Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

All Roads Lead to Illusion

Originally posted on March 2, 2016

As I reflect on the series of lectures on illusions that I gave last month for Senior University Georgetown, it became increasingly clear that a variety of phenomena that have not been vividly recognized as being similar—i.e., illusory—should be so thought of:
  – the defense mechanisms of the psychoanalysts, and some of the other constructs
  – the distortions of thinking noted by the rational-emotive and cognitive therapists
  – the transactions that Eric Berne noted in Games People Play–though the meaning to most people is that folks know they’re playing games, and the transactions described are unconscious and in that sense not game-like
  – the various patterns of interaction in family therapy
  – the public forms of politicians, advertisers, preaches, using rhetoric, propaganda, publicity gimmicks, advertising
  – and a number of common beliefs that are believed because—well, it seems that everyone believes these things, so they must be true (but they’re not!).

All the aforementioned are ways people use to unconsciously fool themselves and others. (Yes, a few psychopaths are conscious of their lies and tricks, but most folks aren’t, which reduces the moral opprobrium, but still we need to become aware of these gambits.)

Artists quite consciously use a bunch of gimmicks to create illusions in their art. Perspective is one. Poets and dramatists do this too. The architects of Ancient Greece used principles of illusion in building their temples! Comedians play with illusions and how they surprise you, and of course magicians build their career on such phenomena.

The idea that creating illusion is a major industry is still not widely appreciated. It’s sort of morally ambiguous. We love to be fooled—sometime. We hate to be fooled at other times. Maybe it’s like sex. And of course, whole industries exist to generate illusion—cosmetics, plastic surgery, cosmetics. The arts do a bit insofar as people doing things that most folks can’t do. Not just acrobatics; just speaking with assurance is a trick and a half!

I have come to believe than not only are there many different types of illusion, and different levels of sophistication, but it seems that humans cannot escape some illusion. As long as we interpret what we sense in part in terms of what we expect, know, and understand, so too we will be afflicted with illusion. I am not sure that those who meditate and are intensely aware of the problem of illusion have been able to entirely escape. They just don’t get stuck in them. But illusions operate at all levels. 

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