Though Rene Descartes' grappling with the reality of his existence is the usual link to this type of thinking, there is a long history of the concept that reality is only an illusion, dating back to Plato and his man in the cave analogy.
It's current terminology is simulation hypothesis.
The Simulation Hypothesis proposes that reality is a simulation and those affected are generally unaware of this. This was the basis of the movie "The Matrix."
The video "Reality is an Illusion" is quite interesting. It is pieced together bits of information designed to prove its title.
What I find interesting is how many conclusions are drawn from a proposed hypothesis and then promulgated as fact.
In the film "The Matrix," Morpheus asks Neo, "What is real?
How do you define reality?
If you talked about reality as what you can see, touch, feel, and taste then boiled down, reality is just simply electrical impulses in your brain that perceives these things."
It is this kind of faulty reasoning that is leading people into a world empty of hope or direction.
The natural result is an abiding sense of futility.
The sense of futility taken to its logical end results in suicide--either slow or quick.
For instance, it has been stated that atomic particles only reveal themselves to the conscious observer seeking to measure it. The conclusion is that, "...the act of observation creates the entire universe." (video, 00:37-1:01)
I'm sorry. Did you catch that? That is called confusion.
Just because I am not looking at something, does not mean that it does not exist. And, when I decide to look at it, that does not mean it is created in that instant merely by my desire to see it. Yet, that is what was stated in the video.
I understand that there are many things happening within the realm of quantum physics for which there is little explanation that would make sense to my dense brain. I am not railing against them. I do not "understand" how light can be both a wave and a particle, but scientists seem to have proven such a phenomena. But, the quantum leap from quantum physics to quantum philosophy smacks of an agenda of distortion.
I also understand that just because I may not be able to understand something is no reason to rail against it or to fear it. This is the problem the world has with fundamentalists of all stripes.
But, when a conclusion is drawn that is light years removed from the observed phenomena, I must say, "STOP!"
This sort of existential confusion has been applied to whether God exists or is He just a human construct, born of our desires to answer life's meaning.
The argument may take this form: what is true for you, may not be true for me. That is the beginning of distancing oneself from accepting any reality other than their own within their mind.
Next is, you can't prove that you exist. (This was Descartes dilemma. He satisfied himself with "cogito ergo sum"--I think, therefore I am.)
Descartes' conclusion only satisfies the one questioning his/her own existence. It does not validate your existence for an onlooker.
Consequently, if you can't prove (to another) that you exist, then maybe you don't. Maybe you are simply a figment of my imagination. (again, the video)
The next logical step takes the same approach to any proof of God's existence.
I counter this sort of nonsense with this: simply because I cannot prove to you that I exist is not proof that I don't. It only allows for the possibility. In the realm of the possible, all things are plausible. In the realm of plausibility, nothing is impossible. If nothing is impossible, then you must at least acknowledge the possibility of my existence. When you acknowledge the possibility of my existence, then denial of my existence becomes a lie.
Paul had a stronger warning. "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits [fn] of the world, and not according to Christ." (Col. 2:8)
How are we to ensure that we are not taken captive? Many think that all we have to do is just avoid listening to such things. The problem is, though, that this philosophy is absolutely everywhere--books, news articles, magazines, movies, your next-door neighbor, even, possibly, your church. You can't just ignore it. It's pervasive and gaining ground in popularity.
None of this is to say that there is no illusion in our personal realities, for indeed there is.
Our illusions stem from our conceptual perceptions of the way things are, or how we think they are supposed to be.
For instance, have you ever known someone you might refer to as a "control freak?" That person feels they must control everything in their environment. However, control is an illusion.
Those who are predisposed to this sort of concept suffer much emotional misery, because their world simply will not conform to their perceived reality. In trying to control their environment, they alienate most of those around them, because it is against human nature to be controlled by another.
Security is another illusion. Maslow identifies security as one of our basic needs, and we do much to ensure our security. For each of us, our definition of security may differ. For some, it is a certain amount of money in the bank; for others, it is a warm and loving family. The reality, however, is that security cannot be guaranteed at any level or in any form. Security is an illusion. It can be taken away in a heartbeat.
Both of these illusions, security and control, have "attachment" as a basic component. "Attachment" to something or someone to provide our needs is at the root of most of our emotional suffering. Byron Katie has stated that "we suffer in direct proportion to how much we argue with what is."
Attachment, from a Buddhist perspective, is part of the illusion of the separate self. We are attached to things outside ourselves, because we do not recognize our oneness with all.
For the Christian, the same holds true, though I would use different language. We are attached to things outside ourselves, because we do not recognize our oneness with Christ, who is all and in all (Col. 3:11).
When we will begin to live this reality--I am one with Christ--then, and only then, will I be able to know that I will not be taken captive through man's philosophy.
Comments, questions, and criticisms are welcomed here. Please add to the discussion by giving yours. Thank you.
Ravi Zacharias says that our confusion of today stems from the fact that we are confused about reality. Check out the short video below.