interface.

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