Twelve Examples of Illusion
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Tibetan Buddhist writings frequently state that many of the things we perceive in the world are in fact illusory, as illusory as echoes or mirages. In Twelve Examples of Illusion, Jan Westerhoff offers an engaging look at a dozen illusions--including magic tricks, dreams, rainbows, and reflections in a mirror--showing how these phenomena can give us insight into reality. For instance, he offers a fascinating discussion of optical illusions, such as the wheel of fire (the "wheel" seen when a torch is swung rapidly in a circle), discussing Tibetan explanations of this phenomenon as well as the findings of modern psychology, and significantly clarifying the idea that most phenomena--from chairs to trees--are similar illusions. The book uses a variety of crystal-clear examples drawn from a wide variety of fields, including contemporary philosophy and cognitive science, as well as the history of science, optics, artificial intelligence, geometry, economics, and literary theory. Throughout, Westerhoff makes both Buddhist philosophical ideas and the latest theories of mind and brain come alive for the general reader.
object projected onto the screen. A ﬁlm projector What is the explanation of the cinematographic illusion? A popular way of accounting for the fact that a cinematic projection shown at the right speed does not appear gappy is by reference to the persistence of vision. Here the idea is that the mind retains the image a little bit longer than it is actually perceived. Before it disappears a new image is already oﬀered to us—this is why we do not notice the small intervals of darkness between
of his cremation: Then the funeral pyre appeared as a palace made of rainbow-light, of rectangular shape, with four gates and ornamented archways. Above this hovered canopies and umbrellas, also made of rainbow light. . . . In the smoke the sweet smell of incense arose and within this billowing shroud a multitude of clouds of oﬀering, with parasols, victory banners and so forth were seen, all made of rainbow light. This view of rainbows as fairly ﬂexible and not necessarily bow-shaped objects
in many Tibetan Traditional depiction of a rainbow body scrolls or thangka paintings meet to form a circle hovering in the sky, often enclosing the ﬁgure of a saint or Buddha seated within it, resting in empty space.42 42. Occasionally the circular rainbow can also be rectangular. Tibetan scrolls are displayed in often very intricate brocade mountings. The painting itself is always surrounded by two narrow bands of colored brocade, an inner red one and an outer yellow one. These bands are called
fact that after hearing the sound of the bell A complication clock 140 • T W E LV E E X A M P L E S O F I L L U S I O N the subject has to check where the pointer is at that moment. In the short moment it takes for him to react the pointer has already moved a bit, so that the ﬁrst position of the pointer perceived after the sound of the bell, and later regarded as coinciding with it, is not where the pointer really was when the bell sounded, but a bit further along the dial. Wundt referred to
linings. A book-length treatment of philosophical issues that holes generate is in Holes and Other Superﬁcialities by Roberto Casati and Achille Varzi (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994). Details on the Hedonistic Calculus may be found in chapter 4 of Jeremy Bentham’s An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (London: Payne, 1789). The “hedonic treadmill” is analyzed in Philip Brickman and Donald Campbell’s “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society,” in Adaptation–level