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Sample essay Year 10 Philosophy

What is the best way to relate to reality; control it or give up one’s desire to control it?

I am going to argue that it is not necessary to give up one’s desire to control reality, but one must be realistic about how much of it one can actually control. I will focus especially on the lessons we can learn about this from the movie The Truman Show.

At the outset, we need to distinguish between reality and imagination. Our brains have the remarkable ability not only to hold pictures of what has happened, but also to create pictures of what we think will happen, or could happen. This is our imagination. Without imagination, we would not be able to think sensibly about the future. Our imagination allows us to project ourselves into the future. But on the other hand, even though our imagination gives us a mental construction of the reality around us, it is not that actual reality itself. Let’s face it, there are thousands of things happening in the world around us that we do not know about and cannot imagine.

Truman in The Truman Show has no idea what sort of machinations Christof is engineering to shape his life. All the people around Truman are acting. His so-called wife is an actress who is being paid to act as his wife. Truman, at first, cannot imagine this is true. He cannot imagine that Marlon is not ‘really’ his best friend, or that what Marlon says to him is actually being set up through an earpiece, with the words first being spoken by Christof in a TV studio.

Eventually Truman becomes suspicious about what is going on around him. He has noticed that a studio light fell inexplicably from the sky. He has noticed that rain fell on just him one day. He has noticed that people inside what he thought was a lift were eating sandwiches and relaxing. He has noticed that cars are driving around him in a predictable loop. He even notices that his so-called wife had her fingers crossed while she made her wedding ‘vows’ to him.
At this point he has a powerful urge to begin to control the reality around him His world is not following the rules he had thought it was following. This urge to control reality leads him to create.

We create because our imagination lets us build an alternative picture in our heads, then make something or do something according to the new picture in our heads. Truman creates some tests to see how people behave. He drives his car in an erratic way. This leads to all the actors having to make sudden adjustments to his behaviour, and he notices their discomfort. Truman creates an identikit picture of Sylvia to help him not lose his memory of her, and perhaps to help him find her again.

Truman even creates a new Truman. Previously he had been afraid of travel and especially afraid of water. Now he can even get in a boat and try to sail away from Seahaven. This new version of Truman is a new reality in Seahaven. Previously he had been an unsuspecting participant in a gigantic TV show. Now he is no longer a gullible guy, going along with being controlled by Christof.

He is not able to completely dismantle Seahaven, or pretend it is not there. But there is a wonderful symbolic moment when his boat pierces the wall (i.e. the reality constructed by Christof) of the so-called sky. So he showed that he was not able to control all of reality, but he showed that he had plenty of say about what he himself was going to accept. He dealt creatively with his problem of not knowing exactly what was real around him and what he could or could not do in that reality.

Like Truman, we can test the reality around us to try to find out what is behind the appearances of things and the appearances of people. Like Truman we can use our imagination to create tools and interventions of our own that will help us to control at least some significant bit of our reality. That is a realistic view of how much we can expect ourselves to control the reality around us.

Concepts to learn

back structuring, counterfactual, paradox, sceptical
Step One. In the intro I say what I am going to argue. I indicate what my conclusion is going to be.

First main body paragraph. I begin by defining a key word, or making an important distinction. In this case, distinguish between imaginary and real. I need to set this up in order to make the points I want to make later on. (I call this ‘back structuring’)

(a) I show that imagination allows us to be independent of reality – independent inside our own minds. We can come up with all sorts of counterfactuals. ( = the way things could be, rather than the way they factually are) In the real world we might not be able to choose just yet, but in our minds we can choose imagined options.
(b) I note that reality around me is very complex and I cannot know all about it.

Next step. I connect what I am contending to things that happen in The Truman Show. I use the word ‘imagine’ to look at some of the things Truman is able to think or do.

Next step. I show how Truman begins to be sceptical about the appearances of the world around him. He begins to doubt … and that leads him to actively test the reality that surrounds him.

Now I want to re-connect to the words of the topic. I want to talk about trying to control, or wanting to control, reality. I must make sure everything I say in my essay is relevant to the topic.

Note the way I linked the word create from the previous paragraph with an explanation of what is so important about creating in this paragraph.

I am trying o build an argument: that creating is how we try to impose our will – at least a little bit – on reality.

Next Step. I am getting closer to my conclusion now. I want to prepare for the idea of how much we can realistically expect to control. We can’t control everything, but we can try to control a bit of what is around us.

“Truman creates a new Truman” sounds like a paradox, so I must explain what I mean.

Final paragraph. My conclusion. I must refer back to the topic, and to my contention in the introduction. I must show how I have proven my contention. It’s a good idea to show how the examples about Truman are somehow interesting for everyone, not just for Truman.…...

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