My favorite optical illusion is the blue sky. We all see a semi-metallic sphere of sky above us. If you are clever you may perceive that its radius is much smaller than the Earth. If you travel up all you see is clear, thin air getting clearer and thinner as you rise. As soon as the sun falls below the horizon, it is gone and we perceive the true universe. At least as much as a human can perceive. The blue sphere is not ever there.

And the best part is that no one thinks of the blue sky as an illusion.

Sidewalks get dark when it rains. Nobody I speak with understands this. Liquids act as light pipes that allow light through. Water, oil, even clear wax make things more transparent. Sidewalks are dark in the middle. If a medieval man puts oiled parchment in his windows they appear dark in the day and light at night by the outside brightness. This only works for porous materials. A white bikini doesn’t turn transparent if made from nonporous vinyl. Alas.

Glamour is the illusion that things are more than they are. Think the iPhone. Tell people it is just a phone with lousy battery life. They will lynch you. Perfume and clothing adds sell this to women. Glamour can also fascinate with terror.

When I was a boy there was a secular mythology that we all grew up with. The world would end soon. There were priests from the Rand Foundation and the Brookings Institute. There was the Original Sin of Hiroshima. The end times would bring about Fimbulwinter. The great enemy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was greater and more ruthless than we. Repent and do penance. Then in two seasons the illusion melted away with the Soviet Union. The world didn’t change, but the pervading fear melted away. I was glad to let go of that world.

A wise man once said that peace is the theoretical state we deduce from the occasional gaps between wars. I hated that. It was so cynical. Alas, it comes back to me. I really didn’t want it to be an illusion.

There was a wonderful illusion in 1998. Peace had come. A new thing called the Internet was changing the world. A book called ‘The End of History’ claimed that strife was over. In the future all governments would be representative democracies. The Stock market was booming. People said the Dow Jones average would be over 10,000 in ten years. The Millennium had occurred right on schedule. A year later the internet stocks crashed. In 2001 the theocracies said they weren’t going away and would let us convert or die. The Stalinist states of Cuba and North Korea decided to stick around for a while. The president of Venezuela suspended the constitution and became a socialist dictator. It was a nice illusion while it lasted.

We have learned our lesson. Our eyes are clear and the sky bright. We have no illusions and see the truth.


He is trying to deceive you. I am trying to enlighten you. Which is nobler?


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