FURTHER NOTES ON ILLUSIONS
What I mean by illusion is any
thought or feeling-thought that may have a bit of external
it's based on, but is significantly influenced by mental
feelings, cultural biases, and so forth.
Optical illusions are the most common examples alluded to, and
are thousands of websites that offer examples, plus millions
allude to this dynamic (just google optical illusions). There
auditory illusions, illusions
associated with every perceptual mode, illusions that emerge in
absence of adequate perceptual inputs (e.g., Charles
Syndrome), and so forth. This webpage won't devote
attention to perceptual illusions of this type, other than to
the features of perceptual illusions also apply to more
For example, there is a tendency of the mind to generalize.
Perceptually, this is associated, for example, with the function
(originally in German) as "Gestalt." This involves the tendency
a pattern when it is suggested by the whole. It reflects the
tendency of mind to generate meaning from what may be originally
perceived as chaotic.
There is also the tendency of mind to focus on certain elements
finds to be salient, while other elements receded into the
Yet this figure-ground dynamic can be ambiguous in some cases.
it helps us to focus at parties and to hear others in a noisy
Inescapable and Good Illusions
I've come to the provisional conclusion that mind cannot
the attribution of certain illusory qualities on perception. I
with Kant that mind cannot apprehend reality directly, so that
noumena---actual out there-ness---is always experienced as
phenomena---the mixture of out-there with bias or expectation
superimposed on it.
Therefore, I don't object to illusions per se. Rather, I promote
subjecting our notions, illusions, myths, concepts, models of
whatever, to the process
re-evaluation when that is called for. I
promote the idea of learning to come up with new ideas,
poetic metaphors, of creative mythmaking, improvisation,
thinking, when the old notions may not be working so well.
I think that many---perhaps most---illusions are not only
often postively beneficial. They add juice, pleasure, imagery,
liveliness to mere thought. They add aesthetic values beyond
coherence. I'm reminded of our present theory that most germs
not harmful, and many are beneficial in that they occupy
niches that might be taken by less beneficial or harmful germs
weren't there. More, there is growing evidence that a normal
germs keeps the immune system in optimal tone. I suspect that
does the same for the mind.
However, another metaphor I find useful is driving a car. Most
time one can rest into habit, with a small "edge" of alertness
held to the side; that small edge kicks in, though, if any
appear---evidence of traffic problems coming up. At that point,
mind assesses the problem as best it can and makes a decision
intended to be constructive and may indeed be creative. The
all-safe gives way to the problem-solving mode. So too, many
in life may work fine but others are becoming obsolete or
counter-productive in light of accelerating social, technical,
other changes in the world at present.
Questioning the hypnotic powers of illusion is necessary if we
adapt effectively to changing times. There is a tendency of mind
lapse into an inertia-based tendency to just let things go, let
traditional or habitual way continue; this tendency often
the mark, taking the situation into the danger zone, well past
significant changes needed to be made. The concept of illusion
useful in shortening that transition time between anticipating a
problem and reacting intelligently---or even "pro-actively"
waiting for the "problem" to actually happen).
Illusion overlaps with other categories that may be less than
factual. Poetry, metaphor, the arts, symbolic thinking, logical
fallacies, bits of propaganda and misleading advertising, and
significantly, the power of myth or religious belief, all are
of mainly the non-rational brain, sometimes assisted by the
language-ing parts of the mind. This is a very broad and complex
that includes both psychosis and inspirational genius. The goal
develop both rational and non-rational mind so as to better
potentials inherent in both cerebral hemispheres, both sides of
brain, left and right.
To do this, some willingness to re-evaluate beliefs, thoughts,
impressions, attitudes, assumptions, is necessary. This requires
sides to cooperate, to check things out, to run a possibility
"heart" and "mind." And to do this, one must wake up a bit, not
oneself to be too easily caught up in whatever illusory system
seems to dominate in the moment.
