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A Detailed Outline of the Truman's Paradox

Amit Phansalkar
Hollywood movie, The Truman Show, is a classical illustration of the issues of free will versus determinism. There are parallels that can be drawn with religion. Indeed, questions can be asked about the religious ideal of the benign, omniscient entity that oversees all life.
Imagine you live in a perfect world. Imagine that there is someone up there, somewhere, who watches your every step, and has future planned out for you-to the minutest of details, that everything about your life is personally being overseen by the omnipotent being, as if you're the chosen one.
You're guaranteed a good education, a steady job, caring parents, and a loving spouse. Every problem that you might have, there is someone who'll interfere, and solve things for you. Isn't that the absolute dream of most of the religions? Isn't that, in fact, a promise that organized religion holds up to you?
The benign, omnipotent, and omniscient being, overlooking your life in every conceivable way. A guarantee, that whatever happens, is the God's Will, and that there is a higher purpose determining the course of your life. Isn't that what faith is all about-believing in that fantasy?
Ironically, for the character of Truman Burbank in the Hollywood flick The Truman Show, the dream turns into a nightmare. For those who haven't watched the movie, it is a satire, and indeed fantastic, story of a man whose whole life is a televised show, watched by millions for years, without his knowledge.
The town that he lives in is a phony town-an effect, a combination of a high-tech supported illusion, and a gigantic movie set. His life is scripted and executed to that script. People that enter or leave his life, are actors playing their own, prewritten parts. When Truman realizes the truth, however, he wants to break away from this fake, designed world.
He wants to go to the real world, where everything is uncertain, where he might have to struggle hard to live a life that's almost guaranteed to him in that fake world. And when he does that, finally, the same crowd that is vicariously enjoying his surreal life actually applauds his freedom!
It's not just in the reel life that Truman's newly found freedom is applauded, though. Even in the movie halls, there is a perceptible relief.
When the crowds come out, they are obviously happy that Truman got his freedom-even if it's just a freedom to embrace the uncertainty of the real world (the romantic sub-thread of the story notwithstanding, as the uncertainty is in fact more pronounced there).
These are the same guys who want to desperately believe that there is someone/something out there, which controls their destiny. In a strange way, Truman's life is how they want their lives to be-safe, assured, and without the burden of choice. The only difference is that the controller is a media baron, with his own selfish motive.
Still, Truman's life is secured than an average person. And principally, there isn't much difference. Symbolically, Truman chooses free will over determinism, exactly opposite to the ideals of religious determinism. In short, free will is a philosophical doctrine that says that human being can (at least in principle) choose their thoughts and their actions.
On the other hand, the doctrine of determinism postulates that everything is destined to be what it is, and human beings have absolutely no real choice, whatsoever. Religious ideal of a supernatural being/power controlling our life is positively a form of determinism.
The curious paradox that 'The Truman Show' brings forward-of ordinary people (implicitly) being happy about Truman's symbolic rejection of a quasi-determinism, by an exercise (even if symbolic) of his free will.
And even while the same people implicitly (as well as explicitly) crave for another kind of quasi-determinism, with their religious world view-is actually a very central paradox of human life. In fact, determinism brings with itself a comfort, and free will, a risk.
For instance, if you know there is no real choice, things are much easier, as there can be no penalty for choosing wrong (for that matter, you can't chose wrong-you can't chose at all). When there is no choice, there is no morality either, as morality is the codification of value judgements. There is no value in the absence of choice. Everything, just is!
On a more pragmatic level, it makes a huge difference as to who controls your life. The benign and omniscient power would have no ulterior motives (otherwise, it won't be benign). So, there is a consolation there, when your life is controlled by such a power.
But that involves surrendering your value judgments completely, and having faith in such a power. When one looks around at the state of the world, it's hard to find such an unshakable faith. But imagine that tomorrow you're in Truman's shoes, but this time, it's the real thing.
Imagine God asking you personally, as to what you want. A life that God has personally scripted for you, or a life that you can steer, with no guarantees, like a sailboat in a huge ocean. What would you choose? A benign determinism or a random free will?