Sunday, September 6, 2015

How to create a delusion

Almost as soon as we arrives at consciousness as children, we experience imagination. Some of us, who are born lucky, go to schools that encourage creativity, and the imagination that fuels it. Others are told great things about imagination. That it is boundless. That it is faster than even light. That it takes the mind from one place to another without expending any energy. That it can make you happy even when things are the darkest. And of course, imagination is always the one thing you need when you just can't seem to get a break no matter how hard you try. As an added advantage, imagination also takes you away from reality.

Truth is, all of us have imagination. Indeed it is a really sorry specimen among mankind, if there is one such that does not possess imagination. That means, all of us are at least a few degrees away from what is really real. I do not need to be a neuroscientist to arrive at that conclusion, although neuroscience did point me in the direction. It takes the brain eight microseconds to put together a complete picture that it gets from the senses. That means, there are eight microseconds between every slide of reality where the rest of the brain that has nothing to do with the senses to make its own contribution. Most of the time, these contributions are not verified by the next slide and so the brain refuses to acknowledge and add them to the slideshow called reality. However, aided by imagination, it may add these contribution to the list of 'possibles'. For example, supposing that every time someone makes a joke, you imagine them to have broad pointy ears like an elf, then at some point, after slight inebriation or on a really joyous occassion, you may see someone sporting broad pointy ears while they are making a joke. The visual overlap would be real as real, but you know you created it, because you have consciously imagined it for a long period of time. And if your stars are good, the illusion goes away the moment the joke is over.
Artwork by Sneha Koilada

It is quite common for a painter to see colours merging and separating like a real visual phenomenon and for a musician to hear musical notes in entirely non-musical situations, like in a boardroom. However, artists have the advantage of knowing the source of the illusion as the subject of imagination is limited to their area of work. If a painter sees hues of green and crimson in the sky one evening, the next morning, when he paints, he will realise that the overall colour of the sky he had seen the previous evening cannot be achieved by mixing green and crimson. But still, if he likes his imagination and thinks there is worth in sharing it, he will paint a sky with hues of green and crimson. He will know that the reality is different, but the representation is worth looking at too.
Now, take a wannabe painter. Mr. X has won a painting competition when he was ten and considers himself very talented till date. He became a software engineer as per his parents' wishes, but he still looks at the world as a very colourful place. In fact, he wishes everyone does. He wishes his girlfriend can notice those hues of crimson and green in the sky as the sun set, and realise that it is the reflection of the green earth reminding people of what a wonderful world we live in. But naturally, the earth is not green, and Mr. X will realise it sooner or later. He's already had a horrible argument with his girlfriend who not only laughed at him when he said, that colour in the sky was a reflection, but also told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn't green at all. It was a shade of brownish-grey caused by the clouds of pollutants in the metrolitan sky.

Brown...he wonders, as he takes the bus to the office next morning. Isn't it the natural transformation of green, as the leaves wither and fall? If you look close enough, all brown is green and all green is brown. The hypothesis is confirmed when he pauses mid-stride while entering the office and goes into a trance looking at a fallen leaf. Trance is a medium for imagination to alter states more quickly than usual, as a person's cognitive functions slow down when there is conscious withdrawal from the senses. Of course, our legendary Mr. X has no way of recognising this state as he has never consciously induced a state of trance in himself.  Instead, he arrives at a conclusion that the world is withering, that it is about to fall, and he who sees that all brown has green within must breathe fresh life into it. The leaf that has fallen at the right moment, just at the tip of his foot when he was about to walk into the office, was a sign from God that he must now devote himself to a new purpose. Inspired by the divine aid, Mr. X takes the day off, goes home and makes an extraordinary painting that reflects the true green in the polluted sky. Indeed, this painting is almost as good and just as meaningful as our painter's was, earlier. One big difference though:

"Now you see what the real sky looks like?" he says, when his girlfriend arrives in the evening, after work. To her awe-inspired face, he explains, "This is reality! It's just 'coz people are so blinded by their negativity, that they can't see the true colour of the sky."

In the night, as they're both sipping wine in the balcony, he describes to her the different colours of the moonlit city. She listens to everything patiently, and frowns only on occassion when she really has trouble imagining such things as a woman's placenta stretched horizon to horizon. But our observant Mr. X who, having been touched by God, now doesn't miss a thing, asks her if she's laughing to herself underneath that patient veneer.

"No," she says, but not fast enough.

To show her, he takes another day off, to paint the placenta that looks exactly like the night sky. He feels like a baby, experiencing the world from underneath his mom's belly, and feels really precious to be alive. He just wants to share that feeling with his girlfriend, a woman. He wants to show how grateful he is for her kind. She comes home that evening, and nods and smiles again at his new work. Although, she does mention that it needs a little work. It's not as perfect as the last one.

