I know that in many religions or in the work of many philosophers the ultimate truth or essence of existence is depicted monist. Some even argue further that all our experience is an illusion- which I could not agree more and that is backed by science as well. Again, science currently supports monist views on the origin of matter too.

However, does that really imply all of the illusions we experience are not tied to reality? Or does that have to be true that we "create" objects through our experience, which do not exist in the "absolute"? Do we have to reach "the Absolute" by reduction? Or even if we reach a monist essence we can describe the Absolute definitely?

To make the question, let me give an example:

This bottle in front of me is not a "bottle" if you use an instrument that can only detect baryons (reduction). The borders of it and its surrounding universe are of the same essence, which are made of atoms, and have no distinction (as we currently know of) in terms of essence. Here you see we reduced our object of its structure. However, their (the bottle and its surroundings) difference and its manifestation in my mind is caused by their organization and arrangement. Does this arrangement and organization have to be an illusion? Yes, everything is connected to each other and there are no distinction in terms of "essence" as we know of, but does knowing that essence makes us reach the absolute?

If we argue this in terms of the so-called "Absolute", isn't my experience of this illusion supposed to be a part of reality?

  • If there are no real distinctions, then isn't the distinction between real and illusory itself unreal? And if that's so, why not keep the word "illusion" restricted to sensory distortions rather than abstracting it over the entire metaverse? Feb 14, 2021 at 0:03
  • Brilliant question! Point of your second sentence is exactly what I tried to highlight in the question. The fact that you experience a distorted reality does not mean these distinctions are not formed. However, holders of these beliefs seem to even disregard logic itself as being illusionary, which makes further questions arise in my mind.
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 14, 2021 at 0:12
  • Are you defining "monist" in terms of the view that all distinctions whatsoever are false, or in other terms like the view that there is only one substance (a la Spinoza) or the related idea that all parts of reality only exist as part of an interrelated whole so it is not even logically possible that they could exist independently? For the latter an analogy can be made to mathematical structuralism where each mathematical object is only defined in terms of its relations to others, but distinctions between them are meaningful & precise.
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 14, 2021 at 0:26
  • Organization and arrangement are just as much part of the reality as what is arranged and organized, they are included into the "reduction". I think the problem is with the loose use of "illusion". No thing is literally an illusion, the illusion is taking it for something else. Mirage is only an illusion when it is taken for an actual oasis, otherwise it is a real phenomenon studied by optics and psychology. Similarly, experience is only an illusion if it is naively taken at face value, otherwise it is part of reality that is studied "in the absolute" along with what it is the experience of.
    – Conifold
    Feb 14, 2021 at 0:31
  • @Hypnosifl Your point made me consider editing the question as the meaning is possibly not clear, thank you. I meant the first view you state, as in Buddhist terms, for example. That the essence is the one and only. As you said, Spinoza does not disregard the existence of different objects, he proposes one substance as the "source", or basis.
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 14, 2021 at 0:42

2 Answers 2


When Eastern philosophy talks about the world being illusory, it's not meant to be the deeply ontological (physics-like) claim that is often imputed. It's more in line with the later Wittgenstein: that words (and thus our conscious thought) are conventionally related to the world, not epistemologically related. We don't come to 'know' the world through some process of investigation or examination. Instead, we 'decide' that the world has a particular feature by applying words, and 'knowledge' is the consequence of that decision.

To explain: if we placed a brick and a rock next to each other, and then brought in someone from the stone age, that person would see two rocks. He'd be aware of the differences — one rock is strangely colored and strangely regular in shape — but he wouldn't 'know' that bricks are man-made, and he wouldn't 'know' that they have a particular use in construction. He'd only have one category, where we have two. The category 'brick' is purely conventional, and by extension so is the category 'stone'.

Categories are the filters through which we see the world, and we habitually mistake our filtered version of the world for the actual thing (which has no intrinsic categories).

But the goal of Eastern philosophy isn't to philosophize about physical categories. Eastern philosophy wants to get at moral or value categories: good/bad, right/wrong, higher/lower, etc. It wants to show that these categories are also conventional, and that we cannot really understand their function and use unless we go beyond the categories and access the undivided whole.

  • I understood that the motivation was mostly ethical. Does this categorization of ours imply that through these filters we create our own reality that is separate from the absolute truth or do these cognitive processes take us further from it?
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 14, 2021 at 19:49
  • @Ghostpunk: What is the 'absolute truth' of a brick? Think about a chess set... On one level, a chess set is (perhaps) a piece of wood marked off in alternating colors and a number of stones carved into certain shapes; on another level it is a field of contest where action is governed by standardized rules. One cannot derive the second level (the 'human' world) form the first level (the 'natural' world), so what is the 'absolute truth' of a chess set? What would an alien archeologist — on finding a chess set in the smoking ruins of the Earth — think it was looking at? Feb 14, 2021 at 22:52
  • Brilliant comment, thank you. I'm with Buddhist principle of dependent arising in this one. No object has intrinsic meaning. Meaning only arises with an object's relation to something else. This doesn't mean we should disregard the emergent meanings as having no truth value though. "Absolute being" should encompass all possible instances of dependent arising. I'm saying this because your example seems to have similar meaning.
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 14, 2021 at 23:03

Per my own philosophy, the true ultimate original face (ontology) of "The Reality" is unknowable, thus skepticism is honest here. Next, many people will conveniently regard the perceptions and epistemic understanding "reflected" in their inward mind from their outward experience as Reality correspondence (the old famous "Correspondence Theory of Truth"). So in this context, reality as perceived by mind is not illusion but reflection, here you can have 3 types of epistemology factions to try to speculate the ontological reality via these only available reflections out of human mind (foundationalism, coherentism, infinitism). My personal take is foundationalism, the ontological mechanism is just like a giant computer stack, from lowest instruction set level (corresponds to most clear-but-abstract mind layer where Math concepts lie), up to final screen output (corresponds to the much more concrete-vivid-but-confused mind layer where sensational perceptions lie), between these many many layers the seeming "causality" sought by all sciences flows from relatively abstract math to relatively concrete perceptions as all are reflected in human mind.

  • You have a very strong point here, which is similar to my preexisting opinions as well. I especially liked the phrase "not an illusion but a reflection". This computer allegory you have can be extended to views on consciousness, namely emergentism.
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 14, 2021 at 13:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .