Illusion is one of the most slippery themes in philosophy, politics, and even psychology. After all, knowing what illusion is and what reality is and how to manipulate them and understand why we delude ourselves is currently at the heart of discussions and redefinitions, at the heart of the handling and falsification of social and institutional facts. It concerns our attraction to the easy path of ready answers, of clichés that satisfy needs.
It is common to hear that having dreams is fundamental, that “a life without illusion is a sad life”, in a clear evocation of illusion as fantasy, as something that does not exist, that is not real, that is even unrealizable, but that fulfills and satisfies, whereas what is real is unsatisfactory and spiritless.
In other narratives, illusion relates to frequent alienation, deceit, and manipulation in loving and even family relationships. It may also concern methods of mass domination as in religions and populist policies with their inferences in schools, in the press, in the spread of lies (fake news), false promises, and violence.
In several situations, the search to understand what is illusory - which would be a presumed antidote - is only a trap and the vicious circle continues, always returning to the initial problem: immersion in the illusion of the fulfillment of wishes and goals. Without questioning our own a priori, our concepts and dogmas, we continue to distort and perceive facts, realities, and behaviors according to our truths, fears, and desires.
Why do we deceive ourselves? Why do we delude ourselves?
I understand illusion and reality from perception. The “Law of Figure and Ground”, one of the pillars of Gestalt studies on perception, allows us to understand and develop implications of this issue for human behavior. This law states that in figure and ground relationships, the figure corresponds to what is perceived, while the ground is the structuring element, which is not perceived. From perceptual reversibility, however, when the ground is perceived, it becomes figure.
In my book A Realidade da Ilusão, a Ilusão da Realidade (“The Reality of Illusion, the Illusion of Reality”) I consider illusion as the ground, which is not perceived, and reality as the figure, which is perceived. Everything that is perceived is real; consequently, there is neither true nor false because real is what is experienced, depending on what is perceived as figure. The sequence of experiences, of perceptions, can change the perceptions, that is, what was previously experienced as real. At that moment we realize illusion, we realize that our a priori, our wishes and fears, were implicit, they were the ground responsible for perception. Generally, prejudices or a priori, beliefs, and certainties constitute the ground, the benchmark of our perceptions. They structure our categorical system, being the result of previous experiences and evaluations. The stronger the certainties, beliefs, and faith, the more rigid and the less available we become, even hindering perceptual reversibility that would allow the transformation of these a priori. Capabilities, disabilities, fears, and skills are structured by experiences. Therefore, we live on memories; it is as if we were walking looking back, thus the need for support, usually supplied by dogmas and rules.
We need to give up certainties and beliefs by dropping the support, the evaluation and verification system, to find availability again. Without availability we are guided by patterns of adjustment/misfit and convenience/inconvenience; we are stuck with what feeds and adapts us, stuck to the process of deindividualization and alienation. Hence, all experiences occur in this evaluation system. It is alienation that turns human possibilities into circumstantial needs, into goals for happiness, love, wealth, fame, and immortality. Illusions that ultimately guide the seeking, the falling or rising, the despair, and the anguish of being in the world wanting to justify or validate the trajectory by marks of success, recognition, and achievement. Expectations of results, of validation of purposes, of justifications for existence generate illusion.
We need to change by questioning what alienates us, what leads us to deceive and be deceived. As bad as reality is, it is structuring, individualizing, while lies and illusion disrupt, create dependencies. In this latter context, we perceive what we are induced to perceive, and without discrimination, without globalization, we mix and reproduce rules and dogmas of the systems in which we are in.