Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s “1899” is centered around a passenger ship called the Kerberos, which is traveling from an unknown destination to the United States of America. After reaching a certain point in their journey, they receive a distress signal from the missing passenger ship, Prometheus, and head toward it to rescue it. Captain Eyk takes a search party into the stranded ship, and all they find is a boy named Elliot hiding inside a cabinet. He’s brought into the Kerberos, thereby beginning a series of events that lead the passengers and crew of the ship to the realization that they are not heading to the USA. Instead, they are stuck in three layers of simulations that are being projected into their minds while their physical bodies are in 2099 and hurtling through space in the spacecraft named Prometheus. Only Maura Franklin (or Singleton) can help everyone by waking up because, ultimately, it’s her brother Ciaran who’s the mastermind behind this experimental project. But why is he doing all this? Well, the answer can be found in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Who Brings Up The Topic Of Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave In ‘1899’?
In “1899” Episode 7, when Maura finds the simulation of her and Daniel’s house, as well as the photos of her along with Daniel and Elliot (their son), Daniel says she has done all this to get rid of her pain. He doesn’t specify what kind of pain he’s talking about. But we can assume that he’s talking about Elliot’s real-life situation, where he’s probably dying (or dead). Maura says that she knows that none of what she’s experiencing is real. Daniel says that they are indeed trapped in a simulation. He repeats Maura’s theory that we never know if the stimuli in our brains are caused by reality or simply by a construct of one. That’s when he brings up the topic of Plato’s cave allegory to explain that they are watching images projected into their minds. And he emphasizes the importance of waking up from this state of perpetual dreaming because if she doesn’t, then she’s going to lose her mind inside the simulation as her brain will start perceiving it as reality.
In “1899” Episode 8, while educating Elliot about the fact that he’s trapped in a simulation created by Maura so that she can keep him alive, Henry starts talking about Maura’s childhood days. He says that she found a paper on Plato’s cave allegory in his study. Even though she was too young to understand such an abstract concept, she read it repeatedly. Once she was done, her whole existence was engulfed in this one idea: that our knowledge has limitations and that we never know whether the things that we see are real or not. So, in an attempt to get some answers, she asked Henry that if Plato’s argument is “true,” then how is anyone supposed to know anything is real? And that the actual reality is beyond the life one is living. Henry tried to insert the concept of God into his answer and credit God for creating reality. Maura responded to it by saying that then God is the only thing that’s real, and humanity is the entity’s doll house. However, she brought up a counter question: who created God, and whether this series of creating something and treating it as a plaything goes on endlessly?
What Is Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave Actually About?
Let’s get down to the basics, shall we? The Greek philosopher Plato talked about the Sun (in a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon) as not just as a source of light but as a source of goodness in the world. He said that our reality can be filled with many wondrous and delectable things. But if they are not illuminated by light, then we won’t be able to see or enjoy them. All our sensory organs can be in perfect functioning condition. However, if our mind isn’t enlightened enough, our observations of what we perceive will be as good as living in darkness, which can be equated to ignorance.
Furthermore, Plato talked about the divided line. He described it as a straight line that was divided into two unequal parts and then divided again in the same ratio. So, there are five points on it, i.e., A, B, C, D, and E (with A, B, C, and D being the closest to each other and E being the farthest point). And he said that the visible world is made of the AB section, which represents shadows and reflections of physical objects, and the BC section, which represents the physical objects themselves. Knowing about these sections means that you are aware of the illusion of reality and the elements that are casting this illusion. Then there’s the intelligible world, where CD represents mathematical reasoning, and DE encompasses philosophical understanding.
What does this have to do with the cave allegory? Plato used the analogy of a group of people who were chained to the wall of a cave with their heads and legs fixed to another wall in such a way that they had no other option but to stare at the wall in front of them (and not behind them). There’s a source of illumination behind them, i.e., fire. And that’s casting shadows of the objects that are passing by the fire on the wall that the prisoners are staring at. The prisoners don’t have any idea whether those shadows are real or a pale imitation of reality because they can’t turn around and look at the source of the shadows. They begin to believe that those shadows are their reality because of the sounds coming from the world behind and echoing through the cave.
