Questions to the Illusionists

by William P. Meyers

[Illusionists is my term for people influenced by a broad spectrum of religious and philosophical systems and beliefs that deny the reality of the sensory world. That is, they believe that ordinary reality as experienced by human beings is in some sense an illusion.] 

Do you believe that Mount Everest is real? What about Mount Rainier? What about your local hills or mountains?

If you don't believe mountains, or particular mountains are "real," then you define "real" in a peculiar way.

Do you believe that what is happening now, around you, is real? [Hard core Illusionists deny even that.]

Do you believe that what happened to you ten minutes ago was real? Are things that happened in the past not real? Do you believe events really occurred in the past only if you remember them? If you don't remember something, did it not happen? If you remember now but forget later?

Let us admit that both what is in the past and what is distant is real, while admitting that we may have incorrect or missing information about the past or what is distant. We may even may be incorrect in our opinion of the here and now.

Now consider the life of an animal, say a dog. The dog has a beginning that has (or had) a place and a time. You can choose birth or conception for the beginning point, but then stick to that for this example. The dog also has (or had, or will have) an end, for which we will use its death. The dead body of the dog is of no use in this example.

Our dog is like Mount Everest in that, while it is alive, it is real. Even if it is away from us. Most people know there are living dogs all over the world. We may know some individual dogs quite well. Aside from being a living animal, a major difference between a dog and a mountain is the short life time of the dog. The lifetime of a dog is very comprehensible to humans because they typically live a fair fraction of a human lifetime.

Now further suppose there is a dog in New York City (if you are in New York City, suppose it in some other city) and the dog's master has taken a vacation to Florida. The dog is being cared for in New York City by a friend of the master.

The master may or may not think of the dog while on vacation. A sane master knows the dog is in New York City. He does not need to imagine that the dog is also in Florida, physically or "in spirit."

We can accept that Mount Everest is real, but far away. We don't imagine that an invisible, intangible copy of Mount Everest must be with us in order for it to exist.

When the dog is in the past, when it has died, in a sense it is far away in time. Yet we should not need to believe that it has an invisible, intangible copy of itself in our presence, or in some imaginary space like heaven. The dog is real, but it is in the past.

Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and other Illusionist doctrines are elaborated systems of confusing the real and the imaginary.

In particular they prey on people's fear of death and emotional attachments to people who have died.

When in fact people who have died are real, they are just in the past.