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An illusion as a false perception: the flying tap fountain in Ahmedabad appears to float in the air, but in fact it is supported by a pipe that is - poorly visible - in the middle of the water jet

In the narrower sense of the word, an illusion is a false perception of reality . In a broader sense of the word, wrong interpretations and judgments are also called illusions .

Psychology / psychiatry

In psychiatric terminology , an illusion is understood to be a hallucination . In cases where, when the perception of existing is as experienced anything else or kept for another really, than it actually is, is spoken of "illusionary misunderstanding". Illusions thus represent a falsified real perception. B. a tree stump is misunderstood as a crouching figure or the two-dimensional image of an object is confused with the three-dimensional object itself. Illusions are clearly different from hallucinations , which represent perceptual experiences and are thus experienced like sensory impressions, although they cannot be related to any corresponding source of stimuli. As madness through to the delusion perception however, not a perception but a misjudgment of reality is called, so to speak, a wrong opinion about the - like a firm conviction or obsession - is represented by a body independent of the concrete experience certainty. At the same time, this is adhered to with uncontrollable, unshakable security, even if it is in contradiction to reality and even to previous own experience including that of other people and their entire thoughts and beliefs.

Theory of illusion

In relation to the theory of illusion, Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) referred to the psychophysiological mechanism of assimilation .

Literature, literary theory, literary studies

When using terms like illusion theater , a strict distinction is not made between a false perception (an illusion in the narrower sense of the word) and a false judgment (a delusion).


According to Aristotle , the essence of dramatic art lies in the fact that literary material is not conveyed through storytelling, but through the imitation and visualization of an action, i.e. through play. The concept of imitation suggests that the acted out action actually happened (historically) roughly as it is portrayed by actors, although in dramas often only possibilities of human action are portrayed in the form of thought experiments. In addition, viewers in illusion theater tend to forget during the game that what is happening on stage does not "really" happen, but is only played by actors. This effect is advocated by supporters of the illusion theater.


One problem with the reception of fictional narrative texts is that with stories that do not have obviously fantastic features, there is a risk that readers or listeners of the story will consider them to be factual. H. believe that they only contain statements about real ( historical ) events. To what extent such a reception is or can be excluded by a “ fictional contract ” between the author and his readers or listeners is controversial in literary theory and science.

Art, technology and magic

Gravity reversed - an effect possible through subsequent photo processing

A sensory illusion created by technical means is also often referred to as an illusion. In a broader sense of the word, it is also a form of illusion formation, if on moving or still "realistic" images not possible or simulated situations can be seen, but which are still considered to be "real" (cf. adjacent photo). Painter and draftsman use certain visual presentation method ( trompe l'oeil ) to impressions unusual and surprising way to create with which astonishment and amazement, astonishment even to more sustainable wonder and miracles can be reached. For example, the painter and draftsman Maurits Cornelis Escher deliberately uses optical illusions .

In feature films, the ability to create illusions in viewers is perfected through advances in technology, especially through computer-animated simulations . In a film like Jurassic Park , even viewers with keen powers of observation gain the impression that the characters are “really” being followed by dinosaurs. At the latest since the introduction of the sound film , through which the “unnatural”, pantomime-like play of the silent film was abandoned, mainstream films have seen “a self-contained representation of illusions”.

Illusionists and magicians use technical tricks on their physically present audience, with which they exploit psychological possibilities of deception. Famous for such effects is z. B. the illusionist David Copperfield .

Common usage

In colloquial language, misconceptions are denoted by a large number of expressions and idioms, which corresponds to the frequency and range of illusory thinking. Thus, of imagination spoken or imagination , fiction , fiction and juggling of mirage , illusion , chimera , figment of the imagination and fantasy of wishful thinking or soap bubbles , from cloud cuckoo land , air lock , phantasmagoria , reverie , beautiful appearance to a false sense of hope - just as it is also possible to speak of lost illusions , from dangerous , harmful , futile to youthful and romantic illusions or illusions of youth .

The everyday language also has a large number of idioms ready: according to this , one can not only create illusions , one can have them , awaken and nourish them, live in them , even indulge in one or the other illusion , but occasionally pay dearly for one's illusions have to hold on to his illusions , even cling to them, not allow them to be taken , but also be torn from his illusions or experience that they are taken from you , if not even destroyed or completely wiped out .


Illusion and the older, nowadays uncommon and practically unknown verb illude is a derivation from the Latin verb illudere . This in turn is a combination of the verb ludere for “to play” with the local preposition in .

A related thereto importance of illudere enough after school lexicon information case of playing throw and throw into play over exaggerate his game , make fun and ridicule to to mock , deceive and cheat .

In a different view of “in” -ludere than “inwardly” play, illusion comes close to the similarly formed German expression, thought game. From here, various meanings of illusion are derived, all of which have to do with self-deception of all kinds up to and including self-deception. Then a deceptive or (in the original Latin meaning of the word) wrong impression can be meant as well as just as wrong and thus always unrealistic ideas that one can "make" or "form" by "imagining something" or " show ". Sigmund Freud , the founder of psychoanalysis , wrote:

"Illusions are recommended because they save feelings of displeasure and allow us to enjoy satisfaction in their place."

- Sigmund Freud

Similar technical terms

Related technical terms are: aura , phantasm , optical illusion , knowledge illusion

Web links

Wiktionary: Illusion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. With this effect z. B. René Magritte in his painting La trahison des images . On this painting the saying “Ceci n'est pas une pipe” (“That is not a pipe”) can be read under the image of a pipe. Many viewers who speak the French language still do not understand the sentence (straight away) because they see a photo-realistic painted pipe in the picture .
  2. ^ To Das AMDP-System - Manual for the documentation of psychiatric findings . Springer, Heidelberg 1978 pp. 62f and 67
  3. Uwe Henrik Peters : Lexicon of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Medical Psychology . Urban & Fischer, Munich 6 2007; ISBN 978-3-437-15061-6 , p. 261; (on-line)
  4. Bayerischer Rundfunk: Inquiry - What do illusion and imitation mean? . Telekolleg German. 17th January 2013
  5. The author of the collection of optical illusions, however, points out in a note that he considers the expression visual or "optical illusions" to be wrong.
  6. Media history of the film  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Harro Segeberg's statement in an interview with Malte Hagener@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  7. Contemporary on War and Death (1915), p. 331