What Is An Illusion?

Some say our sense that life means something is an illusion, or that it would be an illusion if there were no god. Some say free-will is an illusion. These claims confuse me.


The water I seem to see on the hot horizon is an illusion. The bend in the stick in the water in the pond is an illusion. These claims have sense because I know what it is to see water, am acquainted with the sight of a straight stick. But how does free-will really feel? What is it like for life really to mean something? These questions smack of nonsense. What is the genuine article against which to compare the alleged counterfeit?

"That four-sided triangle you saw was an illusion." Does that make sense? No. A four-sided triangle is impossible. There is nothing it is like to see one. There is nothing it is like to seem to see one. The can be no counterfeit of an impossible original. (But what is this an illusion of? Is there really an illusion?) 

"That free will you thought you felt, that was an illusion." What? How would you know? Maybe you have a theory that says every event is necessitated by the laws of nature and the prior history of the universe. In such a world, can there be something it is like to experience the absence of necessitation?

Now I deliberately and willfully touch the tip of my nose. I certainly don't feel myself compelled by laws of the cosmos and the sum of time. Neither do I feel myself not so compelled. I feel myself willing a nifty little nose-touching. We can and do mislabel such experiences. If I label the experience of making myself touch my nose "the experience of a four-sided triangle," and later I realize four-sided triangles are impossible, that does not mean I once had the illusory experience of a four-sided triangle. (If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a cow have?) I had the experience of sticking the label for something impossible on my experience of touching my finger to my nose.

If I am, in fact, paralyzed from the waist down up, say, or an unwitting brain in a vat, then I could not have executed a nose-tip touch. I will have experienced the illusion of making myself touch my nose. That makes sense. There is something it is like to touch your nose. Pain in a phantom limb is an illusion. Pain in an eternal soul is a labeling mistake.

My father said he was proud of me and it meant so much to me. Could I be wrong? Yes. It was not really my father who said it. He did not really say he was proud. There is nothing it is really like for something to mean so much? No. No. No. On acid, a matrix of twigs against the moon can mean so much. Maybe that's a counterfeit experience of real meaning. I'm not sure. I am sure the question makes sense because the genuine article is known to us.

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