The Illusion of Substantiality

Illustrated by a cool Chart


The Concept

Many aspects of our lives seem to be filled with substance - both ideas and things. In general this sense of substantiality is an illusion. This bears looking into as ignorance of the true nature of reality leads to bad decisions, which can adversely affect our existence – making our lives more difficult, or actually shortening its duration.

Chart Description: from Unity to Fragmentation and Exception

The above chart (based upon real data) illustrates the illusion of substantiality – a widely ignored principle. Although the top layer seems full of substance it fragments into parts upon closer inspection. Each layer is viewed with an increasingly fine measuring stick – the second 10 times more fine than the first – the third 4 times the second – and so forth. The second section of the chart begins with the substantial looking block from the first section. The third section begins with the substantial looking block from the second section. Note as the measuring stick becomes finer and finer that more holes open up. In fact the firm looking top layer is inevitably based upon all the narrow lines from the bottom-most layer.

A casual glance gives one the sense of uniformity and continuity. Conversely the closer one looks the more exceptions and gaps are revealed. The mechanism is universal – applying to many aspects of existence – ideas, obstructions, and even things.

The Dissolution of Things

A forest is a good physical example of this phenomenon. Viewed from afar it seems a solid block of green. Moving closer it turns into individual trees and then specific branches, leaves, trunks, and roots. Clouds, smoke, and fog are other physical examples of the illusion of substance. Further the body is made up of molecules, which in turn is made of atoms, which are mostly empty space.

The Refinement of Ideas and Constructs

Similarly the ideas of patriotism, pride, loyalty and love seem to have specific meanings with unique definitions. However upon closer inspection each idea fragments into endless refinements combined with specific exceptions. As this inspection takes mental work many prefer the casual glance - much easier. Although this strategy works well under normal circumstances, it breaks down under the extreme situations that the Universe regularly throws our way – which leads to self-destructive decisions. (See the Bogus Root Being Charts for a mathematical illustration of this principle.)

The Ambiguous Notion of Self

One of the most misleading notions is that of the unitary Self – as it immediately leads to the corollary principles of pride, revenge and war. Although our Person seems so full of substance, this useful construct fragments into parts upon closer examination. The realization of the insubstantiality of the Self leads to interconnectivity and relationship – which are intimately joined to the notions of compassion and caring. Of course each of these concepts also bears examination.

Apparent Obstacles to Progress

Note that the concept of the illusion of substantiality is a call to investigation, rather than a complacent statement of relativity. This is especially important when the idea seems to be a wall that is blocking progress. Instead of throwing up one’s hands in despair at the apparent obstacles a closer look is in order. The uniformity of the distance opens up to worm holes into other dimensions when viewed up close.

The Misleading Nature of Generalizations & Stereotypes

Generalizations made about categories such as men, women, people, Americans, Europeans, Mexicans, Blacks, Whites, homosexuals, liberals, conservatives, jocks, rich, poor, children, mothers, and fathers, Catholics, Born-Agains, and Artists seem true when viewed from a distance with a blunt measuring tool, but are frequently dispelled when employing a finer instrument of investigation at a closer distance. Rarely do stereotypes hold up across a group. The application of generalities is limited and always bears specific investigation.

Time erodes all substance

Another way that substantiality presents itself as real is in the memory of time. Generalizing from a few of the infinite number of data points we assign character and morality, blame or credit, insult or praise, a sense of hopelessness or accomplishment. We connect some dots and draw some conclusions – that someone is good or bad, mean or kind – that we are hopeless or grand, insignificant or loved. In actuality the assignment of characteristics such as these is such a rough estimate as to be fairly useless. Indeed behavior is situation specific rather universal. These time-based words are full of holes, which have a limited truth, which bears examining, without extending it to the whole. Indeed the Chart of Insubstantiality was generated due to an exploration into the time-based generality that each of my paintings was created in an overwhelming fit of passion. This misconception was dispelled as to the entire body of art and confirmed as to specific pieces. On another tack time is the great eroder of substance – wearing out the enormity of a mountain, and even planets and stars, if given long enough.

The Data

The above chart is based upon the mundane data of art sessions. The top level is based upon the decade as a filter; the subsequent layers: years, seasons, months, weeks and hours – the fine lines at the bottom. Check out the illusions that were dispelled concerning the nature of the creative process in this investigation.