Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? Well if you haven’t, according to this theory, you probably will tomorrow or definitely sometime next week. If you've discovered a new band recently or learned an interesting term, you’ll have experience Baader-Meinhof first-hand after that band’s song plays on the radio the next morning or someone throws around that term in general conversation at work. The main idea is that once you've learned something new, you’ll notice it again and again as it pops into your life, seemingly when it never has before.
I felt this phenomenon over the past week after watching “The Truman Show,” a movie about a man who is the only one that doesn't know he is a reality TV star. Truman lives his life beneath a literal dome where all of his friends are actors and every experience he has is scripted and performed for thousands of cameras and millions of viewers. This movie made me think of what exactly constitutes reality. As a psychology student, many of my classes often cross over into the realm of philosophy, and one History and Systems class in particular made me think of Baader-Meinhof and Truman, after we learned about ancient philosophers (who were the springboard for modern psychology), most notably Plato and his story about “The Cave.” (Definitely check out the video and link for an accurate and full description.)
In this story, some men are confined to a cave since childhood, where they are chained, facing a wall. There is a fire burning in the background, and all they experience of the outside world are the shadows cast on their prison wall as people pass over a bridge behind them. One of the men is released, and gets to see for the first time what the world is actually like. He returns to the cave, as he wants his friends to experience reality as it actually is, but his friends reject him. They don’t understand him as he explains what the “real” world is like, and are happier to just accept the reality they are faced with. Plato concludes by saying that neither reality is more real than the other. Just because the prisoners can’t envision the world as most do, does that make our reality less real than theirs? And just because that is the only reality they have ever experienced, does that make our reality more true than their own?
To conclude with a quote from the movie, I would say, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” This is said by the director of the TV show that is Truman’s life as he defends himself against a woman who declares that the television show is unrealistic and inhumane. But who are we to say what is “real?” Some days, I think I would take a reality like Truman’s, where every conflict has a reason and a resolution, and every decision is made by a reliable outside source (the God-like narrator) and not a reflection of my own decisions. I guess I'm just not completely convinced that Truman "escaping" his cave was the best conclusion for this movie.