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Artificial Knowledge in the Truman Show Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 March 2017

Artificial Knowledge in the Truman Show

In the movie “The Truman Show,” one epistemological problem that is being tackled is the problem of how man is able to become aware of things that he once had no idea about. Do we get to know things or do we acquire knowledge because of our mere experiences of things or does it involve something more than that? In order to have a better grasp of the question at hand, John Locke’s treatment of human knowledge and experience can provide us with a framework to begin with.

            John Locke’s conception of the tabula rasa tells us that in the beginning we do not essentially have any ideas and knowledge. It is through experience that we are able to acquire ideas and, hence, knowledge of the world we live in. As Locke will tell us, the mind is initially presumed to be like that of a white paper, void of all characteristics and without any ideas. Perhaps one way to interpret Locke’s assumption is that it is through our interaction with the world and with others that we begin to gain knowledge piece by piece from the time that we gain consciousness from childhood.

            The movie “The Truman Show” is one which portrays the life of a man who appears to have been living in an artificial world all along—a television show. That is, everything around him is set-up, which includes the death of his father up to the time when he becomes an adult. All of his daily experience has been predetermined and that every other individual in that artificial society knows that Truman Burbank, the main character in the movie, is living in an artificial world.

            Throughout the course of his life, Truman acquires knowledge through his daily interactions with those around him. Apparently, these many things which surround him are essentially imitations or close to being an exact copy of the things in the real world. Since Truman’s world is a world of artificiality, one may argue that the knowledge that he is able to acquire is knowledge which is artificial or an imitation of the real knowledge in the real world. In general, it can be pointed out that the knowledge of Truman is artificial and, hence, not real precisely because the world where he lives and the world which he acquires his knowledge from is not the real world but one which has been specifically constructed for the purpose of a television show.

            With regard to the case of Truman, Locke will most likely tell us that even though Truman’s world is artificially constructed, Truman is nevertheless able to acquire knowledge which he makes use in his daily dealing with other people around him. But more to being able to acquire knowledge, it can be said that the knowledge that Truman is able to acquire is artificial.

Living in an artificial world set-up for the primary purpose of creating a television show which is supposed to run throughout one’s lifetime, it is inevitable that what one knows are things which are solely based on what one has experienced in that artificial world. Indeed, it will be illogical to say that Truman’s knowledge is that of the real world simply because Truman hasn’t had any contact with the real world outside of his artificial society which might have given him real and true knowledge. As Truman becomes more and more acquainted with the artificial world he lives in, it is most likely the case that his awareness will reflect what he has been able to experience in his world.

            Moreover, Locke’s presupposition of the mind as initially devoid of any substance or of any ideas and that our minds would eventually have to acquire ideas through experience and interaction with the world explains the case of Truman growing up in an artificial world.

Since Truman was born and grew up in the hypothetical world of Seahaven, Locke would presuppose that the knowledge of Truman as he grows would be strictly confined or limited to the knowledge that is available in that world. Hence, it would rather be quite impossible for Truman to arrive at any other knowledge other than the artificial ones in his artificial world. The ‘blank’ mind of Truman from his birth has been apparently filled and etched with artificial knowledge along his lifetime in that hypothetical realm.

            One interesting point, however, is the idea that even though for the people outside Seahaven, they may treat Truman’s knowledge as artificial while, on the other hand, the Truman may treat his knowledge as real knowledge because he is unaware of the external world that watches his every move. The basis for saying that Truman’s knowledge is artificial or is not real is that there is an external world which knows for a fact that Truman is living in an artificial society filled with people having artificial social connections and relationships. For the part of Truman, he may very well have no such idea and that all he may be aware of is that the way in which he understands his surrounding environment is as real as it can be.

            John Locke may very well argue that, indeed, the only way for Truman to acquire knowledge, whether artificial or real, is through his experiences. If Truman gets to experience artificial things around him, then it must be the case that he gets to have artificial knowledge using the external world as the basis for the reality of knowledge. Locke’s thought that the mind is able to acquire ideas through experience has with it a certain form of disadvantage. That is, if one is keen to experiencing artificial things in an artificial world, the greatest danger is that one will be having artificial knowledge. Thus, to live in an artificial world and to experience the things in it is to obtain artificial knowledge. In the real world, the same also holds true and that experience is crucial to the formation of human knowledge.


Schwoerer, L. G. (1990). Locke, Lockean Ideas, and the Glorious Revolution. Journal of the History of Ideas, 51(4), 531-548.


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