Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thoughts on Perception; Allegory of the Cave

One of the most amazing things about the human mind is its ability to perceive different things from the same given elements. In the final three chapters of our current text we encounter this phenomenon not only within ourselves but through digital media. We have travelled through the Digital Art gallery along a backwards S shape, interacted with media in multiple forms, and become parts of installations through our interaction. In each instance the individual taking part in the experience has viewed almost the same things with possible small changes due to the interactions and length of time at each exhibit, but ultimately had the same experiences as other individuals.

The interesting aspect of the experience is that we will all take away different sections of the museum as the most important, breath taking and life changing, because we all perceive things differently due to our nature, past education, and predisposed character.

Socrates muses on this concept by describing a scenario in which what people take to be real is in fact be an illusion. In this philosophical musing he imagines prisoners trapped in a cave and immobile since childhood. In this cave they watch images on the wall and sound from around the cave and believe that they are real. In fact they perceive that they are real. In this fable one man is released and proceeds to escape the cave encountering the reality of outside but when returned to the cave to tell the poor prisoners of the real world outside they do not believe him .

Their perception has become their reality.

After "returning from divine contemplations to human evils", a man
"is graceless and looks quite ridiculous when – with his sight still dim
and before he has gotten sufficiently accustomed to the surrounding
darkness – he is compelled in courtrooms or elsewhere to contend about the
shadows of justice or the representations of which they are the shadows, and
to dispute about the way these things are understood by men who have never
seen justice itself?" (517d-e)

Thus perception itself becomes our reality based on our predispositions, character, and aspects of nurture. We must remember this aspect when looking at digital and evolving media. Over time our perceptions may change but the experience will stay the same.

We can only hope that we will be the people that will escape the cave and not the poor schmucks watching shadows against a wall.


  1. What is the difference between perception and experience, though? A thoughtful post, but we might in turn wonder how our perception, and therefore our reality, has been and continues to be shaped by our media, technologies, and forms of communication.

  2. I would say that experience is something that we do physically or experience physically. Perception is the way that we interpret these experiences.