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The proper way to determine truth is a dilemma that we have been attempting to answer for centuries. We see this dramatized in Peter Weiss’s The Truman Show, a film that draws heavily from Plato’s Allegory of The Cave, one of the most well known philosophical works on the topic of knowledge and truth. Both argue that our understanding of reality is flawed as we know only what we are shown, even if what we are shown is false. This is an interesting concept to explore considering the digital age we are living in has led our generation to being surrounded by more data and points of view than ever before. This is both a blessing and a curse as it is easy to get lost in a sea of contradicting opinions and information. How do we navigate and sort through it all? How do we determine the truth when inundated with so many versions of it? These two works give us a great starting point for a discussion of the difficulty of finding solid epistemological ground. However, it is my belief that they are flawed analogies of the human search for truth as they fail to address our modern problem of an increasingly complex reality.
Working off the assumption that both Plato’s and The Truman Show’s ideas are without flaw, we as humans could all be seen as “Prisoners” or “Trumans. ” As Christof would say, we “accept the reality of the world with which we are presented” (Weiss). This is exemplified in both works: with the prisoners accepting the shadows on the wall as reality and Truman accepting Seahaven and the connections he has with the people who inhabit it as reality (Plato; Weiss). They each believe that what they are seeing genuinely reflects the truth as it is all they have ever known. We too have our reality distorted in a similar fashion. Take the conflicts in Syria for example, we have no way of seeing what is happening over there so we rely on the news to report on it and tell us what’s going on. However, it is impossible to tell if the information we are getting is true as it gets filtered by the news agency which has its own ideologies, bias’, and agenda. There is going to be a large disparity in the way a piece of news is going to be presented between two channels like CNN and FOX. These channels choose what news they want to cover and their political leanings supply their viewers with only the information that confirms their pre existing biases. This is an example of an additional problem in the modern age. We are one step removed and rely on an intermediary, the news, to learn about our extended world. How can we ever be sure what we’re being told is accurate? We too are only seeing the shadows on the wall of a cave as we too only know as much as we are told.
However, assuming that the ideas presented in Plato’s work and The Truman Show are entirely without flaw would be rather naive. You see, both Plato’s allegory of the cave and The Truman Show act as if there is some sort of absolute indisputable truth that exists somewhere. They act as if it is a concrete discoverable thing. This idea of an absolute truth suggests that there is only one version of reality, which although comforting, simply isn’t accurate. Most issues are complex and not black and white. This idea of enlightenment and escaping the cave/tv set doesn’t take in to account the multitude of grey areas that exist. Both the prisoner released from the cave and Truman have tangible experiences where they see what the truth is (Plato; Weiss). The average person, when trying to figure out the “correct” stance on an issue, can only use the info available to them to come up with their own theory of the “truth”. We are never going to find an exit to a cave or a door in the sky because our search for truth is a lot more nuanced than that.
Personally, I believe the ideas of Plato’s Allegory of The Cave and The Truman Show are still relevant today despite a few fundamental flaws. I think it’s true that our environment influences our perceptions of reality and truth. Similarly to the way both Truman and the Prisoner grew up being told and therefore believing that the world was one way, our beliefs are also heavily constrained by our experience. Although we like to believe we are completely free thinking individuals, the majority of our knowledge of the world from a young age is a result of what our parents, teachers, government, and the media tells us. We believe the sky is blue because that’s what we are told, even though we have no way of knowing if the blue they’re seeing is the same blue we’re seeing. Take North Korea for example, a country whose people believe Kim Jong Un is the ultimate hero and the rest of the world is depraved and evil, because this is the only reality with which they have been presented. However, that’s not to say we are so gullible as to believe whatever we are told. In the case of North Korea, the people living there are living in a heavily controlled and constructed reality, much like Seahaven or Plato’s Cave. Unlike Truman and the people of North Korea, there is no vast conspiracy working full time to create an artificial world for us to live in. We are not chained to one view like Plato’s Prisoners.
The internet allows us to have access to all perspectives and we are free to research and come to our own conclusions on what the “truth” is. Truly, the issue with both works boils down to the fact that absolute truths simply don’t exist. Sure, there are some things we can say we know without contention, as they’ve been proven time and time again. Like the way we believe that gravity is the force by which a planet or other body draws objects toward its center. But there are simply some things we just cannot ever concretely prove are “truth” beyond a shadow of a doubt, such as the morality of the death penalty or gun control. In cases such as these, you can weigh the facts and statistics and come to the best possible conclusion on the matter but there is no absolute.
For the most part, truth is not just waiting out there to be uncovered. Each person defines for themselves what is truth. Sure, some truths are more substantiated than others but that does not necessarily mean it is decidedly the only truth. Even if something is not your truth, it can still be truth to someone else. In conclusion, unlike Truman and the Prisoner we are likely never going to have an earth shattering realization that nothing we know is real, but that doesn’t mean their ideas aren’t still relevant.
The Truman Show and The Allegory of The Cave both posit that our environments are inherently misleading. However, it is possible to overcome this if one views everything through a skeptical lens. This is a pretty idealistic stance to hold. Technology has made information more readily available but it has also made spreading falsities much easier. The “truth” is that although Truman and the Prisoner did manage to escape their artificial realities for a reality more like our own, that does not mean that their search for truth is over. Neither escaped to the “ultimate reality” or discovered “the absolute truth”. They simply leave their constructed realities for a more complex one where the truth is more nuanced and the way in which we are manipulated is much more subtle.
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