Illusion and Reality

What is illusion and reality? Kenneth Wapnick, a prominent teacher of A Course In Miracles (ACIM) and founder and President of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) says that:

“…there is no world out there and projection makes perception…”

A Course in Miracles: A Hope-filled Spirituality

There is of course a lot more to this quote than this. For example, Wapnick also writes that:

“Many other spiritualities, especially in the East, talk about the world being an illusion. Yet none of them talks about the purposive nature of the world, why we made the world, why we choose to be born into this world, why we continually choose to have all these thoughts, however illusory they may be. There is a reason for all of that: We are terrified of disappearing into the Presence beyond the veil.”

In other words we are afraid of being one with God and perhaps losing our illusion of separate identity. Indeed the idea that the world is largely illusion is a well known meme in spiritual teachings.

Proving that our perceptions contain a fair amount of illusion proves nothing about the reality of what we perceive. Those, like ACIM, that wish to convince that all is illusion have no real argument because if what they say is true, then what they say is also an illusion and there is no point to it.

I choose to go on the assumption that there is something “out there.”  It is entirely possible however that our perception contains significant illusion manufactured by our mind, not to trick us, but to help us survive.

What evidence is there that at least some part of our perception is illusion, that is, not the “real” reality but an imperfect representation largely constructed by our brains? Well, modern science as it has acquired the means to truly investigate how the mind works tells us a lot about how the mind constructs our picture of reality.

Quoting from How Your Brain Works:

Your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves make up a complex, integrated information-processing and control system known as your central nervous system. In tandem, they regulate all the conscious and unconscious facets of your life. The scientific study of the brain and nervous system is called neuroscience or neurobiology.

In studying this scientists figured out that this “information processing and control system” adds a fair amount of what I would call “interpretation” to the data it receives and processes. Our eyes receive information in a single plane but create the illusion of depth and 3-dimensionality to our perceptions.

If we exist at all, an assertion which some ACIM seems to question, we as individuals are individual biological machines to a large degree, machines programmed to optimize that reflection of reality we perceive in ways that guarantee we will survive and reproduce.

Given that there is a real world out there then those “machines” that give us a picture of reality most conducive to survival reproduce and those less well optimized most often do not.

Way back in the mists of pre-history you have two early humanoids and both hear a noise in the bushes. The processing computer of one said, “That sounds like a lion prowling through the grass looking for dinner!” The processing computer of the other said, “I wonder what this is? I think I’ll go have a look!” Guess which one you are most likely descended from?

We hear and see many things and our brain filters this and interprets and it sometimes inserts something (“that sounds like a lion“) that is optimized for survival. Google “optical illusion” and you will any number of ways our mind adds “interpretation” to perception.

So yes, a lot of what we call “perception of reality” is created by the mind. You might say our brains are optimized to perceive reality in ways that help us survive. Well, at least to help us survive in a more primitive world.

Now as we become more sophisticated and understand far more about how our minds work, we need to augment the primitive constructs of our perception with constructs of the mind that truly seeks to understand perception and reality.

We, as the “ghost in the machine,” need to learn to use our machines better and to understand them better to get a truly accurate understanding of what is “out there.”