Illusion as a Drug

Daydreaming can feel great, can’t it? To escape, just for a moment, from all the troubles and problems of your actual life, to a fantasy world where you are comfortable and content, don’t really have to work so hard, and a ton of attractive men / women adore you… Yes, daydreaming can truly feel great. And it’s even easier to daydream when you have an endless amount of images and movies to consume, that help speed your imagination along. Then you can really let yourself go and just lounge about in your room and indulge in your fantasy.

They say you can become addicted to anything. To sports, sex, work, shopping, eating, gambling – and also to illusions. Now the fantasy we have mentioned before isn’t exactly the illusion. The fantasy is the state you dream about. The illusion typically is a distorted view of how easy it is to get there, or even that you already got there.

The problem with all forms of addiction is that you take a biological pleasure mechanism and you detach it from its biological purpose. In the case of the illusion-drug, it’s actually two mechanisms: imagination and information gathering. Now both imagination and information gathering have an essential biological purpose. That is why your body rewards you for doing them. The purpose of imagination is to figure out the goal: “What is it that I should try to achieve?” The fantasy, by the way, answers that question. “This would feel great, this is how I want my life to be.” The purpose of gathering information is then to figure out how to actually get there. But both of these faculties have the ultimate purpose to actually get there. To reach that goal yourself, in reality. So if you only ever daydream and gather information, but never actually do anything, then you have separated these faculties from their biological purpose, and then you are using them as a drug.

"If you only ever daydream and gather information, but never actually do anything, then you have separated these faculties from their biological purpose, and then you are using them as a drug."

Now, before there was the internet, or maybe even books, this drug was naturally limited. It is true, you could just lie around daydreaming, back in the stone ages, but probably after some time that got boring, so you had to get up and do something. Also, if you wanted to find something out, the only way to do so was to go and talk to someone, or to try it out yourself. But today, with the internet, you have an infinite amount of material you can consume, without even leaving your room. And it’s way easier than reading, too. Reading takes some effort, but bumming around on the internet or watching TV is super easy. You can do that no matter how tired you are.

Consuming that material, be it movies, YouTube videos, or someone’s Instagram page, is a peculiar mix of daydreaming and gathering information. In some sense, you are gathering information. You see people do certain things or go certain places, so you see that these things are possible. Now I know, that you don’t believe everything you see on TV. You know that: “It’s just TV!” But perhaps, on some deeper, more primitive level, you still believe it none the less. For most of our evolutionary history, there was no TV. If you saw something, especially repeatedly, that meant: it is real. In another sense, you are also daydreaming while you are consuming that material. You are slipping into another person’s skin, and imagining how their life would feel, which is pretty similar to daydreaming. Of course, there is also the more direct gathering of information, like watching a tutorial, the news, or reading an article.

The problem with only consuming material and never actually doing anything, is that you don’t make any progress in real life. You may get the illusory feeling of progress, like when you just watched 10 tutorials about how to lose weight, but you don’t actually make any progress. And that is a real problem, because you can only ever live in reality. And if you don’t improve and develop and make progress in reality, then your life becomes worse and worse, until it is completely unbearable. Just think of the proverbial 40 year old virgin, still living at home with his mother, and you will know exactly what I am talking about.

"If you don’t make progress in real life, then your life becomes worse and worse, until it is completely unbearable."

Now, if you are using your imagination and information gathering faculties as a drug, then chances are very high that you have crossed, at some point, from consuming realistic material to consuming fictitious material. It’s like an alcoholic going from wine to liquor, it’s just stronger stuff. And there is a lot of material on the internet that has specifically been engineered to present an unrealistically exciting impression of life to you. But, if you consume such material as a drug, it only works if you, on some level, believe that it’s real. This is so, because the biological purpose of gathering information is to get closer to your goal in reality. So if you don’t believe that it’s real, then you don’t get excited. As you consume this material, you start believing things that are in fact not true, which means you start having illusions. This is a problem, because having illusions will further discourage you from going out into the world and doing things yourself. Wherever you have an illusion, trying the thing yourself, in reality, will feel arduous and boring. And how could it be otherwise? If you compare your life to an unrealistic illusion, it will be dissatisfying.

The third problem with using illusions as a drug is that it makes you weak. If you are doing that, then you probably don’t want your drug to be taken away from you, meaning you don’t want to find out that it is an illusion. So you want something to be true which actually isn’t. And that clouds your ability to perceive reality correctly. You will ignore facts that point towards it not being true, and you will invent reasons why unrelated facts mean that it is true. This will distort your perception of reality, and this weakness can then be exploited by others to manipulate and defraud you. They can argue you into doing things that you would not agree to do, if you saw reality clearly, or they can sell you a bad product at a higher price.

"It does not matter how small the step is in reality, as long as it is challenging for you and points in the right direction – and you actually do it."

So how should you deal with all that? What does this mean for your own life? You certainly can’t stop using the internet, and you also can’t stop imagining a better life. And neither should you. As stated above, both imagination and information gathering are essential human faculties. What you should do however, is to make sure that you don’t detach them from their biological purpose. This means you should always also act. If you dream about being a football star, then sign up for football training. If you want to be a journalist, start writing some articles. And if you dream about being together with someone, then go and talk to that person. Or maybe, first practice just talking to someone you are attracted to. Or even to someone you are not attracted to at all. It does not matter how small the step is in reality, as long as it is challenging for you and points in the right direction. But whatever you dream about, start doing it yourself. Because by doing it, by practicing, you get incrementally better and thus you start to make progress towards your goal in reality.

As for information gathering, you should use that faculty as a tool to get closer to your goal. As you try something yourself, you will encounter obstacles. And as soon as you encounter an obstacle, you should specifically try to find out how to overcome that particular obstacle. Don’t just go around gathering information for the sake of gathering information itself. That doesn’t really lead anywhere. The other valid reason to gather information is to look around. To see, what opportunities and challenges there are around you. Perhaps you can find an even greater goal to pursue than the one you are pursuing right now. So it’s ok to watch a movie from time to time, or to surf the net for a while, as long as you then get back into reality and also pursue your current goal yourself.

Another very important point is to be honest with yourself. You have to resist the temptation to sugarcoat your world. Instead, try to see reality as clearly as you can and always compare new information to your own experience of life. Have you ever seen someone do something like this? In reality I mean, not on TV. Because movies, YouTube videos, Instagram profiles, any kind of digital information can be artificially enhanced or totally faked. Be critical. Compare a new piece of information to all your knowledge and experience of reality. If you can integrate it into that structure without any contradiction, then that’s at least a good start. Also, be honest with others, because that way, if they are also honest with you, you can compare the new information to their knowledge and experience of reality as well, which vastly increases the confidence you can have in it. And, if they are not honest with you, the quickest way to find that out is still by being honest with them.

"Your best bet to navigate the illusion-thicket is to act, to pay attention, and to speak the truth."

So that’s your best bet to navigate the illusion thicket: to act, to pay attention, and to speak the truth – to yourself and others. That way, you keep making progress, and you maximize your chance to catch an untruth while it is still small, before it has grown into a full-fledged illusion.


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