Plato’s Cave and Virtual Reality: An Allegory

Professor Babette Babich, Ph.D., relates Plato’s Cave to modern Technology and how does that affect humanity. I find this marvelous in that this piece was written by a woman who is probably not a techie.

First off, here’s Babich’s interpretation of Plato’s Cave in which I agree:
‘In the parable, human prisoners have lived their lives chained in a cave, facing only a blank wall. The shadows projected on the wall by real things passing behind them are the only reality they know.’

Then she connects the Internet to the ‘real thing’ that gives us images (shadows) which we take for reality. There is the danger of our ability to project our full consciousness into a virtual world until the real environment fades away.

The question of technology and self-representation in a civilization is not new to Babich, according to Janet Sassi. The ancient Roman historian Pliny claimed that ancient Greek cities, such as Athens, Rhodes or Olympia, were filled with literally thousands of life-sized bronze statues, most likely created with the day’s latest technologies. Babich was curious about why so many statues were there, and what it was like to live in such a world…
…It is important for philosophers to think about new technologies and their consequences for “being” human, Babich said.

This might be the best testimony of how our use of computers affects our minds. It’s an excerpt from Melanie D.G. Kaplan’s ‘Have computer habits changed my brain?’:

‘…Sometimes, it’s clear that a technology is making my brain work differently. When I use my GPS, for example, I’m conscious of relying on it too much and not paying enough attention to my surroundings, so I make an effort to use it only as a last resort for directions. But these two little incidents were sneaky. They crept into my daily routine, seeping out from one habit or pattern and infiltrating another…’

Here are other excellent questions by Eric Adler:
Whatever happened to good old happenstance?

In a coffee shop, philosophy student Eric Wilcox, 20, turned down his iPod. He put aside reading Plato to contemplate a question: Is our culture killing serendipity?

Serendipity: In its essence it’s that “aha” moment of glad and unexpected discovery. It’s an unplanned happenstance that leads to a piece of good luck, or news or insight.

It’s serendipitous when you walk into a store to buy a Christmas gift and meet a clerk who becomes your future spouse. Or if you look for that book by Steinbeck in the library stacks and stumble upon a book by Sendak that opens your eyes…

…“We are busier today in the sense of spending more time managing more activities,” Darrah said. “If you think of the Colonial household, their problem might have been the tedium of doing two or three tasks in a day from sunrise to sunset. Your work is the tedium of multiple e-mails, multiple phone calls, multiple appointments, work, home, kids, school.”

Each of which takes up a chunk of mental energy, Darrah said, leaving little time for contemplation, creativity or the feeling that you are open to a moment of serendipitous discovery or insight. He also believes technology has only contributed to the dizzying pace… -Kansas City Star

Did you see how Melanie’s testimony connects with Darrah’s?

About DigitalPlato

Poch is a Bookrix author and a freelance writer. He is a frequent contributor to TED Conversations.
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