Some historical examples include the Gnostics, Advaita Vedanta, Kant, Schopenhauer, and countless mystics.

I was just wondering if there is a common name for these sorts of worldviews.

Thank you!

  • Science? Why does a stick appear to bend when you put it in water?
    – Richard
    Jan 25, 2022 at 2:10
  • Perhaps a better way of describing this view is that our interpretation of what reality is, being a projection, can never accurately describe reality. Reality and experience is, but our interpretation ("the world as presented by our senses") cannot be true.
    – jrw32982
    Jan 25, 2022 at 17:19
  • I agree that Advaita Vedanta is a typical proponent of the view characterized in the title of your question. But Kant is not a proponent of this view. From our sense data and the concepts of our thinking we construct the world of experience, according to Kant. That's the best we can do. Because we do not have access to things as themselves, our experience is not necessary false. But it is restricted and depends on our rational capabilities.
    – Jo Wehler
    Jan 26, 2022 at 19:29
  • Perhaps that can be categorized as skeptical realism, the disbelief in the reality behind perception, which contrasts with dogmatic realism, the acceptance that reality exists as perceived.
    – RodolfoAP
    Jan 27, 2022 at 4:19

4 Answers 4


The view you are describing, though possibly not the view you are thinking of, is called indirect realism. It is not a view of mystics, but the view of most materialists and physical realists today. Idealism denies that there is a real world at all. Idealists believe that only the mind exists (along with perceptions in the mind). An indirect realist believes in the real world, but believes that our minds have no direct experience of it.

Indirect realism is a consequence of scientific realism, as was shown by Descartes. The scientific view of perception is that light strikes an object, then gets reflected into your eye, through the lens, and onto your retina. The light knocks electrons around to produce nerve impulses which then travel to your brain which does an enormous amount of processing on the signal before delivering it to your conscious awareness.

The evidence for this view is overwhelming. It comes not only from optics and anatomy, but also from brain studies and instruments such as optical illusions and perspective, which show that what is reflected on the back of our eye is not what is brought to our consciousness.

The conclusion from this is that what you see is not the real world, but a mental image of the real world created by your brain from data that wasn't even the real world when it entered the nervous system, but only a projected image.

And the mental image you see is indistinguishable from images that can occur entirely in the mind without even the projection on the back of the eye. You can have hallucinations or dreams that show the same mental image. This shows that there is no necessary link between a physical object and the mental image you perceive.

Furthermore, not only do you see only a mental image, but science says that a real object really isn't what your mental image shows you. That tree isn't really a whole; it's a swarm of subatomic particles, going in and out of the tree constantly. The particles even go in and out of existence. The tree isn't even physically identical from one moment to the next, yet you see a single tree persisting over time.

All of this leads to the conclusion that we don't see the real world, but rather a mental image of the real world. The real world is a much different thing from what we see.

  • good answer +! though of course it may not be what that meant in the question
    – user57343
    Jan 23, 2022 at 3:14
  • I enjoyed that explanation, but I don't think that is what is meant by Advaita Vedanta philosophy or many mystics.
    – jrw32982
    Jan 25, 2022 at 17:42
  • David - superb.. what you just described is called 'maya'. Maya is illusion. A rope appearing as a snake and very important to notice, the moment a snake appears to a mind, it renders plethora of miseries..
    – beck03076
    Jul 10, 2022 at 5:44



Other than that, you are probably looking for "idealism" in some form or another.

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    Jan 23, 2022 at 9:05

This is a common concept for those who hold by idealist worldviews. That the world is really consciousness, and the appearance of matter around us, and its solidity, is an illusion. There is a term for this idea in Indian philosophy, and that is Maya -- that the appearance of a material world is an illusion.

The concept of Maya is adopted from its Hindu origins in both Buddhist and Sikh thought, with slightly different but related definitions in both. Note that these religions give somewhat different answers as to what is "real", than mayanic Hinduism does.

This view of our material world as at least partially illusory, or at least created by thought, is not limited to eastern thought. The "New Thought" brand of Christian and near-Christian religion holds that our physical universe is malleable to our willing. This is also a common view in the New Age movement. Modern paganism holds that our material world (and deities) are created by collective presumptions of humanity.

A surprisingly related view is held among eliminative materialists, who hold that the world is "really" elementary particles, and the things we perceive (color, solidity, temperature, etc) are perceptually manufactured "shortcuts" to process the underlying "true" reductive reality, and the shortcuts basically are self-created illusions. This view is often called "scientific realism" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Na%C3%AFve_realism#Scientific_realism_and_na%C3%AFve_perceptual_realism. Scientific realists also present the sensible world as illusory with the true reality being particles in motion. Sellars made the difficulties created by the opposition between "manifest image" and "scientific image" a centerpiece of his philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sellars/#PhilEnteImagHumaWorl.

A particular view of mind -- advocated by the materialist Daniel Dennett among others, is that consciousness is an DElusion. IE that it is not just our image of the external world that is seriously mistaken, but that we are also seriously mislead about what our minds themselves do and perceive. The term applied to this theory of mind is "Delusionism". https://aeon.co/essays/what-if-your-consciousness-is-an-illusion-created-by-your-brain?utm_medium=feed&utm_source=atom-feed

A broader term to use across this whole collection of thought might be "illusionism" relative to matter and perception. But the diversity of views collected under the term, might make such a collective term more misleading than helpful.

  • This is not specific to idealists, scientific realists also present the sensible world as illusory with the true reality being particles in motion. Sellars made the opposition between "manifest image" and "scientific image" a centerpiece of his philosophy.
    – Conifold
    Jan 21, 2022 at 22:00
  • @Conifold --thanks. Yes, I tried to cover that with the mention of eliminative materialism. I will add the "scientific realist" term and links to the answer.
    – Dcleve
    Jan 21, 2022 at 23:14

There's subjective idealism which entails that the reality-generating apparatus of consciousness is itself the entirety of the world that we can have indubitable knowledge of…

  • An important subtype here is Kantian transcendental idealism which inverts the order of consideration here -- that is, taking the conditions of local transcendental structure as primary -- in a way which reveals a lot of prior philosophizing to be arguing one side or the other of an antinomy (an irresolvable problem for which it is perfectly possible to construct “rational” arguments for both sides). The transcendental ideas are in part proposed as partial resolutions to Cartesian epistemic doubt which arises due to thinking critically about subjectivity and the ideal construction of knowledge (that is: how is it that we can have indubitable knowledge of anything?)

Perhaps speculative idealism characterizes the post-Kantian efforts most generally, if at the cost of gathering together some really disparate voices. Kant's closest readers like Solomon Maimon point the way beyond the antinomies and the transcendental ideas towards an abstract synthesis; in later accounts like Hegel's this synthetic process would achieve its formal elucidation as dynamic metaphysical process, yet still seemingly derived however from some form of self-knowledge and transcendental structure -- although the subject here is thoroughly decoded or translated, portrayed as the cosmos itself or the absolute etc

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