Between Reality and Illusion

October 04, 2010

What is the boundary between reality and illusion? We tend to regard reality and illusion as two opposing concepts and use them to determine each other: Reality is not illusion, and illusion is entirely different from reality; or, rather, it is diametrically opposed to reality. In this way, we understand the two as opposites. However, if we only think of them as a pair, we place ourselves in an uncomfortable situation when we try to understand reality and illusion separately. It becomes obvious that neither reality nor illusion can be delineated solely in terms of the other.

If we want to examine this idea further, we had better begin with trying to define reality and illusion. Which is it easier to start with? We may find it difficult to define reality, since we live in it everyday and cannot find an external point from which we may observe it. How about illusion? We experience it in specific situations, such as in the cinema, or during sleep. But it should be noted that illusion is composed of various images that are necessarily drawn from reality. Illusion cannot exist independently of reality. Imagination—making up images—does not construct illusion alone. Rather, illusion is also a phenomenon involving our perception of reality, whether it is a “true” representation of that reality or not.

Therefore, we need to begin our inquiry here with reality, not illusion. As I have already implied, our belief that we live in reality is natural and almost self-evident. The most accurate reason why we think this is because we readily believe that reality is based on material fact. But again, even when we base reality on the merely material, we will feel some sense of doubt. Even if we admit that reality is based on physical objects, can it be completely reduced to them? Especially in the information age we live in, we find that reality is most likely mediated by images—often abstracted—and such images permeate reality itself. As a result, images, and their prerequisite reliance on imagination, make up some parts of reality, images such as those of diverse stereotypes, the objects of human desire, and the experience of the other in different cultures. Today it is rare to experience unadulterated reality directly. Through projected images, illusion permeates into and is mingled with reality, blurring any potential borders between them. This is the world we live in.

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