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Questions of Reality--Questions of Illusion

Lethologica's picture

So this is a bit late, but there's something that's been bugging me, and I feel that I just need to get it out there. I'll begin with this image:

And this one:

And this as well:

How does one tell illusion from reality?

This is one thing that kept creeping into my mind (especially at night) throughout the course of this class. When does one move from imagination to hallucination? Where is the line between what is real, and what is imagined, and just how thin is it? I pride myself on my imagination: I like to say that I could entertain myself for hours with nothing more than the air before my eyes and a little time to think. But sometimes I find myself wondering if perhaps this is not always a good thing. Sometimes (especially when I am alone, in the middle of the night) I find it difficult to distinguish from reality and my own imagination. As you can imagine, this has called some problems. There have been times in the middle of the night when I have heard something, a thin voice echoing in the air, just beyond my reach, and have had to wonder: did I just say that, or did someone else, or did it not happen at all???

With all of our discussions about 'truth', and 'truth-as-we-know-it,' and 'perception,' and 'knowing,' I wonder if perhaps this topic is a little more relevant than I am entirely comfortable with. When we look at an illusion, or walk the thin (and perhaps getting thinner!) line between reality and fiction, are we looking at a truth and a lie, something that is real or is not, or are we actually look at different realities? I might seem like a slightly strange idea, but I sometimes wonder if every possibility we think, every option we see, plays out somewhere--exists somewhere. Is it not (all too completely) possible that what is illusion here might be the reality somewhere else? And if so, what does that mean for our question of truth, and furthermore, for our theories of evolution?

I'll leave that as an open ended question, I think. (In this reality, at least!) Take that to mean as you will...


mgz24's picture

Reality and Illusion

 I think that the idea of illusions versus reality is an interesting idea as it pertains to the evolution versus creationist argument.  I think it's interesting to look at how reality is perceived by different people.  While it seems pretty obvious that people have differing ideas as they pertain to controversial topics it's always interesting to me that people can fully believe in something at opposite ends of the spectrum.  I think it shows even more so that reality really depends on the person.  Looking at the evolution/creationist discussion, people who believe in evolution believe that creationist ideas are similar to illusions, which creationists believe that evolution is an illusion.  I think that looking at these optical illusions can serve as a helpful reminder that reality really is only in the eyes of the beholder.  

Paul Grobstein's picture

reality, illusion, story, and evolution

Not at all a "bit late," I don't think.  It its all evolution/stories then we're going indeed to need to rethink what we mean by "illusion" as distinct from "reality".  And that's entirely consistent with the quite unclear borders that emerge form explorations of brain function re perception.  Cf

So maybe we need to come up with a distinction between reality and illusion that is less dependent on a "mirror of nature" approach and more in line with evolutionary change?

themword's picture

We looked at some of these

We looked at some of these images in my psychology class last year, in particular the sidewalk drawings. I think optical illusions are very interesting. When I first look at them I see the illusion. When I know it is an illusion, I work very hard to see the reality of it and change my perception. Sometimes I have to remember how to do this. The simplest example is drawing a cube, and you can't tell which side is the top or the bottom, or which way it is popping out. I think most of us have seen this before, and I will sit and stare at it trying to see it in the different ways, often driving myself to getting a headache. It's interesting how, even if we've seen an image before and know it's an illusion, we may still look at it in the same way.

jhercher's picture

I feel like optical illusions

I feel like optical illusions are really interesting as well.  I think there's also a really cool parallel between optical illusions and something like the placebo effect.  Our minds work in very strange and powerful ways, and both of these are examples of how we can be, in a sense, trapped by the limitations of our own minds.  People find it difficult, even impossible, to accept a scientific idea that goes against what seems apparent to them.  The same is true of patients who take placebos, who refuse to accept that they've been taking dud pills, and for people who have spent their entire lives accepting an illusion and are then told that they're wrong, and what they think they see is a figment

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