Saying this more clearly: Don't believe everything you see,
touch, feel, or even think. Don't be too quick to think what you
or feel what you believe. Disconnect your capacity for
doubting, re-evaluating from all these first impressions. The
illusion is that you fool yourself in innumerable ways, and
you; the culture's traditions and "common sense" may be
limited, obsolete, and reflect a shallow understanding of the
situations. Also, situations change, so what was true yesterday
Illusions operate at and among all levels of mind, and may
be an aspect of mind itself. Those levels include:
- the bio-physical and somatic
- the intra-psychic
- family & small group
- larger group, extended family (face and name
- organization, (face recognition but not always name
- larger organization, community, identity but not always
- culture and language; also, historical era.
- whatever is experienced by the species as a whole,
extra-terrestrial, non-insect consciousness, etc.
One point to be emphasized here is that human beings are
imagined to be
inextricably embedded in social and
networks. A psychology that pretends that we can
understand an individual apart from this embeddedness is
a 19th and early 20th century world-view illusion.
My Life Mission of Penetrating Illusion
In preparing for this talk, I realized that many of the
my website, especially those dealing with psychology, can be
a way to re-think common illusions. In retrospect, the
illusions has been a theme in my life. Perhaps this was a subtle
of rebellion for my adolescent self---sensing that there was a
deal of hypocrisy or phoniness or just lack of clarity about
what. Critiquing these with some civility but also directness
a hobby, though I didn't realize this theme until very recently.
thought I enjoyed thinking about stuff.
Some Common Illusions
Here are some of the more common illusions. If you need
explanations, please email me:
1. There are illusions, but these are curious side shows, not an
intrinsic part of everyday life. Therefore, it is not necessary
attend to this dynamic.
A. (These sub-points are often corollaries,
variations or extensions of the numbered point.) What I
and what makes sense to me is clearly reality. Illusions are
not often comment, other than to say that (a) I don't agree
these (following) statements. Illusions are often not at
2. There are people who know, who are wiser and know how to deal
the mess we’re in.
A. They know how to work out the ethical and
ambiguities such as
– irradiation of
matter of public acceptability rather than science
– laws that address
of addiction or illness that threaten society
to laws about freedom to harm oneself and then expect society to
B. If “they” don’t fix things, they are
for not caring or trying hard enough. The idea that they really
know is near-inconceivable (although it is obvious)
- Much in politics hinges on this illusion
3. We “have” a body, a mind, we are in control. We can will and
ourselves to work harder, not burn out, achieve more.
A. Those who have not become winners deserve
losers. If they wanted to, they could be winners to.
B. It’s possible to be a winner and to be
C. We also “have” property and we should be
do what we want with it. Okay, slaves no longer can’t be called
property. Women neither, not any more. But lots of stuff is
“mine” and our legal system supports this, so that means we
to revisit this question. Whether or not something is moral is
irrelevant; the only relevant question is whether or not it is
And whether my behavior can find the loopholes and manage to
within the letter of the law.
4. Everyone is a cheater, so I might as well get what I can
can. It’s dog-eat-dog world. Being independent is good. Being in
way independent is weak and bad. Being weak is itself not
wicked, but does hint at lack of moral fiber.
5. I don’t really need to reflect on my life. It’s pretty
A. Those who think too much always tie their
into knots. They muddle and interfere with the activities of the
B. Those who think too much are mentally
masturbating. Nothing good comes of it. “Academicians,” college
professors, intellectuals, are all really stupid. Street smarts
6. There is no magic, no source of joy beyond oneself, no soul.
a computer, a way to be clever in the aforementioned (4)
7. There are answers. They’re in books, or experts know them.
experts haven’t been studying the right books, so they don’t
It’s good to know the right answers and stand firm in their
8. Psychology is worthless, a way of making excuses for the
weak, a way
to mess with your mind. Their knowledge is false and worthy of
9. Science is good, and what science has produced is not only
impressive, but definitive. I may need a scientific type or
interpret it, though. Whether something can be measured is the
criteria worthy of attributing the name, reality. All else is
A. That which goes beyond the criteria
here—physical materialism—cannot claim the status of other than
10. That about wraps it up. I can’t think of any more, so there
(The next 10 sources of illusion are listed on my website about
(The next ten illusions feature illusions gained in adolescence,
from what has been named.)