Our legendary artists remembers the feeling he got while he was working on the painting. "No," he says, "This is my masterpiece. It's perfection itself. I'm thinking of buying a gold frame for it and hanging it above the couch in the living room."

His girlfriend swallows soundlessly. "So that everyone we know can see..."


"Exactly," she mumbles. She stops herself from saying anything else on the subject, knowing his legendary temper. She changes the topic, "So, are you going for work tomorrow?"

"Work...?" he says, distractedly, "Oh that work...Funny, it doesn't even seem like real work...I mean, what was I accomplishing, really? It's a multi-million dollar set up, yet there is nothing spectacular than can be done there. But here, with just colours, and a little imagination, look what I've accomplished."


"This...the masterpiece...Don't you think it has the potential to change the world?"

Our legendary artist's girlfriend doesn't even take a second look at the painting. "You mean you're quitting this job too??! JUST HOW MANY TIMES AM I SUPPOSED TO FOOT THE BILLS ALL BY MYSELF?"

After being ditched, our artist goes into depression. He'll show her. He'll show the world. Pleascanta Night was nothing. He will show the world the beauty and meaning in everything. For example, do people even realise that the umblical cord is actually a wormhole that connects consciousness to another universe? He himself realised it after painting Pleascanta Night. And since no one ever painted Pleascanta Night before, no one could possibly know. He will show them the other universe. It is so obvious to him now, that in the other universe, green is brown, yellow is black, red is blue and blue is.....

Here our software engineer turned genius artist hits the block. And the only way, he can overcome it is by making the leaf fall again. Of course, leaf is only for green, for blue, he must make the sky turn a different colour. By putting himself into trance. He recognises the process eventually, all by himself, but still thinks it is the hand of God doing it. The more it happens, the more he feels that he is touched by God. He holds his head high wherever he goes, with god's hand on top of it, and only crumbles into a pile of worthlessness after he reaches home.

He starts painting after painting, never finishing any, never reaching that final colour. Eventually, he realises that all his assumptions so far about the other universe are false, and that the only thing he can really paint is his girlfriend's worthless face. And that there are only so many disparaging things he can cover it with. Mud. Blood. Fungus. Leprosy. Warts. Still, these visual expletives seemed too good for the likes of her. What he really wanted was to paint poop or vomit over her face. He was just too important to waste his time over petty emotions like that, that's all. He realises that he can never reach the final colour because the final colour hasn't manifested in this world. And even if it did, they did not make paint that recreates it. It was his sacred duty to find that final colour and make it into paint. It is green that transforms into brown, but it is neither brown nor green. Our artist wastes a few more canvases over that new hypothesis.

And the next day, after no sleep and no food for almost a week, he goes out. His mind is overtaken by the trance. And he really does see that colour. He sees the transformations, with his own two eyes. And he can stop the transformation too, wherever he wanted, to see the new colour which isn't like anything there is in this world. It seems too good to be true, but the other universe seems to overlap the one we live in. And our artist is the only one who is granted the vision to see both of them at once. This is enough. He should now feel satisfied. If he should die this second, he would have no regrets. Only, he doesn't die.

Our artist's stars aren't so good. He sees pointy ears everywhere. He must now discern the design of the universe using the pointy ears. Now that he can see it clearly, how the two universes overlap, he must also be able to see the route one can take to jump from one universe to another. He even has the crazy idea that the version of his girlfriend in the other universe...

Well, whatever it is, he must find her. It would be good, naturally, since the gates to the other universe have been opened to him by the Supreme Power himself. And if it isn't, he should simply kill her and return to the world where green is green and brown is brown. Since it was a crime committed in another universe, he will not be prosecuted.

Three hours pass and then four, as he wanders the streets looking for the gates. He begins to feel guilty that his thoughts are what caused him to get lost. When in the presence of the Almighty, how could he let himself be overcome by such evil designs? He decides to do his penance by not taking any rest. His feet begin to hurt and the colours of the other universe begin to fade. He feels despair, he feels anguish, self-loathing and self-pity. On the other side, he feels gratitude, infinite love, he feels the blessings of the two universes coursing through him. And only inside him, they merge. The two energies of opposing behaviours. He is the vessel where they can finally unite. How can he not feel blessed? The overwhelming feeling takes over his senses. The blues and blacks and yellows and greens, the flirty purple and the innocuous orange, the salty grunge and the melting pepper, the blueish frown and the mellow loom, all come to meet him. They are his friends. They are not even colours. They are his compatriots in this merged universe where only he exists.

And that my friends, is how you create a delusion. It's called the delusion of grandeur.

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