The Science of Mirages


Lacan called psychoanalysis a science of mirages[i], but aren’t all truth-seeking disciplines concerned with the mirage? Mustn’t truth always be uncovered from a reality which is a constant process of covering up?

That the truth is ugly and ashamed of itself while at the same time being proud of its power and its ability to seduce via the masks it wears, makes it easy for us to exist with our backs turned. It is more comfortable for us to look away from the real and face a false projection of reality rather than tackling the ugly truth itself. This is the unauthentic nature of the civilised human’s perception of life. It is a virtual but interactive existence that sublimates the real slavery inherent in our sacrifices. By immersing ourselves in the false projection we give ourselves a space to play in with our own meanings, where we are able to create roles with our own reasons for playing the game. The unreality of our fantasies seeps into the real in a liquid way, mixing with it, tainting it and making it even uglier than it already is. There is a psychological distortion affecting both parts of human nature – the animal as well as the Sapien nature – and the socio-cultural life of civilisation must pay a psychological price for that distortion. We lean ever further in the direction of the fantasy, and that act has another price to pay.

But the real cost of the fantasy is our misunderstanding of the world we must live in, and the over-appreciation of the strength of the bubble we have created in order to isolate ourselves from the natural space we will always depend on. We think the bubble protects us, but really it endangers us. The truth is ugly because it lies to us, and it is intangible for that same reason. How can one grasp a truth that is really a lie? What is the truth in the lie of the truth?

Such questions swallow their own tails. The paradox nature of this truth is maddening. Nevertheless once this is accepted we can act with purpose. If the truth is a lie, it needs to be changed. A new reality needs to be made. We need to make truth honest again. But in order to do that we need to burst the bubble of fantasy and lies that we are floating in. We have to walk through the mirage, confront the desert, and cross over it.

[i] Jacques Lacan, Écrits (the first complete edition in English), W. W. Norton and co., New York, 1999, p. 339


7 thoughts on “The Science of Mirages

  1. “If the truth is a lie, it needs to be changed. A new reality needs to be made. ”

    Why should that be? Literature, poetry, drama, religion, philosophy, and even science, are all stories which we tell about ourselves to protect us from the truth. If evolution is true then the brain evolved to favor survival not truth.

    • Thank you Malcolm. I agree that we are biologically programmed to favour survival, but how must we now define survival? We want to keep ourselves alive but at what cost? How do we now interpret the concept of sacrifice? The ugly truth is that we have also been ideologically reprogrammed through identity fantasies to interpret survival as the act of keeping myself alive, or my family and loved ones alive, but there is very little reflection on perpetuating humanity. Sacrifice may take place fighting for a nation or a cause or a version of God, but (with my apologies to the NGOs) very little thought is given to the survival of our species. If all our arts and sciences are trying to protect us from the truth about programming in favour of survival rather than truth, then they are merely perpetuating the ugly paradox of the lie. But I don’t think that is the case. Most great art and philosophy is concerned with the “human” condition. And science is an attempt to understand the world via the human condition. The key word is “human”: the homo sapiens sapiens. Human history is really an anti-human history, because it tells us more about the separation of humanity than its collective progress. Or are you implying that we are rationally flawed and weak in order for creativity to exist?

      • “The truth is ugly because it lies to us”

        How do you know this? Maybe the truth is just plain, downright ugly. After all, there is no reason to believe that our mind is anything but the most insignificant accident in an indifferent cosmos. Why should existence outside of humanity’s parochial neighborhood give a hoot about essentially human qualities such as honor, love, charity, truth, faith, autonomy and respect? Furthermore, out belief in salvation from science is nothing but another story. Again, our brain is designed for survival, not for the pursuit of truth. Yes, I I am implying that creativity is employed to tell ourselves stories to protect us from the (ugly) truth. However, I would add that the truth does not have to be ugly and frightening. Some might find it exciting and intellectually challenging.

  2. Thanks, Malcolm. Yes, I agree. The search for truth should be exciting and intellectually challenging.
    As for the indifferent cosmos … Cosmologists are now seriously wrestling with the idea of a Fine Tuned Universe (here is the wikipedia link and a passionate TED conference by Brian Greene ) As Brian Greene says “It’s interesting to take it seriously because it might be right”. But, right or not, I think we, and by “we” I mean humanity, need a positive idea of humanity to give us purpose. A general nihilistic world view is dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, for its psychological damage on individuals who can’t see a reason for getting up (and yes, I’m sure you could argue that they need to adopt a more stoical attitude and stoicism is a useful philosophy in a nihilistic world, but … I think a physico-teleological outlook (the term is Kant’s) would be much stronger). Depression leads to lack of care, and, in this nihilistic world there is a general lack of care for the damage we are doing the environment through over-population and brutal consumerism. Secondly, there is a danger that those who feel empty and lost in the nihilistic world will turn to religious fanaticism and all the dangers of dogma and other-world reality fantasies leading to apocalyptic dreams of salvation in the after-life. None of these scenarios are very good for survival.
    I find the idea of survival crucial. But I don’t think we are particularly good at it. So if our brains are programmed for survival why do we always seem so close to causing our own extinction.
    I think to survive we need to find a strong purpose and we need to see how we are reprogrammed by “Power” through the creation of masks and ideologies, or through seduction and the awakening of our desires, in order to make sure we act in its own interests.

    • Paul, leaving aside the question of whether my view is nihilistic or not you seem to be supporting my position by arguing that because nihilism is dangerous we ought to tell some positive stories so that humanity does not suffer psychological damage or depression. How does this differ from the creation of “masks and ideologies” which you criticize, or are you only critical of masks and ideologies that you don’t like?

      Evolution does not guarantee survival. In fact most species are now extinct but in our case, so far so good.

  3. No, Malcolm, I’m suggesting we tell some positive stories to avoid annihilation. The depression is just a symptom of the rising crisis.

    But I’m not trying to make up another of Plato’s Golden Lies. I think we can find purpose by examining, scientifically as well as philosophically, the nature of the universe, and if you investigate it you’ll find that there is a new positivist view of the universe emerging in cosmology. And as cosmology has been traditionally pessimistic since about 1850, so some positivism on that front has to be good news.

    The Anthropocentric ideas coming from science at the moment also make us important. And why not? A human narrative differs from the masks and ideologies that I have been criticising because it is centred on the human condition, which the masks and ideologies I am criticising do their darndest to manipulate. Centring our thinking on humanity “as a species” with a purpose should be able to help humanity “as a species” do a bit better in its attempts at survival than it is presently.

    I don’t think we are doing such a good job. But to convince you on the that point (or you to convince me that we are) would need quite a few more characters than I think we’re permitted in the space here. I am not trying to create dogma, just inviting people to question the fabric of this anti-human system we live in and suggesting alternatives (which people have been suggesting I do).

    Before dismissing my arguments as just “another story”, one should first consider whether it might not be a better story.

    And I’m sure there are many better stories than mine around as well, most of them not being heard, or not very loudly, because Power has much better ways than we do of getting their own bad stories out.

    But one of the most absurd kinds of stories is that of scepticism. One can question the validity of everything. The sceptics have and still do. I don’t think scepticism does anything to help humanity … Not that that should matter to the sceptic would has already questioned whether humanity existed, and even whether the concept of help exists … and they probably also wonder if questions are possible as well. Perhaps the sceptic does find truth in his absolute relativism, but that ugly truth is philosophy’s nightmare.

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