Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shadows on the Wall: Plato's Cave in Second Life

Platos Cave
Location: Chained to rock

Special thanks to Cathy Anderson, of the SLED mailing list, for alerting us to this build

Jack Green Musselman and Jason Rosenblum had a vision to simulate Plato's idea that the Real is invisible to us. We are removed from the essence of things, like prisoners chained to rocks and made to look at shadows cast by hidden puppeteers.

Where better place for that than in Second Life? Thanks to St. Edwards University, the cave has a home. Teleport to it with this link:


From the note card provided at the entrance:

Just Imagine... You and your friends and family and fellow citizens have spent your entire life chained together with your heads facing front and your eyes watching an inner cave wall. Unknown to you there are real people and animals behind you near the opening of the cave, near a fire, and they alone are free to cast shadows over your heads onto that inner cave wall. Your entire life is spent inside the cave thinking the shadows before you were, in fact, all there was to see and know. However, one day you escape from your chains and leave the cave.

On your way out you cannot believe that there was a fire used to cast shadows. But you do get out and then you really can’t believe what you see. At first your eyes are blinded by the sun but then you come to see the real world is so much more robust, more detailed and more beautiful than you ever imagined inside the cave. Now that you know how things really are you feel you must tell your family and friends and fellow citizens. Returning to the cave you try to convince the poor souls who remain that they’ve lived a lie in the shadows their whole lives, but of course they don’t believe you... Then, reflect on these questions...
  • Could you ever go back and live in the cave? Why or why not?
  • Why won't the others believe you if you try to convince them of the truth?
  • In what ways might Plato's allegory be relevant to life in today's society?
  • In what ways might Plato's allegory apply to your own life's experience?
I've spent my entire adult life obsessed with such questions, which is one reason I stopped watching television, stopped supporting chain-stores, turned my back on suburbia, and began to resist the assumption that technology can solve every problem.

Convincing others of these concepts, let alone that we live lives of illusion and temporary comfort, has proven difficult when the shadows are so seductive.
Outside Platos Cave

Yet the pedagogy of the Cave is likewise compelling. Will it inspire a few more prisoners to break their chains?

Read about the creators' vision for it, and how students reacted, at http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/essay/plato-cave-second-life


Kate Miranda said...

Oh, come out of the cave! There are real actors employed to tell stories on television and news of real events. There are real people shopping in the stores for goods to get on with their daily lives.

A bit fictitious? But really I think that there is a type of intellectual snobbery in removing oneself from what is the modern equivalent of the village well where people gather to exchange news and thoughts. In today's world the agora is the media and the mall.

Iggy O said...

Kate--I came out a long time ago.

Most of us will stay in the cave, until the oil begins to get scarce enough so "mall" equals local farmer's market and barter location and "media" is the remnant of the Internet and the locally printed broadside.

Resource scarcity and the end of techno-triumphalism will lead us out of the cave and into not the desert, but the green fields of the real.