Plato’s Addiction and Truman’s Reality: Is Your Life an Illusion?

Photo by NeilsPhotography.

By Josh Rueff on June 28, 2013

Are you addicted to safety?

Many of us are. In fact, most are.

The vast majority of Americans devote their lives to the pursuit of what? Happiness?

No, not happiness. And not freedom. 

They devote their lives to the pursuit of security.

In Plato’s “Myth of the Cave”, he describes a group of people who’ve been chained inside of a cave, unable to see the reality of the outside world. They can only see the shadows cast on the wall in front of them, and make assumptions of what they think exists outside of the cave based on these shadows.

When one of them is freed to explore the outside world (the reality as opposed to the illusion), he returns with the truth. Plato then reveals that despite the fact that this person has had a first-hand experience of the real world, the others will cling to their illusion, mocking the truth that he returns with.

They’ll even go to the point of killing anyone who tries to release them from their chains to explore the real world.

They’ll do anything to hold on to the security of their illusion.


The Truman Show is a modern rendition of the same concept with an slightly more optimistic twist.

In the film Truman is in a state similar to the people in the cave – his reality is nothing more than an illusion – a fake world create by others, for their benefit. His entire life – his job, town, habits, and even his wife, are all fake; false realities created by Cristoph, the reality show’s director, who claims to have Truman’s best interest in mind.  He may actually be telling the truth – to a point. Truman’s created world is the ideal life. But when Truman shows the courage to face the risk of embracing reality, Cristoph puts Truman into real danger to keep him from ruining his show.

The moral behind both stories is that:

1. It’s human nature for one group in society to create a false reality, and for the other to accept it.

2. It’s human nature to embrace security over the risks (and insecurity) of reality.

The difference in the stories is the reaction to the truth. The cave dwellers fail to overcome their addiction to security in Plato’s story, although to be fair, he does insist that the philosopher (the man who sees the truth of reality) must risk everything to help the others see the truth.

In The Truman Show, Truman (who represents human nature and mankind as a whole) does overcome his fear and throws off the illusion placed on him by others.

There’s a lot of significance in Truman’s name, which is something of a play on words; “True man” represents not simply one individual, but the state of humanity as a whole. Just as Truman is living in his own fake reality, which is created by others, so is the majority of mankind. Most societies, including America’s, create an illusion of reality that most of the people in the society remain blind to, accepting their “reality” as truth. 
There’s all sorts of examples in modern society. Here’s a couple:

The idea that student, credit card, and mortgage debt is healthy and even expected is an illusion most people in America hold onto as a reality, despite countless sayings, proverbs, and ancient teaching against it. The notion that debt and “leveraging” is a good thing is just about entirely unique to the reality of the last few generations, who, like Truman, have had their reality shaped by others.

“The Truman Story” presents an interesting question to it’s audience; essentially, what is better, an ideal life based on a lie, or the risk of uncertainty involved in pursuing the truth?

This can be a hard question to answer.

Safety is perhaps the most powerful addiction of today’s society, and mankind as a whole.

It’s a vice of the human condition to reject truth in order to maintain the security of an illusion.

When a person buys their first home (the traditional way, by pulling out a mortgage), the accepted illusion is that they are now homeowners.

The truth and reality is that they own nothing more than the right to live in the house, a right that is forfeited upon failure to pay the bank, the true owner of the house.

In all cases it’s wiser to find truth and reality than to live a life of fantasy.

If the latter was the better option, everyone could justify living their lives in online role playing games, or any other fake world that makes them feel better about their reality.

The most vital takeaway from the movie is the roles played in society. One group attempts to control the other group by maintaining an illusion of safety, which often becomes embraced as reality by the deceived. Once they get to the point of embracing a false reality, it can be nearly impossible to escape the illusion to find the truth, especially because of the outside influence of the people maintaining the illusion.

It becomes hard for anyone to know for certain what is truth and what is reality.

This concept is demonstrated well in the dialogue between Truman and Christoph in the last scene:

Christoph: Truman, you can speak. I can hear you.
Truman: Who are you?
Christoph: I am the creator of a television show that gives hope, joy, and inspiration to millions.
Truman: Then who am I?
Christoph: You’re the star.
Truman: Was nothing real?
Christoph: You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch. Listen to me Truman. There is no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you. Same lies. Same deceit. But in my world, you have nothing to fear.

Unlike Plato’s cave dwellers, Truman demonstrates the potential for people to wake up to the truth and face their fear of losing security, so that illusions can be exposed, and true reality embraced.

Maybe it’s easier to live in a fake reality. Maybe ignorance is bliss – Sheep are peaceful. And lemmings seem happy.

Pain seems to be a poor alternative to peace, happiness outweighs risk, and ignorance trumps all.

I often ask myself, “What’s my illusion; my addiction? Who is creating my reality?”