- An erroneous mental representation
- Something many people believe that is false
- The act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas
- An illusory feat; considered magical by naive observers
Some people have said that the world we live in is just an illusion – that it is not real; and that somehow, we are being tricked into thinking it’s real! But it looks real enough, it feels real enough, babies really do come from the womb, the trees really grow tall, and it does snow. So what on earth could they be talking about?
Talking of the earth – the photographs and video that the astronauts have taken of our planet prove it’s real enough. A great big blob in the middle of nowhere!
If you look at the sun on a clear day it blinds you, and you do feel its heat, especially when sunbathing! So what do you think? Is it real? If all my five senses tell me this is something physical, something tangible, then it must be. But what does your so called sixth sense (grasping the inner nature of things intuitively) tell you? Think about that for a moment and then we shall begin our discussion.
I have often heard people saying: “Yeah, but we could all just be an experiment by intelligent alien life forms,” said mostly by people smoking marijuana, or drinking beer, both of which seem to loosen our grasp on what’s real and what’s not! But of course it’s possible. We may think we understand the proportions of the universe, but we might be just a tiny experiment, or a game in somebody’s shed. We might actually be much smaller than we think!
During the alien summer barbecue, alien al says to his pals over a bottle of alien beer: “Hey, do you want to come over and see how my human experiment is going? They’re so dumb, you should see what they get up to!”
“Wow! That’s great, and it all comes in a box?” says one of his friends.
“Sure does, you can get them up at the store. They’re not cheap; 699 alien dollars, but definitely worth it! I have hours of fun changing their weather patterns, watching their crops fail, and planting lunatic dictators in countries to see how quick it takes them to kill everybody.” (everyone laughs) “The software it comes with is top notch. You can control everything. You can make people only like the same sex, or you can make people believe in ‘god’ and get them to pray every day.” (everyone laughs) “It really is funny!” “You can even get them to gain awareness and question the nature of everything. If only they knew.”
“Of course we are not part of any alien experiment! What a stupid idea” says you. “This book gets more idiotic by the page, I wonder if I could get a refund?”
The magicians slight of hand
So I ask you again. Is this world real, or have we been tricked by a clever magician into thinking that the universe started with a big bang, or that there was a god who created us all? Have we been tricked into thinking that we came from the apes millions of years ago, when really, the world has only been in existence for a short time? Do you see the importance of these questions?
We believe that everything is solid here, and it might be. Our houses do protect us from the rain, and our clothes and heating protect us from the cold. What I am talking about is the bigger picture. The one where we attach meaning to this life.
It is perfectly possible that we are no more than a backyard experiment being controlled by “alien al” on his computer. You may laugh, but it’s no laughing matter. Why else do you think science hasn’t been able to find the answer to any big questions, like how the universe started? This box we all live in, in the backyard, only started when “alien al” turned it on at the mains, and as it is only a one player game al has purchased, not the multi-player network game, he only gets one “active” world to play with, that’s why the rest are “greyed” out and have no life on them! This life we live here could just be like computer simulation games, where we give our characters personalities, likes and dislikes, wants and desires. It may seem far fetched, but if we are to explore our minds, and the universe, we must look at every possibility.
Sci-fi film makers have pushed this point on many occasions, where in some films they saw a world controlled by a computer to make life seem real, but when the computer was smashed the people could see that the world had been destroyed many years previously and they were left in a barren land. Tough break!
There have been many great books and films in which the writer has imagined that this world is but an illusion, and maybe they are right. But for now, we must leave the realm of fantasy, and leave “alien al” in his backyard shed, and come back closer to home, to look at someone we have an intimate relationship with. Ourselves.
Does the eye really “see?”
“Of course my eyes really ‘see’ what a stupid question.” I hear some of you cry. “I’m not blind, therefore I can see! Jeez this book. Really!”
A friend asked me once: “What do you see with, your eyes or your brain?”
“Your eyes!” I cried out immediately.
“I’ll leave it with you,” he joked.
But later I got to thinking about it. Do I see with my eyes?
I was very confused, but the more I thought about it, the more I could see the point to his question. Yes, the eye is the vehicle by which the light from all the objects is filtered through, but that’s all it does. It doesn’t have its own central processing unit. All “information,” (light) must go to the central processing unit (cpu) for processing.
The brain is where we see “table,” “happy man,” “angry man,” “pizza,” “wife,” “friend,” “house,” “cigarette,” “attractive girl,” “ugly woman.” Do you see? (excuse the pun)
The eye merely passes the information through to the brain, like a security guard that just lets everybody in. Nothing gets missed.
