Both early and later forms of Buddhism developed a set of arguments to demonstrate that the self is an illusion. This article begins with a brief review of some of the arguments but then proceeds to show that these arguments are not themselves sufficient to dispel the illusion. It analyzes three ways in which the illusion of self manifests itself – as wish fulfillment, as a cognitive illusion, and as a phenomenal illusion (what might be called the “I” sense). With respect to this last, the article reviews some recent developments in cognitive neuropsychology and neuroscience to discuss the way in which the phenomenal illusion of self is encoded within our brain processes. This article also considers the way in which the illusion of self is constructed through social interaction, by episodic memory, and by narrative construction. Finally, it focuses on how the illusion of self developed as an evolutionary necessity to make it possible for the human organism to navigate physical and social reality; and that it continues to be useful today. This poses a dilemma for the Buddhist soteriological project of extinguishing the illusion of self. Specifically, while it is possible to develop a non-self perspective though the continued practice of vipassanā (mindfulness meditation), it is not possible to maintain it consistently. The article concludes that even fully enlightened individuals must sometimes oscillate between a non-self perspective and a self-perspective and suggests an analogy between this oscillation and what occurs in the Kanizsa square illusion.
STRUHL, Karsten J.
"What Kind of an Illusion is the Illusion of Self,"
Comparative Philosophy: Vol. 11
, Article 8.
Available at: https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/comparativephilosophy/vol11/iss2/8