It probably takes a lot to phase comedian Jimmy Carr.
But a moulded plastic mask of Einstein's head managed to do that on an episode of QI.
Why? Because even when he knew he was looking at an optical illusion he couldn't not see what he knew wasn't there.
Which is no reflection on Jimmy Carr - or on Stephen Fry and his other guests. It is nigh on impossible to see through the illusion. Here is the video clip of it. Take a look and try for yourself.
Clearly our eyes can deceive us. But are they to blame for the false impression made by an optical illusion? Discussions on the programme, and in comments beneath the YouTube video of it, focus on the role of the brain in fooling us.
Should that make us question the brain's reliability? After all, wouldn't we be wary of putting our trust in a friend who might at any time tell us a whopper?
Or could it even be hinting at something deeper when what you see is not always what you get? Could the commonly accepted idea of the thought-producing brain churning away behind a skull be in itself a kind of "illusion" of where thinking comes from?
In The Science Delusion by scientist-author Rupert Sheldrake, one chapter asks "Are Minds Confined to Brains?" The author questions the accepted wisdom that "minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of the brain". Sheldrake concludes that "Liberating minds from confinement in heads is like being released from prison. Most people have already broken out in secret".
In a letter to a grieving father Einstein - the man, not the mask! - seemed to agree. In a thought-provoking statement about the relationship of each individual to a universal consciousness the great scientist ratcheted the "optical illusion" idea up a notch further and coined the phrase "optical delusion".He wrote:
And the great scientist felt we need to break away from this "optical delusion". He added:
A human being is part of the whole called by us 'Universe', a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
How do we do that? How do we break out of an imprisoning "delusion" of separateness and understand - and feel - that we express a universal consciousness that has an empathy for all creation?
By quieting those thoughts which seem to be whizzing around the brain and, instead, seeking the spiritual peace which many say lies beyond them.
Medical practitioner and spirituality author Deepak Chopra puts it this way:
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It's a way of entering into the quiet that's already there buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.
Instead of meditation my preferred practice is to prayerfully ponder the nature of God and to seek in my sacred texts for a greater understanding of the divine Mind's engaged relationship with one and all. I find this systematic approach to daily prayer takes me into a mental space where healing ideas begin to stand out from the crowd of thoughts that so often seem to clutter our thinking.
Or as the Bible puts it, "Be still, and know that I am God".
This God-knowing which can emerge in the inner oasis of a prayerfully calmed consciousness is a great ally of good health. Sometimes it comes as an insight which can be articulated. At other times it is just a feeling of well-being, despite circumstances that make that illogical.
Yet in either case, such quiet thought doesn't just leave those circumstances unchanged. It can bring about healing.
How does it do that? By bringing to light how our everyday sense of ourselves is like an echo of something much greater. We are actually "spiritually created...not material and mortal" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy).
In a kind of metaphysical tardis moment Jesus, the greatest of all healers, turned the accepted wisdom of his day on its head in just this way. He told religious leaders "neither will they say, 'Look, here!' or, 'Look, there!' for behold, the kingdom of God is within you". The harmony of heaven wasn't a place far off in either space or time. It was the unvarnished truth of everyone's sacred individuality.
The results of this perception shift? People with cases of disease and injury considered hopeless were restored to health.
Jimmy Carr once joked, "If we're all God's children, what's so special about Jesus?"
That's a fair question, Jimmy.
The answer is his exceptional record of healing showed us what lies beyond the delusions and illusions of materialism and illustrates what being the child of God really means.