The brain then instantaneously pulls up record sheets and compares the object with its database record. Object round, has bits on top. Check memory. Had before. Check knowledge. This is called a pizza. Then perhaps the brain’s pleasure centres remember they had one pizza before, says to the consciousness: “I really fancy one of those,” but because you heard it in your own voice you think it was your idea!
Let us explore a little more deeply.
Is a chair really a chair? If you walk into your lounge, close your eyes and touch different objects, what happens? Go on try it sometime! As you feel for shape, texture etc. what is going on in your brain? It cannot “see” the object directly because the eyes are closed, but it is running some pretty impressive calculations. And from the size and “feel” of the object, your brain brings up a card that matches and says that is a chair! How does it do it?
Well, without getting into technicalities here, you were told to look at it when you were young, and your mother pointed at it and said “loook! A chair” and that was all you needed to know. Your brain put the shape and the dimensions into memory and labelled it. Thus chair becomes object number 208,394, and everything that is associated with 208,394 will have links to that object. Do you understand?
I do not know the exact way that the information is stored because I have not studied science, but hopefully you can see what is happening here.
Your eyes are there as an evolutionary adaptation (the earliest organisms did not have eyes). They help us to hunt for food, and water, and they help us to navigate.
Everything else is done exclusively in the brain. So even if you have been blind from birth, if someone lets you touch an object and get a “feel” for it, and then says “table,” it is no different. The only difference is that you have a precise visual representation of what a table looks like when you look at it. If you have no eyes your mind will put together a best guess of what a table is based on what it knows or what someone tells it. So now you know what table is.
“Will you ‘sit’ at the table?,” your mother asks.
You have been told and shown what “sitting” is and you now know what “table” is, so you can sit down. But imagine no one had ever used words to describe anything, and now imagine that you cannot see with your eyes. How would you feel, how would you interact with the world around you? Now when someone says “sit at the table” you ask them what it means. To you and I who have gone through the process already this seems almost too simple but it’s not, I assure you.
Imagine you have someone round for dinner who cannot see, and has never been given detailed descriptions of objects before.
“Sit at the table, please,” you ask.
“What is table?” He asks.
“Well a table is something that has four legs.”
“What is four? What are legs?”
“Well, legs support the table and are made out of wood and four is a number,” you reply.
“What is wood. What is number?”
“Wood comes from trees. Number is something you count with.”
“What is trees. What is number?”
“Trees grow in the ground and have leaves and branches. Number is a shape that you can add, subtract, multiply…”
“What is ground? What is leaves? What is branches? What is divide..?”
“The ground is where the tree comes from. It is made of soil. The leaves and the branches come out of the tree as it grows. I’m not sure what divide really is but I think it is where you take a number and try to… no, that’s not right…erm…”
“What is soil?”
“Soil is the earth.”
“What is the earth?”
“It is where you live! Now hurry up and eat your dinner before it gets cold…”
“What is cold?”
You can see how infuriating it would be!
Now imagine you have another guest round for dinner who is not visually impaired but has never been told what anything is either.
“Sit at the table, please” you ask.
What is “table” he asks.
“The table is what I want you to sit at, look, it’s over there.”
And he sees it, and registers it as table. But he still needs to know more information. “I see that it is table,” he adds, “and you have said I should ‘sit’ there, but I do not know what ‘sit’ is.”
“Look, watch me. You take a chair.”
“What is chair?”
”…And you sit down like this” ignoring him and demonstrating it instead of explaining it.
So as you can see from our wordy example above, although the child who has vision understands the connection between what he is seeing and what he is being told, and stores the appropriate pattern maybe a little faster than the boy who can’t see; the process is exactly the same. The brain is the one who “sees” things, the eyes merely filter in the light. Not that we should take our eyes for granted, they have helped us enormously.
But what harm have they done?
It is the eyes that see the black man in the “white area,” it is the eyes that see the jewish man amongst many non-jews, it is the eyes that see the “muslim” man in a “christian” country. We could go on for a whole book with examples, but I think we both understand?
We have said that in “reality,” it is the brain which is seeing, although the light is captured first by the eyes. A man who has in his mind that he wants to rape a woman, would still want to rape a woman if he was blind, being able to see just makes his identification of his target quicker. Do you follow?
If I do not know what a table is and then you show it to me, it is much quicker than having to explain everything. It is kind of like having a photograph to show someone of the time you went on a camel ride. You could explain it without the photograph, but the visual example has a faster impact on the brain. That’s all.
So what is the point of all this talking about the eye not really being the thing that sees, “what difference does it make?” I hear you asking.
Well, if it’s true, it means that the one thing we trust the most, our eyes, are not as reliable as we once thought they were.
