Is Your Reality a Biological Illusion?

We all enjoy a great illusion. Even when we know we are being fooled into seeing something that isn’t there.

Mystics are aware of the illusion of reality; our court of law recognizes the fallibility of an eyewitness; and neurologists can provide scientific evidence of how easy it is to fool the senses (that will hold up in court)… yet so many of us are still so “sure” about what we perceive, that we routinely pass judgments on all sorts of things (consciously or not).


“You are principally confronted not by
defined objects that are independent of you,
but by an indefinable process that includes you.”

– Franklin Albert Jones

Spiritual mystics tell us that all of life is an illusion. We can’t afford to just take information for granted – to just believe everything we are told – we need to determine for ourselves what is true. To do this we need evidence, various forms of logic (left/right brain, heart, spiritual) and honesty. You may or may not agree that “life is an illusion”, but in either case, on what evidence do you base your believe? What is your thought process?

In the old days, the mystics didn’t have the benefits of neuro science; so they used their intuition to audit their perception of reality. Today, a fact-based scientist may not use the word “illusion”, but “sight” is basically an illusion (as are all the reports from our five senses).  It’s an illusion because what we see is not what we got. The body is easy to fool… and so are the mind and emotions. Every one of our five senses can be fooled.

The light from the tree gets converted into electrochemical nerve impulses. We become aware of these impulses, not the light from the tree.

When we “see” a “tree”, we don’t really see the tree we are looking at – we “see” a bio-computer (brain) generated image (an illusion) of the tree. You may know this already… but do you appreciate the depth of the implications?

The light from the tree stops on the back of the eye (retina); after that it’s all electrochemical signals running through the brain… that mysteriously get seen and acknowledged by consciousness.  The process is analogous to watching an event on the news. We don’t see the actual event, we see an illusion created by electrical signals. For all practical purposes, the illusion of the event is accurate enough for us to feel that we witnessed the actual event. With this good-enough-for-biology process, we navigate through our physical world.

The brain can create images even without light stimulation from the eyes. We experience these images during dreams. Waking or dreaming, your consciousness experiences images, sounds, and other sensations. Where do information from visions, premonitions or “out of body” experiences arise?  There is much more going on than mere physiology… the mystery of life is always right there, at work in the background.

“We are spirits having bodily experiences,
not bodies having spiritual experiences.”

– Art Runningbear

Consciousness is still largely a mystery. A logical way to deal with mystery is to trust your experiences and question your interpretations. In order to evolve, we must prove ourselves wrong about everything we thought we knew. You can start this process by simply realizing how easy it is to fool your senses. This is a significant first step, since our often rigid perception of “how things are” was assembled from information reported from our senses, regarding the world around us.  The images below will help you generate some healthy doubt about how you perceive things.

The shade of A and B are the same.

The shade of the A and B squares are exactly the same.  It’s unbelievable, but welcome to the fundamental design flaw in your ability to perceive the environment around you. I had to prove this to myself below, by cutting out a piece of A and B and placing them together. I also placed pieces of B in a trail from A to B, to see how the illusion formed.

Proof that A and B are the exact same shade. See A and B side by side in the upper left. And follow a trail of B from A to B in the main image.

Trust your experiences and question your interpretations. We can trust that we actually perceive B to be a lighter shade than A… but just don’t get attached to the idea – question the interpretation that B must be a lighter shade than A – even if you can’t prove it. Stay vigilant to the fact that your perception is limited, and that you may be misperceiving, and making wrong assumptions. This is a great conceptual icon to keep in mind as we evaluate all knowledge. It may be relatively true as far as we can tell, but ultimately wrong as we learn more. It’s ok to be wrong – that’s how we evolve.

Click on the picture to see the animation. Is the girl spinning clockwise or counterclockwise?

Our perceptions are not only subject to illusions of shading, but motion and many other things as well. Perceiving reality through a physical body is a precarious perch on “reality”. It is much more subjective than we might like to think. This is why eyewitnesses see different things, and part of how assumptions get formed and misunderstandings arise. We may not be aware that we have a subconscious belief about something, but it will alter the way the brain/mind interprets what we see.

How do we integrate knowledge of the fickle functions of our biological design into our lives? We strive to become what Robert A. Heinlein describes as a “Fair Witness” in his book Stranger in a Strange Land


“Jubal called out, “That new house on the far hilltop – can you see what color they’ve painted it?”

Anne looked in the direction in which Jubal was pointing and answered, “It’s white on this side.”

… it doesn’t even occur to her to infer that the other side is probably white too. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t force her to commit herself as to the far side… unless she herself went around to the other side and looked – and even then she wouldn’t assume that it stayed whatever color it might be after she left… because they might repaint it as soon as she turned her back.”

Trust experience, question interpretation. Acknowledge the physical experience of life in your body.  But also acknowledge the limitations of your body’s physical experience. Look through and beyond your biology for who you really are.


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