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An illusion is a distortion of the senses, revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. Though illusions distort reality, they are generally shared by most people. Illusions may occur with any of the human senses, but visual illusions (optical illusions) are the best-known and understood. The emphasis on visual illusions occurs because vision often dominates the other senses. For example, individuals watching a ventriloquist will perceive the voice is coming from the dummy since they are able to see the dummy mouth the words. Some illusions are based on general assumptions the brain makes during perception. These assumptions are made using organizational principles (e.g., Gestalt theory), an individual's capacity for depth perception and motion perception, and perceptual constancy. Other illusions occur because of biological sensory structures within the human body or conditions outside of the body within one’s physical environment.

The term illusion refers to a specific form of sensory distortion. Unlike a hallucination, which is a distortion in the absence of a stimulus, an illusion describes a misinterpretation of a true sensation. For example, hearing voices regardless of the environment would be a hallucination, whereas hearing voices in the sound of running water (or other auditory source) would be an illusion.

Mimes are known for a repertoire of illusions that are created by physical means. The mime artist creates an illusion of acting upon or being acted upon by an unseen object. These illusions exploit the audience's assumptions about the physical world. Well-known examples include "walls", "climbing stairs", "leaning", "descending ladders", and "pulling and pushing".

An optical illusion is characterized by visually perceived images that are deceptive or misleading. Therefore, the information gathered by the eye is processed by the brain to give, on the face of it, a percept that does not tally with a physical measurement of the stimulus source. A conventional assumption is that there are physiological illusions that occur naturally and cognitive illusions that can be demonstrated by specific visual tricks that say something more basic about how human perceptual systems work. The human brain constructs a world inside our head based on what it samples from the surrounding environment. However, sometimes it tries to organise this information it thinks best while other times it fills in the gaps. This way in which our brain works is the basis of an illusion.

Not related to senses (cognitive illusions)


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