1. The representation of what is perceived; basic component in the formation of a concept
2. Becoming aware of something via the senses
If I see an immigrant walking down the street at night with his hood up, what am I seeing? Am I seeing the shape of a body and nothing more? No. I may see his outline with my eyes, but already my brain has processed him based on the way he walks, his colour, my education, my parent’s prejudices, my fear, my beliefs, my memory, his clothing, media reports or government reports.
In a flash, the message appears in my consciousness: “He is probably dangerous and could attack me, so I’ll walk the other way.”
So did I really “see” the man as he was? No I didn’t. The information carried in the light through my eye was nothing compared with the amount of information I had to weigh him up with. In a millisecond, I had not seen a man walking, I had perceived him to be a dangerous person, even though he showed no outward signs of it!
One of my favourite examples of perception at work is that of the car crash, and I am sorry if I have used it in another topic.
On a dangerous bend in the road, a car accidentally crosses the centre line and hits another car almost head on. Fortunately, neither drivers were injured seriously, but the police were called anyway as a precaution. As the police were trying to determine what happened, two potential witnesses came up and offered their version of events. The first one to speak was a young man.
“Yeah, I saw, it, some old bloke was coming round the corner not looking where he was going, and must have let his car drift over the road and hit the other car.”
“That’s not what happened at all!” said the old lady. “The young driver was coming round the corner way too fast, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into that other man, who was doing nothing wrong!”
“Are you sure you two both saw this accident?” asked the police constable.
“Absolutely!” said both of them, “we were standing right on the same spot.”
So, as you can see, two people can be looking at exactly the same thing from the same angle and both “see” it differently. They would both swear in court that that was exactly what they saw and no amount of questioning would convince them otherwise. How many times do we hear:
“Are you sure that’s what you saw madam?” from barristers in court.
“I am absolutely positive!”
Then some new information appears that meant the woman could not have seen the defendant on that day, and she says: “… But… I could have sworn it was him… I know what I saw…” and she would be lead down from the witness box utterly perplexed as to what had happened.
Have my eyes deceived me?
It’s terrible when you can’t trust your own eyes, isn’t it? “Maybe you need glasses madam?” the barrister might joke, but it is nothing to do with having blurred vision. It is seeing something that isn’t there in 20/20 vision, courtesy of our old friend, the mind – master of illusions.
So if it is possible that we perceive things that didn’t happen or weren’t there, couldn’t it be entirely possible that there were things in the world we weren’t perceiving? Could it be possible that there is something that is invisible to us?
You see, we mustn’t put so much emphasis on old phrases like “seeing is believing,” because it just doesn’t ring true. Remember, even the physical lenses by which we “see” the world aren’t that good compared with say an eagle who can spot his prey on the ground from high in the sky; or the owl that sees the mouse scrabbling about in the forest floor in the dark. So perhaps we should retire our eyes for a moment, and in the darkness, imagine a world we cannot see with our eyes. A world that is very different to the one you and I live in right now. What would it look like? How would you look? Would you be the same as you are now?
If we are to understand anything about ourselves, we have to open our minds to new possibilities. When we talk about “real,” we are always testing something with our eyes and our touch. “Yes, it is real,” you say, “because I saw it with my own eyes, and I touched it.” But what is really real? Is the thought in your head real? Do you understand?
So perhaps we should drop the word “real” and “reality” from our vocabulary. Everything is real and unreal. It just depends on how you look at it! Ok, so you may be able to touch a “solid” object like your wife, but how long does she stay solid for? Until you look away?
I know this is rather confusing but bear with me. What we are saying is that although I can “see” her with my eyes and brain, and touch her with my hands making her “real,” does that mean she is always existing in that state, or does she dissolve into a different form when you take your focus off her?
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I hear you cry. “What sort of a stupid discussion is this? If I can see and touch her one minute she’s not going to disappear the next!”
But what we are saying is that when you look away, she has disappeared. Because you can no longer see her! We must not let our eyes trick us.
As we have shown on several occasions during this discussion, our eyes cannot be trusted. And if our eyes cannot be trusted, then we also have to question how much we can trust our own brain, which has been conditioned by parents, teachers, tradition, media etc. into judging what is real.
I think we have to admit to ourselves that we have no idea what “real” is, what absolute reality is, so we should stop professing to know! One thing’s for sure. It’s not what we think it is.
Illusion 1 – Human race 0
How many times have we been fooled by a master illusionist, or even an amateur one?
“Yes, I am positive. The ball is in the right hand,” you say. “Yes, I know which card is mine, I saw him put it back into the pack,” and then find that the ball is in the left hand and it wasn’t the card you thought it was! How do they do it? They trick you. They divert your attention away for a second and they switch balls or cards.
