This is a question which has been debated innumerable times and it’s a fundamental one. How can be an illusion so strong and so real? I feel I exist and I feel my demands are legitimate.
I don’t think thought in itself is an illusion. Thought is simply a process happening in our minds and so it is real. Memory is real, it’s some “digital” recording in our brain cells. The recording is a physical fact so it’s real. What is not real, the illusion is to take the content of memory and of thought as if it was the actual thing out there. Thoughts causes in us the same emotive reactions we have towards things happening actually outside. K. said that thought and emotions are the same thing. Surely they are strictly linked together.
But what about the ego? The problem arises because we think there is an entity, “I”, which dwells in the body, and this is an illusion. I think we should enquiry about this concept of entity. Essentially entity means there is someone there, a living being. So men are considered entities, god is considered an entity, the angels and devils are entities, and so on. This concept of entity is very strong and we never doubt it.
But the ego, I, is not an entity, or a thing. The ego is just a pattern in our mind. We never think in terms of patterns even in the outside world and I think it’s a pity. The patterns we find in the physical world are very simple: take waves, sea waves or sound waves. Usually we speak about them as if they were things, objects, but actually they are a phenomenon, i. e. the temporary modification of some solid, liquid or gaseous object. In the case of the sea waves, the thing is the sea and the waves are just a pattern created by the action of the wind on the sea surface. Both are real but with a difference, you can have the sea without the waves, while you cannot have waves without the sea. And it’s a mistake to consider waves a thing.
I think there is a similar relationship between memory or thought and the ego. Of course in this case things are much more complicated than with sea waves. But anyway the ego is just a pattern the human brain has put together in its long evolution. There is a clear biological factor in the building of the ego. At an elementary level our brain functions by way of patterns. We can call them conditionings as they condition our behavior. And patterns can be changed ! The brain or mind can exist without patterns but patterns cannot exist without the mind. An entity is something which has an existence of its own, the pattern has not.
So, concluding, the ego is not an illusion, it’s quite real but we cannot see it! Like the sound waves, we cannot see the pattern of the waves (which are detected by instruments) but we can hear the sound which is the effect of the pattern. Similarly, we can see the effects of the ego, its outcome, it’s destructive action in the world. And that is just what K. spoke about. The illusion consists of believing that the self (or the ego or I) is an entity and therefore it has an existence in itself, of its own. Actually is thought who creates this illusion.