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James Sully
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 304 pages of information about Illusions.

This being so, it is possible for errors of perception to arise through peculiarities of the nervous organization itself.  Thus, as I have just observed, sensibility has its limits, and these limits are the starting-point in a certain class of widely shared or common illusions.  An example of this variety is the taking of the two points of a pair of compasses for one by the hand, already referred to.  Again, the condition of the nervous structures varies indefinitely, so that one and the same stimulus may, in the case of two individuals, or of the same individual at different times, produce widely unlike modes of sensation.  Such variations are clearly fitted to lead to gross individual errors as to the external cause of the sensation.  Of this sort is the illusory sense of temperature which we often experience through a special state of the organ employed.

While there are these errors of interpretation due to some peculiarity of the organization, there are others which involve no such peculiarity, but arise through the special character or exceptional conformation of the environment at the moment.  Of this order are the illusions connected with the reflection of light and sound.  We may, perhaps, distinguish the first sub-class as organically conditioned illusions, and the second as extra-organically determined illusions.  It may be added that the latter are roughly describable as common illusions.  They thus answer in a measure to the first variety of organically conditioned illusions, namely, those connected with the limits of sensibility.  On the other hand, the active illusions, being essentially individual or subjective, may be said to correspond to the other variety of this class—­those connected with variations of sensibility.

Our scheme of sense-illusions is now complete.  First of all, we shall take up the passive illusions, beginning with those which are conditioned by special circumstances in the organism.  After that we shall illustrate those which depend on peculiar circumstances in the environment.  And finally, we shall separately consider what I have called the active illusions of sense.

It is to be observed that these illusions of perception properly so called, namely, the errors arising from a wrong interpretation of an impression, and, not from a confusion of one impression with another are chiefly illustrated in the region of the two higher senses, sight and hearing.  For it is here, as we have seen, that the interpretative imagination has most work to do in evolving complete percepts of material, tangible objects, having certain relations in space, out of a limited and homogeneous class of sensations, namely, those of light and colour, and of sound.  As I have before observed, tactual perception, in so far as it is the recognition of an object of a certain size, hardness, and distance from our body, involves the least degree of interpretation, and so offers little room for error; it is only when tactual perception amounts to the recognition of an individual object, clothed with secondary as well as primary qualities, that an opening for palpable error occurs.

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