Some illusionists are ingenious indeed, and to this day, no one knows how they did their tricks; because they were tricks, right? They couldn’t actually be “real” could they? That would mean that the man had to be a sorcerer or a wizard (possessing or using or characteristic of or appropriate to supernatural powers) of some kind, and they “definitely” don’t exist, do they?
I don’t know, you tell me!
We have all read about wizards and witches (a being (usually female) imagined to have special powers derived from the devil), and seen films with them in; and we are always fascinated by the special effects, that have them controlling matter with just their fingertips, or their minds. But then it’s just a film, no one has these powers in real life, do they?
For many thousands of years, ancient civilisations have believed in magic, with one or more members of the society believed to be able to heal through the power of touch. Some tribes still have witch doctors who have “supernatural” healing powers.
Books of spells (a psychological state induced by (or as if induced by) a magical incantation) abound. Come on, you may not believe in all of it, but you are definitely fascinated, like most people. It would be really “cool” to have these kind of powers, wouldn’t it? To be able to get someone to fall in love with you, by just putting a spell on them, or conjuring up a spirit, or being able to have all the riches in the world, or to fly without a plane to support you, or turn water into wine, or be able to walk on water…
Some would say that by merely discussing this we should change illusion into delusion! But explore we must.
The problem lies in our thinking, and what we believe.
For example, we “know” that some people create illusions to make us believe they have done something with magical powers, but in the back of our minds, we “know” it wasn’t “real,” it was just a stage trick, like special effects are in films. So it makes it hard (or easy) to believe in real “magic.”
Some of us say: “He couldn’t have done that, it’s not possible, it must be a trick,” but imagine going back in time a thousand years with a 747 and showing it off proudly flying around the sky! Can you imagine what the people would think of you? They would say you were a great wizard able to command metal to rise into the sky. They may be impressed, and hail you as a god, or they may burn you at the stake. Who knows what people believe..
So let me ask you this question: If I see that someone can move matter, with what only looks to be the power of their mind, what do I do? Do I instantly disbelieve it, or, on seeing that there are “independent” witnesses who have sworn that no trickery is being used, believe it and think to yourself, “that’s amazing, I wonder how he does it?”
The problem lies with our eyes and our brain again. The eyes see something which looks “real” but the brain says: “No, this must be a trick,” or depending on your viewpoint, says: “Ok, this guy must have supernatural powers.” But what is supernatural (not existing in nature or subject to explanation according to natural laws; not physical or material)? Supernatural is just something we can’t explain. Yet.
Imagine again that you travelled in time and showed the ancient civilisations the power you held in your hands as you detonated bombs, or managed to kill a man without touching him (with a bullet), or you showed them a nuclear bomb being detonated in this distance. What supernatural power would they think you had? It’s like everything we don’t understand. We either worship it or kill it!
So should we believe that people have healing powers, that they can cure the blind, make cripples walk again and turn water into wine? Sure, why not? Whether they really do have “healing powers,” what do we know anyway? We can’t even trust our own eyes to tell us the “truth!”
Maybe some people do have access to knowledge we don’t. Maybe they have a complete understanding of the universe and how to control it.
Maybe they are from a future time (having discovered that time travel was possible) and maybe there is such a thing as a god, but then surely that would be the same thing as having a complete understanding of the universe and how to control it, no? And maybe they are just deceiving us like a master illusionist does; but how will we ever know the truth of it if we can’t trust our eyes, and we definitely can’t trust our brains?
Truth is something you experience, so you had better go out and experience it, although even a trick can seem real; so maybe we will never know whether it is possible to gain these magical powers. Maybe we will delude ourselves into believing that there are such things as supernatural beings who have ultimate control over the universe, or maybe we will start to explore all possibilities with our access key to the universe, our open minds, and truly find out for ourselves.
So what if there is no “alien al” sitting in his backyard, playing the latest version of “human universe 2,” and there are no such thing as supernatural beings, wizards, sorcerers, magical healers, and matter movers; what are we to do? What if we are all alone in this dark universe? What if this tiny planet, a speck of dust in the universe is all that contains life as we know it? What if there is no afterlife, no heaven and hell, what if this world is solid and there are no illusions, except the ones we go to see performed on stage? What would we do? How would we feel knowing that this was it?
Well I tell you one thing, I’d make every moment count! And I would make sure I enjoyed my time here and made sure that everyone around me enjoyed it too. But until I know the truth of it all, I will never stop exploring. Neither should you.
By Alan Macmillan orr
“The natural mind waking up”