Plato’s Cave

I liked the concept that arose from watching the animation in class today, the idea that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. The brief summary of Plato’s cave below explores the idea that only when we are presented with new realities can we see our old ones as illusion.

“Plato’s cave is an allegory portraying a group of prisoners who have lived in a cave for their entire life. They are chained to a seated position in which they are unable to turn their heads, forced to look at the wall in front of them. Behind them is a fire which casts shadows on the wall from the figures who walk behind them on the roadway. The prisoners make a game of naming the objects (shadows) that appear on the wall. To them, this is all they know, their reality. When one prisoner escapes, he travels past the roadway and ascends into the sunlight. At first he is blinded by the sun (a metaphor for truth, goodness, knowledge and reality) although his eyes eventually adjust and he realises that what he had taken to be reality was merely an illusion. He descends into the darkness of the cave in an attempt to alert his fellow prisoners of his discovery. However, they believe he is mad, deluded from the sunlight, and hence they continue to live their life in the darkness, taking this as their reality. Plato’s cave is a philosophical metaphor that Plato intended as a truthful portrayal of the human condition. The allegory questions whether we can truly know what we experience is real or if we are blinded by illusions. He argued in his philosophical texts that reality is something objective and consistent and that it is found beyond the mere physical appearance of things.Through the study of philosophy, logic and mathematics, the ‘real’ world becomes visible. In order to find truth, reality and knowledge we must ascend from the ‘cave’ (in what he described as a difficult journey!) and see the world in an objective way, find meaning beyond how things appear to be. Perhaps we too like the prisoners are trapped in a cave of a false ‘reality’….” Source:’+Reality+Scrapbook+Task

This is a rather long clip, but it is facinating. How different the world might be if we were more willing to accept the views of others? As the clip suggests, this does go both ways – the chemist had to change the way she perceived the world and others. It was important that she attempted to understand their reality in order to find a more effective way of addressing both of their concerns. “If only I could make you see….” – a nice title for a Context piece?

The Dragon in My Garage – this is a favourite story of mine by the late Carl Sagan, renowned astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and author. He raises the idea that something that is unprovable doesn’t exist – as opposed to the new reality of the prisoner in Plato’s Cave which is a reality that he actually experiences and can be experienced by others. The last line is a winner.


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