Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Plato’s Cave & Video Games: Is Virtual Reality Killing Us?

Many puzzle over Plato’s book, The Republic, with regard to whether or not he is opposed to or in favor of art in society. On the one hand he calls for a ban of certain kinds of mythical literature, but then later utilizes mythical stories to get his points across. It’s likely that Plato sees both a negative and positive place for art and myth as you take the entire Republic into consideration. I want to focus for a moment on why he might see art in a negative light.

Plato’s opposition to artistic images is illustrated by the human cave-captives chained to their benches, frozen in positions that force them to stare at moving puppet shadows on the back of the cave wall--images projected through a light in a balcony behind the frozen spectators. Plato's concern is that this kind of "artificial" art keeps one from turning around and seeing the more real forms and eventually the Source(s) from which the artistic shadows arise. This is the negative side of art for Plato. Too much art keeps one blind and stupid--oblivious to the reality behind the images.

Perhaps we can see this in the modern world as an overexposure to television, cinema and video images—even books and magazines. Notice: “overexposure,” not simply exposure. I love television, cinema and my computer--but I also know that all of those mediums can be abused to my detriment.

With overexposure, perhaps ones personal imagination atrophies—shrivels away, or is never developed in the first place. This is bad enough on just the personal level with regard to mental development, but if, as depth psychology suggests, our imaginations are conduits, connected to a dynamic Psychic Imaginal Realm from which new creative material enters the human soul—then we are excluding or even eliminating a kind of psycho-spiritual “Star Gate” into the infinite Source of personal development, individuation, intuition, spirituality, soul-making, or whatever terminology you like.

Perhaps that is why Plato was opposed to an overexposure to art, or to certain types of art. The psyche and personality atrophies. Zombies are born. The doorway to new psychic consciousness through imaginative play dependent on internal images is never built, or if built, becomes closed and nailed shut. It is one thing to play in a virtual world, and another entirely to have the virtual world play inside of you. Many believe that the personalities and psyches of children are fashioned through "mere" play in the early years--play that utilizes a maximum amount of internal imagination, and a minimal amount of prefabricated external images. It is like the difference between an athlete watching a workout video and actually doing the workout. It is like the difference between reading a menu, and eating the actual food. The imagination must access the living Imaginal Realm, and metabolize the fantasy images in order to grow and evolve a personality. This goes on during the course of ones entire life--not just childhood. Many adults too turn into Zombies when overexposed to external television, cinematic and computerized images. This can be countered by engaging with the external images: reflect, introspect, reimagine scenes that puzzled or pleased you; write about, draw, paint or sculpt what you have seen and what it means. External images and events must be personally and imaginally experienced before they are assimilated by the soul, and incorporated into the personality.

Look into the eyes of some of these new mass murderers. There is nobody home—the self has shriveled up. Perhaps they have closed and bolted the door into the dynamic Psyche. They have degenerated into a bland Zombie, a replica of the soul-less virtual images they have encountered without the activity of their own personal imaginations.

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