The Sensory Desktop

We must take our sensory experiences seriously but not literally. This is one place where the concept of a sensory desktop is helpful. We take the icons on a graphical desktop seriously; we won’t, for instance, carelessly drag an icon to the trash, for fear of losing a valuable file. But we don’t take the colors, shapes, or locations of the icons literally. They are not there to resemble the truth. They are there to facilitate useful behaviors.

Sensory desktops differ across species. A face that could launch a thousand ships probably has no attraction to a macaque. The carrion that tastes putrid to me might taste like a delicacy to a vulture. My taste experience guides behaviors appropriate for me; eating carrion could kill me. The vulture’s taste experience guides behaviors appropriate to it; carrion is its primary food source.

Much of evolution by natural selection can be understood as an arms race between competing sensory desktops. Mimicry and camouflage exploit limitations in the sensory desktops of predators and prey. A mutation that alters a sensory desktop to reduce such exploitation conveys a selective advantage. This cycle of exploiting and revising sensory desktops is a creative engine of evolution.

On a personal level, the concept of a sensory desktop can enhance our cognitive toolkit by refining our attitude toward our own perceptions. It is common to assume that the way I see the world is, at least in part, the way it really is. Because, for instance, I experience a world of space and time and objects, it is common to assume that these experiences are, or at least resemble, objective truths. The concept of a sensory desktop reframes all this. It loosens the grip of sensory experiences on the imagination. Space, time, and objects might just be aspects of a sensory desktop specific to Homo sapiens. They might not be deep insights into objective truths, just convenient conventions that have evolved to allow us to survive in our niche. Our desktop is just a desktop.


Donald Hoffman on how our sensory perception of the world is like a computer desktop, a representation of things, not how things actually are. We must remember the difference.

Folksonomies: metaphor perception

/technology and computing/hardware/computer/desktop computer (0.544304)
/pets/birds (0.393116)
/technology and computing/software/graphics software (0.390384)

sensory desktop (0.985382 (positive:0.341232)), sensory desktops (0.877993 (negative:-0.018474)), Sensory Desktop Donald (0.814342 (positive:0.420482)), sensory experiences (0.760432 (neutral:0.000000)), taste experience guides (0.747938 (positive:0.448159)), experience guides behaviors (0.747714 (positive:0.448159)), sensory desktop specific (0.725937 (negative:-0.216139)), sensory perception (0.685376 (positive:0.420482)), camouflage exploit limitations (0.534329 (negative:-0.755202)), primary food source (0.526225 (neutral:0.000000)), objective truths (0.520163 (positive:0.462140)), useful behaviors (0.454580 (positive:0.467888)), graphical desktop (0.439290 (neutral:0.000000)), valuable file (0.432078 (negative:-0.796410)), natural selection (0.423044 (positive:0.760774)), arms race (0.421279 (positive:0.760774)), selective advantage (0.420714 (positive:0.682432)), creative engine (0.419745 (positive:0.712682)), personal level (0.419009 (positive:0.366113)), convenient conventions (0.417033 (positive:0.778975)), deep insights (0.416186 (positive:0.468585)), cognitive toolkit (0.415200 (positive:0.618962)), carrion (0.410305 (negative:-0.531359)), concept (0.376833 (positive:0.347146)), world (0.363644 (positive:0.339468)), vulture (0.363190 (negative:-0.283444)), instance (0.361877 (negative:-0.341110)), things (0.344298 (negative:-0.223975)), evolution (0.342814 (positive:0.736728)), icons (0.341942 (neutral:0.000000))

Donald Hoffman:Person (0.850832 (positive:0.420482)), Homo sapiens:FieldTerminology (0.791769 (negative:-0.216139))

Perception (0.987997): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Natural selection (0.859297): dbpedia | freebase
Truth (0.672672): dbpedia | freebase
Sense (0.667804): dbpedia | freebase
Human (0.664565): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Cognition (0.587777): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Knowledge (0.567760): dbpedia | freebase
Mimicry (0.557135): dbpedia | freebase

 This Will Make You Smarter
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Brockman , John (2012-02-14), This Will Make You Smarter, HarperCollins, Retrieved on 2013-12-19
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science


    19 DEC 2013

     The Cognitive Toolbox

    Memes that would make good index cards for a box of important cognitive ideas.