11. I know enough to get by. I don’t really need to learn more.
Certainly I don’t need to study at anywhere as intensively as
us do in school. All that’s phoney.
12. Communications. I pretty much mean what I say. If you are
attention, you should understand. If you don’t, you aren’t
attention, and are blameworthy. Or you’re stupid.
13. I’m clever in several ways, demonstrated to my satisfaction.
Therefore I’m smart. The idea that I have a number of roles,
skill areas, or bodies of knowledge that are far less than
beyond me, unbelievable. If were smart I can’t be dumb in any
14. I have achieved certain levels of rank and status, which
I’m competent. It is hard to imagine that my rank doesn’t mean
have perhaps not acquired the necessary knowledge to do my job.
15. There is truth, it is discoverable. It’s just a matter of
A. We know the truth, our people, our
theologians, our authorities. Those who will not bow to the
simply rebellious, willful.
B. Truth is the source of morality. Those who
buy this are, if not actually immoral themselves, then enabling
to be immoral by diluting the truth.
16. My opinions are considered judgments, not
matters of taste. Your expressions of preference need not be
17. What is relevant, interesting, important, is objective,
out-there-true for all people. It’s not merely an extension of
preference or taste.
A. This is true because I can come up with
why it should be so, and this act of rationalization works to
my illusion that it is indeed so.
B. If many people—at least the ones I
with me, that makes it doubly so.
C. If I can back up my preferences with
that also supports me, even though others may think me simply
18. Male and Female are pretty obvious, decreed by God, the way
Homosexuality is an abomination.
A. Any lessening of the definition of what
masculinity or femininity is a form of cultural decadence. The
are clear and fixed from time immemorial.
19. Strength comes with muscle strength and
Deviousness works, but it’s not as noble. Peacemaking and
are maneuvers of those who are personally weak. Strength is
weakness is bad. I know Jesus preached otherwise, but he meant
20. Being optimistic is illusory. Being pessimistic is being
Being cynical is even more realistic. (I don't agree with this
my essay on Reasons
21. If you or your group knows about something that seems
important and is unknown or unrecognized by a larger circle of
professionals or people, then you are “in the know.” This sense
disguise the reality that there are yet many things that you
know, some of which are known by those who seem not to be “in
22. It’s good enough. It works. It has always been this way.
established. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t make trouble.
A. That many people are suffering within the
quo is not important—they’re on the edges of what’s happening.
23. There is no discernable difference
consequences of being clever, ruthless, and lucky—i.e. fame and
wealth—and true wisdom. Both deserve respect. (However, if
smart, how come you’re not rich?)
24. The reason for trouble is that there are
trouble-makers, people undermining the system, moral decay,
conspiracies, and if we can find those bad people and get rid of
everything would be okay.
25. The answers could be simple and easy to understand if people
wouldn’t be making it so complicated, serving their own
A. I can’t understand someone saying: “Truth
simple: Things are complicated. Working out life is difficult.”
like these answers so they must not be so.
26. I read it in a book, saw it on the news,
an editorial from a smart person. It must be so. A. (I know no
evaluate truth: They didn’t really teach me the component skills
critical thinking in school. But I graduated, so that should be
of my adequacy. I didn’t really need it, did I?)
27. If I really feel something deeply, intensely, that certainly
it more true.
28. If it all makes sense, the parts come together and fit, so
29. What I think is not illusion. Illusions are false,
are not facts. I think about facts, hard facts.
A. I try to rid myself of illusions. It’s the
as thinking clearly.
30. Get serious. The difference between play and serious is
is frivolous. Competitive play is better than merely messing