finding the exit from the cave

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When I look at this culture, I am reminded of The Allegory of the Cave by Plato, written over 2,000 years ago.

It is a haunting reminder that our civilization has not changed at all beyond increased technological creations. All else remains the same socially and, dare I say this without being hung, intellectually and psychologically. The cave. The shadows. Illusions. False information. False truths. Reality. The prisoners. The awakened. The believers. Cognitive dissonance. Ego. Fear. The deep fear of change and anything that challenges what we’ve chosen to believe. Ego. Fear. Fear. More fear.

The Allegory of the Cave should not, still after all these centuries, continue to be an allegory we understand and can relate to all too well.

I wonder when, if ever, we will transcend this allegory and create a new culture not built on every depressing aspect of Plato’s allegory. When will we all surface from the cave, into the light and experience the real world?

© zaji, 2016

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7 Comments

  1. I just downloaded The Allegory of the Cave by Plato to my Kindle. From your analogy this is not going to be a “Happy Ending” type story. Hopefully humans will emerge from darkness into the light otherwise we will become extinct just as we have done to many animal species.

    • Here is a summary of the allegory.

      Imprisonment in the cave

      Plato begins by asking Glaucon to imagine a cave where people have been imprisoned from childhood. These prisoners are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around at the cave, each other, or themselves (514a–b). Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall, behind which people walk carrying objects or puppets “of men and other living things” (514b). The people walk behind the wall so their bodies do not cast shadows for the prisoners to see, but the objects they carry do (“just as puppet showmen have screens in front of them at which they work their puppets” (514a). The prisoners cannot see any of this behind them and are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. The sounds of the people talking echo off the shadowed wall, and the prisoners falsely believe these sounds come from the shadows (514c).

      Socrates suggests that the shadows constitute reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real living things outside the cave (514b-515a).

      Departure from the cave

      Plato then supposes that one prisoner is freed, being forced to turn and see the fire. The light would hurt his eyes and make it hard for him to see the objects that are casting the shadows. If he is told that what he saw before was not real but instead that the objects he is now struggling to see are, he would not believe it. In his pain, Plato continues, the freed prisoner would turn away and run back to what he can see and is accustomed to, that is the shadows of the carried objects. He writes “…it would hurt his eyes, and he would escape by turning away to the things which he was able to look at, and these he would believe to be clearer than what was being shown to him.”

      Plato continues: “suppose…that someone should drag him…by force, up the rough ascent, the steep way up, and never stop until he could drag him out into the light of the sun.” The prisoner would be angry and in pain, and this would only worsen when the radiant light of the sun overwhelms his eyes and blinds him. The sunlight is representative of the new reality and knowledge that the freed prisoner is experiencing.

      Slowly, his eyes adjust to the light of the sun. First he can only see shadows. Gradually he can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Eventually he is able to look at the stars and moon at night until finally he can look upon the sun itself (516a). Only after he can look straight at the sun “is he able to reason about it” and what it is (516b). (See also Plato’s Analogy of the Sun, which occurs near the end of The Republic, