LIFE IS ILLUSION AND DREAM
George Berkeley, in the eighteenth century, doubted even of the material world. To him the physical world – mountains, houses, people... – didn’t exist. They were illusions, ideas. To Berkeley, only ideas existed.
This is an extreme conception, rather marginal, which contradicts much evidence, and that has aroused repulsive and vigorous reactions. Samuel Johnson, a famous writer and contemporary of Berkeley, reacted to the other thesis saying: «I can easily refute him!» And he kicked a stone, which made him limp.
Incomparably more consensual is the idea that we are predisposed to live in illusion, in fantasy, in dream. That is a way of escaping from the hostile reality, from life’s cruelty, from the threat of death, from the uninteresting.
Full lucidity is intermittent, we only get it from time to time. Our knowledge, and its truth, is very limited. This is an ancient idea. Four hundred years before Christ, Demosthenes considered that «nothing is easier than auto-illusion: all man wishes to be true all in which he believes».
But there are other opinions still more radical:
«Men have always fought reality with all their strength », said Jean Servier.
And Edgar Morin, in the same line:
«The illusion crosses all history, all the societies, all the individuals, and all the spirits, as soon as they get out of a disillusion, are ready to fall into another one.»
In short: to these authors, man lives in a world of myths, of fantasies, far way from reality. This is a way of getting existential comfort, and is a biased form of giving meaning to man’s lives.
On the same line, Sigmund Freud said we should thank the illusions. And accept them without complaining. If eventually they collide with reality and break into pieces, they are, after all, a way of giving meaning to life.
Anyway, even accepting the relevance of illusion and dream in our lives, it’s still true that conscience has a place in our existence. Our thoughts about the illusion and the dreams in which we live, are a proof of that «wavering small flame», that Edgar Morin speaks of.
When the Bible, in the Ecclesiastes, asserts over and over that «all is vanity and striving after wind», behind that allusion to a certain type of illusion – the existential illusion, connected to the many of our daily wills which are condemned to end up in smoke – is the fact that we are conscious of this: the conscience of illusion and, so, the denial of that same illusion.
Suggested best-seller reading: Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions