Month: March 2023

On the Nature of Illusion and Maya

I recently had a conversation on Facebook with a couple of spiritualists who were talking about how the world is an illusion. The conversations can be found here (you may have to join the group):

The meaning of illusion

One of them asked me what my definition of illusion is. This was my answer:

‘I think the essential meaning of “illusion” is when something makes an impression on you that’s misleading or that you misinterpret for other reasons, so you believe the meaning of that thing is something other than it is. IMO, for illusion to have meaning, there must be the theoretical possibility of witnessing a more accurate truth behind the illusion (i.e., one that is more convincing/makes more sense/agrees with more other senses and beliefs) that may go deeper than the original impression.’

Without the possibility of seeing a deeper truth behind the impression, the apprehension is not exactly an illusion, it’s merely a delusion, hallucination or falsehood, which is why I say that, for illusion to have meaning, there must be the theoretical possibility of witnessing a more accurate truth behind the illusion.

Actually, the purported illusion actually being a mere falsehood doesn’t exactly take the meaning away from it; its inaccuracy is more a matter of semantics, so I may have said the “for illusion to have meaning…” line because, without a deeper truth behind it, any interpretation of the impression is just as valid as any other, as the only truths we have are necessarily interpretations of the more raw impressions, and those interpretations are necessarily partially, if not wholly, subjective.

One reason interpretations of impressions are at least partially subjective is that all interpretations are reductive. So it’s arbitrary which part of the truth of the raw impression one retains and which parts one throws away in their reduction. But actually, they’re not “retaining” any particular part of the impression, because the reduction is all a translation, or transmogrification, of the data. It’s interpreted into the mental language, or the semiotic framework of understanding, of the individual.

It’s also interpreted into, and/or filtered by, the belief framework, or worldview, and the specific beliefs of the individual, which is another reason it’s at least partially subjective. But we may not necessarily say this is a reason “illusion” only has meaning if something deeper behind it may be discovered, because we could reason that the specific beliefs the interpretation is made into or filtered by are either objectively wrong or right, and if they’re wrong then the resultant interpretation may thus be illusory.

We could also reason that the belief framework or worldview of the individual is also objectively wrong or right, but this is more problematic, because we could say the worldview amounts to a perspective onto the world, and there are many possible valid perspectives. We could also say that the worldview or belief framework underlies the synthesis of truth in the individual, so it’s meta to it and therefore neither true nor false.

This, of course, implies that truth is merely synthetic, and is probably therefore subjective as well. I talk more about why truth is both synthetic and subjective here: And the inherent subjectivity of truth is another reason I say that, for “illusion” to have meaning, there must be a possible deeper and therefore stronger truth or interpretation behind the impression. It’s also why I quality “more accurate” in the above definition with “i.e., one that is more convincing/makes more sense/agrees with more other senses and beliefs.”

The meaning of Maya

The beginning of what other person in the conversation said to me included ‘illusion in the context of reality is in reference to this material creation we’re currently residing in, also known as, “Maya,” ‘that which is not.” This was my response to him:

“I think it may not be the literal material that’s illusory, but our interpretation of its meaning or our understanding of the nature of existence/ourselves from within this material world/incarnation.

Though metaphysics is tricky, and it’s hard to say exactly what matter/the physical universe is. We may find that matter is illusory in some way, perhaps a misleading perspective on That Which Is, but that’s tricky too: at some point “reality” can only mean our experiential context, and the material is wholly real in our totally immersive experience.

At some point, other interpretations of the material may just as well be called alternative experiences as deeper or less illusory perceptions of the material, or perhaps what’s deeper could still be considered irrelevant to, additional to, or aberrant from from our everyday experience, because our everyday experience is so completely immersive, meaning the material wouldn’t be considered illusory even if it appears to be a relative interpretation of something more absolute.

Also, the material world could be considered to “boil down to” or to be made up of something deeper, like the cosmic void/the formless, but it may still be considered real just like biology and our bodies are considered real even they “boil down” or are made up of chemistry and atoms.

In Communion with God by Neale Donald Walsch, God/Neale lists the 10 main illusions of mankind, which may be aligned with what you’re talking about. Each illusion is said to have been created in order to cover up the holes in or to make possible the previous illusion. The illusions are:

1. The illusion of need
2. The illusion that failure exists
3. The illusion that separation exists
4. The illusion that insufficiency exists
5. The illusion that requirement exists
6. The illusion that judgment exists
7. The illusion of condemnation
8. The illusion that conditionality exists
9. The illusion that superiority exists
10. The illusion that ignorance exists

These are all elaborated on in his book Communion with God, in his book The Ten Illusions of Humans: The Most Important Single Message from Communion with God, and online at…/the-ten-illusions-of-humans.”

I think the essence of Maya may be often confused by people simply making the sweeping gesture that Maya means the world is an illusion, leading one to think that matter/the physical universe itself is an illusion, when matter is probably real, and Maya really means the social reality society teaches us is illusory or at least contains and is probably framed by very fundamental/systemic nontruths.

Though, TBH, Maya probably also means that there’s a lot more to reality, even in the here and now (or, more accurately, everywhere) and to our own nature than the physical, or what’s conferred to us by physical sensation, and even more than what we normally experience of our own minds.

The reason I said metaphysics is tricky is that it’s sub- or super-empirical, and without empirical verification behind a metaphysical statement, it’s questionable whether there is meaning to saying the statement is true or false, and it’s also questionable what the statement even means. This assertion is in line with and supported/explained by positivist philosophical movement, which I don’t fundamentally agree with, but I think it’s a useful razor in many contexts.

So, it’s questionable what the meaning, and not to mention the truth-value, of “matter/the physical universe is an illusion” is, because that probably qualifies as a metaphysical statement, given that it’s beyond empiricism, as we can only empirically measure physical things, and that it’s beyond the physical, as it’s about the nature of physicality itself and/or what’s behind/deeper/more absolute than it.