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"Sensation is an abstraction,
not a replication of the real world"

Vernon Mountcastle

What is illusion and what is real? Effective creativity must discern between the two. How much does the brain have to do with determining reality, and how much does consciousness and/or our emotional state affect our perception of reality?

Creative Illusion

The word illusion comes from the Latin Illusio which means mocking or deceit. The dictionary defines illusion as a false, misleading, misconception. The general consensus for determining reality is by use of the five senses; seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching.

It is assumed that these five senses are giving an accurate report of the external environment. But, are the senses giving us an objective view of what's "out there"? To test this theory, let's look at some special images.

Creative Illusion

Look at the cube on the left. If you stare at it for a time does it appear to flip back and forth from a hollow cube to a solid cube? Is the circle on the face of the solid cube or the back of the hollow cube?

What your eyes see and how your brain interprets these impressions can cause confusion. Your brain transfers what the eye perceives and turns it into electronic impulses. It is the job of consciousness to sort out these electronic impressions and make some coherent sense of them.


As reported in The Three-Pound Universe by Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi, "The image in your head is not a straightforward copy of anything. Palm trees and Ella Fitzgerald's high notes are represented in your brain by abstract codes. There are no colors, no sounds, and no smells in your neural tissue."


The impressions received by the eye are turned into electronic pulses in the brain and then sent through the nervous system through the use of neurotransmitters. Not everyone's brain is wired in the same way. Some people have trouble passing information back and forth between the neural network of fibers in the corpus callosum, (the network of nerves that allows the right and left hemispheres to communicate). Other people's neuronal hardwiring is such that what they see is miscued in the brain. A dyslexic alters the linear patterns most of us perceive as letters and turns them around. This makes it very difficult for them to learn to read and to interpret symbols. If hardwiring of the brain is not uniform we are not all receiving the same set of electronic impressions.

The eye/brain perceptual relationship cannot always be relied upon to see a consistent cohesive reality. As noted by Karl Pribram, originator of the holographic brain theory at Stanford University, "You see, your brain is operating in two modes simultaneously. You have the spatial representation, which maps the retinal image onto the cortex. And then, in the membranes of the cells, the image is transformed back into the frequency mode - the scatter that you'd see if you saw without a lens. The neuron's code for storing information resembles the interference patterns on the holograph plate... If we got rid of our 'lenses,' we'd experience the interference patterns themselves. We would be in the pre frequency domain. What would that domain look like? Ask the mystics. Though they have trouble describing it, too...Space and time would be collapsed, or as I prefer to say, enfolded. Think of an EEG recording. On the vertical axis you have amplitude; on the horizontal axis, frequency. There's no space and no time."

So what is interpreting the images that are perceived through the lenses of the eye and recorded in the brain? The eye and the brain are merely the material receptors of impressions. The something else that interprets the impressions that are recorded by the eye and brain is consciousness. What you actually see will be altered and manipulated by how you feel about what you see, or, if you have had any previous experience with what you are seeing.

Fritjof Capra expressed in his book The Turning Point, "Recent neurophysiological studies have shown that the modification of sensory perception by past experiences, expectations and purposes occurs not only in the interpretation but begins at the very outset, at the 'gates of perception'. Numerous experiments have indicated that the registration of data by the sense organs will be different for different individuals before perception is experienced. These studies show that the physiological aspects of perception cannot be separated from the psychological aspects of interpretation. Moreover, the new view of perception also blurs the conventional distinction between sensory and extrasensory perception - another vestige of Cartesian thinking - by showing that all perception is, to some extent, extrasensory." He was referring to an article on Perception and Commitment by Robert B. Livingston in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1963.

If your eyes and brain cannot be counted upon to give you a completely accurate version of what you perceive, and, your consciousness is also altering perception according to your predisposed attitudes, what do you do with the information you are receiving? This the crux of the argument. Is the image to the right real or not? Can it be constructed in real life? No, but it can be rendered two dimensionally, so is it still real? What is reality and what is illusion? Is it possible for two people to view the same reality? Except for a quasi agreement of what is real and not real, are any of us experiencing the same reality?
Creative Illusion

Probably not. You and I can both agree when we see the color red. We have defined the frequency called red in the electromagnetic spectrum. But if you are "color blind" then what you see as red and what I perceive red to be will be entirely different. We are both interpreting the same frequency of light called "red", but what we are seeing is not the same because our receptors filter that frequency differently.

Perhaps that is why Eastern religions refer to the world as being 'Maya' or illusion. It's not that the world isn't there, or that things don't exist. But, we are relying on our senses, which filter information through the brain, and each of us has a unique and differently wired brain. These impressions are further colored by personal alterations in conscious and emotional preferences.

Perhaps the only way to perceive what might be considered 'reality' would be to eliminate the use of the senses and just use consciousness. As Judith Hooper acknowledges in The Three-Pound Universe, "the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree are like Maya; they are the laughter and tears in a movie, compelling only so long as we're inside the darkened theater. God lies outside the 'world of opposites,' heaven and hell, I and thou, subject and object, and the terminally spinning hamster wheel of pleasure and pain. To enter this realm beyond duality, one must free oneself from the addictions of the senses.'"

Acknowledging that the senses are not accurate indicators of what is 'real' is the first step to experiencing an objective reality. This is necessary to the creative mind. You must reach beyond the information your senses are giving you as you assess the world around you. You must be able to obtain a state of consciousness that is sensually unfiltered before you will truly experience anything but a self-created illusion.

Creative resolution of problems or creative solutions to artistic work demands coherent thought. As we have learned on other parts of this site, the brain's wiring can be altered and improved. Along with improving, expanding and rewiring the neuronal pathways, we need to access the information held between the synaptic clefts. This is where inspiration and insight make their appearance, as if "out of the blue". They appear as whole gestalts. These are the cohesive, coherent impressions that engender creative clarity.

We offer many techniques on this site to expand your intuitive, inspirational and insightful abilities. These are The Pregnant Pause, Remote Viewing, and the Zen of Pondering Puzzles. If you were to print out the image at the top of this page, enlarge it and stare at it for at least ten minutes, you would notice some interesting effects. Not only would it begin to move, but you would be in an altered state of consciousness. It is in an altered state that insightful thoughts are most easily received.

It is also helpful to look at images by artists such as M.C. Escher. You can see some of his work on our Studies in Genius page. For a glance at how visual paradox can influence creativity you might want to look at our piece on Paradox. If you want to improve your ability to discern illusion from reality open your mind to your sixth sense and learn to cultivate it’s powers. Your creativity will vastly improve and become much more spontaneous and effective.

© J.L. Read, 1997. All Rights Reserved.
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This site is dedicated in loving memory
to its creator, Janet L. Read
1949 — 2000


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