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.”

Is Reality Real?

Is reality real, or just an illusion? Does it exist, or is it just a dream that I will awake from in the “real” reality?

It is popular in many spiritual writings today to emphasize that the world we appear to live in is not real, that it is merely illusion, and to “wake up” is to recognize this fact. On the laptop on which I perceive myself writing this little post the Dictionary defines “illusion” like this:

• a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses: the illusion makes parallel lines seem to diverge by placing them on a zigzag-striped background.

• a deceptive appearance or impression: the illusion of family togetherness | the tension between illusion and reality.

• a false idea or belief: he had no illusions about the trouble she was in.

Science actually supports the idea that “what you see is not what you get!” For example we look at a solid wood table but the whole “solid” concept is our perception, not the underlying reality. Science tells us that much of what we see as a “table” is in fact empty space with myriads of particles we call protons, neutrons, electrons, neutrinos, etc. – the menagerie of particles grows and grows as scientists continually come up with new ones to explain some nagging problem that prevents a “unified theory of everything.”

But even those “particles” may not be really real. They may be waves, or vibrations, or energy – anything but something truly solid. There are famous experiments in science where in some cases light looks like a particle, and in another experiment like a wave. Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 seems to says that mass is just a condensed form of energy. Maybe nothing is really solid, or real?

Nevertheless our perceptions are useful for living in this world, real or illusion. If we could actually see the myriad of “real” detail down to the sub-atomic particles that would be just too much, a mass of confusion, especially if your overriding motive right now is to find something tasty to eat. It is a lot more useful to see a banana as a whole, and not the sub-atomic particles science tells us that it really is.

It seems that our senses, such that they are, are useful for dealing with the level of perception or illusion we currently appear to reside on. Also despite our limited perception (is there anything that exists that is not limited?) scientists have – depending on your point of view – come up with powerful explanations or intricately contrived pictures of the illusion we call existence.

It doesn’t matter …

I have come to one conclusion about the reality of existence that I find useful. It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter ultimately what the absolute reality is. If we exist, then we have to deal with the illusion that we currently live and have our being in. If we don’t exist, then it doesn’t matter anyway. Either way you flip the coin, real or illusion, it just doesn’t matter.

Those who claim to have a knowledge of higher reality rarely have useful advice on how to deal with this reality (or illusion). I don’t claim to have a lot of knowledge about those higher realities, but here is my advice about this reality, whatever it is.  Don’t be too attached to it. Take it for what it is (or is not), get what you can out of it, and be prepared to modify your views as your vision widens.

You are the question, and reality is the answer.

Question reality.


Is Evil Necessary?

Many in the New Age movement deny the existence of real evil. Some go so far as to deny any real existence at all and imagine that this is all a dream or illusion. Maybe it is an illusion, or based on the principle of illusion, nevertheless pain still hurts even if it as illusion.

“Evil” can refer to “suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing; something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity.” Merriam-Webster

Even if it is ultimately an illusion, there is apparently a lot of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing going on in this world every day. Is it necessary? Could it serve any purpose?

The answer depends on how you view the universe. If you simply believe we are an accident of nature with no higher purpose then neither good nor evil serve a purpose. Good is what is good for me and there are no consequences to my actions other than the pleasure I gain and the pain I avoid.

And again there are those who deny any real existence and imagine it is all dream all we have to do is wake up and go back home beyond duality where none of this is real. That is all well and good but my personal observation of people with this sort of belief system is that they stay here, suffer sometimes, and eventually leave in the normal way through death and misfortune.

For there to be purpose in existence there has to be a “purpose-er,” the one who has a purpose, an intention, and a goal in mind (and therefore intelligence). My belief, and you may share it, is that there is a greater life and greater intelligence that has a purpose in existence and what we call “evil” is part of that purpose.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isaiah 45:7

If that greater life has a purpose in this world of duality which is demonstrably far from perfection, then perhaps that greater life itself is not perfect? Maybe perfection itself is an illusion?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48

I don’t know about you, but it seems a little odd to me for our Father to be telling us to be “perfect” in the sense most of us think about perfection. The answer is that the underlying Greek word in the New Testament (written in a 1st century form of common Greek of the time) doesn’t mean absolute perfection.

The real underlying sense of that word was to “to complete” or “to finish” that which one has set out to do, not to exist in a state of static and complete perfection. In reality what is being said in the above quote from Matthew is “to do you job here as your Father does his job.

You have a job to do as does the greater life, and in reality you are part of that greater life and its purpose just as a molecule of water is a part of the ocean.

What is our job?

Well, part of our job is to experience this world and through that experience the greater life experiences this world. Another part of our job is to overcome the “evil” of this non-perfect world to create the vision of that greater life, to perfect or finish the plan the greater life has set for us.

It is probable that we have only a limited vision and understanding of that greater purpose. Part of spirituality is to become more attuned to that greater life and its vision. There is an interesting observation about the word “evil” that you may not have noticed.

The word LIVE can be turned around and it will then spell EVIL.

Life takes us forward. Trying to stand still or go backwards in our journey is to not LIVE, but to turn it around and do EVIL.

Life goes forward. That which does not go forward is, well I think you may be getting the picture now. Only by going forward and becoming something greater do we fulfill the purpose the greater life. Part of our job is to figure out what that purpose is, and our part in it.

Also see:

Is Evil Real?
Are Good And Evil Real?
Good & Evil – Light & Dark (Joseph J. Dewey)