Illusions eBook

James Sully
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 304 pages of information about Illusions.
a very little inspection to be less fundamentally and essentially so than the proposition, “I am now feeling pain;” and it will be found that even with respect to memory, when the remembered event is at all remote, the process of cognition approximates to a mediate operation, namely, one of inference.  What the relative values of these different kinds of immediate knowledge are is a point which will have to be touched on at the end of our study.  Here it must suffice to warn the reader against the supposition that this value is assumed to be identical.

It might seem at a first glance to follow from this four-fold scheme of immediate or quasi-immediate knowledge that there are four varieties of illusion.  And this is true in the sense that these four heads cover all the main varieties of illusion.  If there are only four varieties of knowledge which can lay any claim to be considered immediate, it must be that every illusion will simulate the form of one of these varieties, and so be referable to the corresponding division.

But though there are conceivably these four species of illusion, it does not follow that there are any actual instances of each class forthcoming.  This we cannot determine till we have investigated the nature and origin of illusory error.  For example, it might be found that introspection, or the immediate inspection of our own feelings or mental states, does not supply the conditions necessary to the production of such error.  And, indeed, it is probable that most persons, antecedently to inquiry, would be disposed to say that to fall into error in the observation of what is actually going on in our own minds is impossible.

With the exception of this first division, however, this scheme may easily be seen to answer to actual phenomena.  That there are illusions of perception is obvious, since it is to the errors of sense that the term illusion has most frequently been confined.  It is hardly less evident that there are illusions of memory.  The peculiar difficulty of distinguishing between a past real event and a mere phantom of the imagination, illustrated in the exclamation, “I either saw it or dreamt it,” sufficiently shows that memory is liable to be imposed on.  Finally, it is agreed on by all that the beliefs we are wont to regard as self-evident are sometimes erroneous.  When, for example, an imaginative woman says she knows, by mere intuition, that something interesting is going to happen, say the arrival of a favourite friend, she is plainly running the risk of being self-deluded.  So, too, a man’s estimate of himself, however valid for him, may turn out to be flagrantly false.

In the following discussion of the subject I shall depart from the above order in so far as to set out with illusions of sense-perception.  These are well ascertained, forming, indeed, the best-marked variety.  And the explanation of these has been carried much further than that of the others.  Hence, according to the rule to proceed from the known to the unknown, there will be an obvious convenience in examining these first of all.  After having done this, we shall be in a position to inquire whether there is anything analogous in the region of introspection or internal perception.  Our study of the errors of sense-perception will, moreover, prove the best preparation for an inquiry into the nature and mode of production of the remaining two varieties.[4]

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Illusions from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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