Illusion and Reality

Inspired by Sidey’s weekend theme: the reality of illusion. And I am immediately muddled up – which way round is it, the Reality of Illusion oh no it is the Illusion of Reality? Does it matter? let’s Play

First thought: TEDDY BEAR… what, why?

Already done brilliantly by Tinman. Play, the stuff of childhood learning. [Other great posts on this theme show what a terrific prompt this one is.]

Second thought: THEATRE… this is grown-up illusion (all ages!)

We all know it’s acting innit? and we laugh or cry or if it is modern version of theatre like horror film, jump out of our seats skins, and our hearts race. We are scared for REAL, even though we know its not real.

Ditto, sad, angry, happy, and when the show is over we know we have been to a play. Same word as that stuff children get up to when they are learning growing  just playing…

On the seashore of endless worlds, children play — Tagore

D.W. Winnicott, paedtrician, psychoanalyst, warm-hearted and wise, originator of the ‘good-enough mother’ phrase (though of his own cultural time and why would he not be?) had a big name for the teddy bear/blanket/whatever – he called it the transitional object. Both real, and not-real. He developed his ideas about the transitional object and children’s play into a theory of Illusion-Disillusionment for us all. He proposed that transitional space, the space of the non-rational, neither rational nor unconscious and irrational, is the location of culture and identity.

One of his thoughts: What matters is DO NOT ASK THE QUESTION Is it real or not?

Third thought: RELIGION – now maybe I can bring that in, just a little,

Not easy to talk about, whatever the belief, or lack of belief in my case.
Irish background shows up there, if I talk about religion, I am sure to offend someone, deeply, in their heart. All over the world, and all through its history, people KILL for religion. 

DEAD – that’s REAL.

Not much room for illusion, whether or not you believe in ghosts.

I am a coward and do not want to be subject to a fatwa.

But I think Plum Creek’s post on illusion and reality, dedicated to Malala Yousafzai is terrific.

Winnicott also said [in Playing and Reality, Chapter 1]

“… the task of reality-acceptance is never completed… no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality, and that relief from this strain is provided by an intermediate area of experience … which is not challenged (arts, religion, etc.). This intermediate area is in direct continuity with the play area of the small child who is ‘lost’ in play …

“Should an adult make claims on us for our acceptance of the objectivity of his subjective phenomena we discern or diagnose madness. If, however, the adult can manage to enjoy the personal intermediate area without making claims, then we can acknowledge our own corresponding intermediate areas, and are pleased to find a degree of overlapping, that is to say common experience between members of a group in art or religion or philosophy.
[I made the emphasis.]

Now, that helps me understand why fundamentalism of any kind is awful – it is madness, to insist that others share the subjective experience which is belief and say it has to be REAL for all..

If Winnicott’s wisdom is worth sharing, maybe a way forward in these areas of such trouble, is to respect culture, and that form of it which is religion: it is real, and illusion, both. Those who cannot find this space, the fundamentalists who would kill a child, do not know how to play, unable to create, they are pathologically destructive. We cannot fight this with our own destructiveness, nor with our own belief or lack of it; somehow we should learn, relearn, to play, together.


13 thoughts on “Illusion and Reality

    1. You fired the starting pistol – I wanted to run. One of the gifts from my ex-husband was getting to know loads of psychoanalytic stuff – another lot of stuff which can be made fundamentalist by some, but if left as thought just enriches the way we live in the world


  1. Wow, the echo continues.

    So, when if feel a knee jerk reaction that is my reality. To feel emotion, to feel and express compassion, to be respectful those would be the basic responses within the realm of acceptable reality?


    1. “If only words were shields” I hear you have a brain, and use it with your feelings – I have had to learn the hard way to become emotionally aware alongside using reason, as only then do I have a chance of becoming world aware. Need feelings and imagination too as said in one of my other favourite quotes [……..the more acute a man is, the more he is bound by the chains of error; for he only uses his ingenuity to falsify the truth which lies before him………..Michael Faraday]. I think it is after the world/others aware sense that compassion arises, a more developed response than the initial emotion, whatever it is?


    1. There is a great deal of thoughtfulness and play in the psychoanalytic world (which may be regrettably fundamentalist for some of its practitioners). Hard to get that across in words, its more a whole experience, Winnicott was one of the best, lots of ordinary helpfulness.


  2. My teddy bear was very real. My best friend and confidant. We moved across country when I was 5 years old leaving that huge extended nuclear family behind and as an only child I had to create my own replacement world. Blanket syndrome can be dangerous because it encapsulates and gives a false sense of security along with other neurotic thinking. But for the most part children know the difference between make believe and reality. They have an advantage over adults. They have an additional dimension in which to dwell full of private “me only” magic. The doctor recommended mother take my teddy bear away around age 7. I was a pessimist, cynic and alcoholic by age 8.


  3. Hi Elspeth, this is really interesting. I am part way through reading “Thought as a system” by David Bohm and he calls it incoherence when we are accepting a tiny part of what may be reality beyond thought.


    1. Thanks for this – I had not heard this bit of David Bohm before – heard him talk long ago on something about mind and diffraction principles – I still wonder about what that means. Tell me more sometime?


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