However, as per Plato, if one of the prisoners is brought into the real world, thereby breaking his illusion that the things he has seen in the cave aren’t reality, then the experience is going to be overwhelming. In fact, the prisoner will probably decide to stay in the cave because that is what he has become accustomed to. But if he is forced to stay in the real world for a long time and look at the real source of illumination (the Sun), then and only then is he going to realize that what seems comfortable can end up being an illusion. What’s initially harsh on the eyes (the sunlight), though, can end up illuminating the reality around him.
That’s not where the story ends. Plato says that if the freed prisoner is then sent back to the cave, he’s probably going to try to educate the other captive prisoners about the fact that the real world is out there and not on the walls of the cave. But upon re-entry, the darkness of the cave is going to blind the freed prisoner (just like the harsh sunlight blinded him), and the captive prisoners are going to interpret that as a result of traveling outside the cave. That’ll bring the captive prisoners to the conclusion that they should never venture out or let anyone come in from the outside (real) world. For them, the cave is their reality.
So, the moral of this entire section is that one needs to have a proper (philosophical and scientific) understanding of reality and the illusion of reality to realize where they are. If you don’t, then the person who controls the illusions will be able to manipulate you in any way they want. If you do have a comprehensive understanding of the line that divides reality from fiction, no matter how much nonsense is thrown your way, you’ll always have a firm grasp of the obvious. Now, let’s see how this particular theory factors into the narrative of “1899.”
How Does Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave Explain What Ciaran Is Doing in ‘1899’?
If the aforementioned allegory about Plato’s caves reminds you of “The Matrix,” you are not wrong. Of course, if you haven’t watched the movie, you won’t get what I’m talking about. You should watch it because it’s a classic and a major source of inspiration for Baran Bo Odar and Jantje Friese (it’s mentioned several times in “Dark“). But here’s a primer anyway. In the sci-fi epic directed by the Wachowski Sisters, sentient machines have taken over humanity and are using humans as batteries to keep themselves powered. However, in order for humans to function properly, they need to feel that they are living in reality. So, the machines have created the matrix, which is an artificial form of reality that’s being fed into humans’ minds. Those who are aware of this tomfoolery try to escape the matrix and fight the machines. Those who don’t, they stay inside the matrix. And then there are those for whom the real world is too depressing, and they want to stay plugged into the matrix. Now, replace the machines with Ciaran and the plugged-in humans with the passengers of the Prometheus, and you kind of have the answer.
I say “kind of” because it’s Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese we are talking about here. And if I’ve figured it out, that means what they’re attempting to pull off is beyond my comprehension. But only future seasons can answer that. For now, I can only speculate. So, here’s my theory: Ciaran is partaking in behavioral modulation, just like Henry used to. He has understood that keeping people in a simulation for a long time is going to make them believe that the simulation is their reality. He conducts little experiments about survival while they are in there, which are personified by the supposed backstories of the characters in the show to fundamentally change their personalities. That’s why when he will eventually bring them out of the simulation (which he definitely has to because they are on an important interstellar mission), all of them will be more agreeable. How did they end up in the simulation in the first place? Well, just like in “The Matrix,” I think they were using the simulations for meetings, extracurricular activities, etc., because the spaceship isn’t spacious or entertaining enough to do so. Ciaran hacked it and gained access to everyone’s minds and made the most of it.
Now, I know I’ve been painting Ciaran in a very negative light. But what if he’s not the villain and he’s using Plato’s allegory of the cave in a positive way? What if he is using the simulations to help everyone get rid of their traumas, their apprehensions, their interpersonal conflicts, and their fears before the ship reaches its destination? We know that Maura is in a great deal of pain. She has either lost her husband or her son, or both of them. What if she has been spending her time in the simulation to cope with that loss? And what if Ciaran considered that whole process to be quite self-destructive in nature and was making an effort to help her confront the fact that her loss is permanent? Because once she realizes that she’ll probably be able to move forward. Daniel and Elliot can be the parts of her psyche that are helping Maura come to this realization, while Henry is the part of her psyche that’s preventing her from getting out of her cave and forcing her to believe that the illusions in front of her are her reality. Well, all we have to do is wait for the next few seasons of “1899” to get some or all the answers to all of our questions.