Twelve Examples of Illusion

Oxford University Press, 2010

Hardback $29.95


Tibetan Buddhist writings frequently state that many of the things we perceive in the world are in fact illusory, as illusory as echoes or mirages. In Twelve Examples of Illusion , Jan Westerhoff offers an engaging look at a dozen illusions--including magic tricks, dreams, rainbows, and reflections in a mirror--showing how these phenomena can give us insight into reality. For instance, he offers a fascinating discussion of optical illusions, such as the wheel of fire (the "wheel" seen when a torch is swung rapidly in a circle), discussing Tibetan explanations of this phenomenon as well as the findings of modern psychology, and significantly clarifying the idea that most phenomena--from chairs to trees--are similar illusions. The book uses a variety of crystal-clear examples drawn from a wide variety of fields, including contemporary philosophy and cognitive science, as well as the history of science, optics, artificial intelligence, geometry, economics, and literary theory. Throughout, Westerhoff makes both Buddhist philosophical ideas and the latest theories of mind and brain come alive for the general reader.

  • Based on original sources in Sanskrit and Tibetan
  • Connects traditional Tibetan philosophy with the latest empirical results in cognitive science.
  • Abundantly illustrated in full color throughout
"This delightful book offers a rich and satisfying philosophical feast to anyone interested in the phenomenon of illusion itself or in the Buddhist analysis of the human condition. Westerhoff draws together classical Buddhist scholarship, contemporary cognitive science and his own judicious philosophical reflection in a serious but refreshingly accessible engagement with the Buddhist tradition in the exploration of the role of illusion in our cognitive and emotional lives."

Jay L. Garfield, author of Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika

"Jan Westerhoff creatively juxtaposes an important Buddhist study of illusion with fascinating modern researches on illusory experiences, using the latter to illuminate the former. The result is a revealing account of the pervasiveness of illusion in our cognitive experience and the very structure of our cognitive apparatus. It brings to life the Buddhist discussion of illusion, making it relevant to our everyday experience instead of being high-minded intellectual exercises only."

Tao Jiang, author of Contexts and Dialogue: Yogacara Buddhism and Modern Psychology on the Subliminal Mind

"The twelve similes for the illusory nature of this world are very profound, and Westerhoff does them wonderful justice in this excellent book."

Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University


Konrad Talmont-Kaminski in Religion, 42, 2, 2012, 332-335.

Stephen Poole in Guardian Review, 19th March 2011.

Sascha Fink in Metapsychology Online, 14th December 2010.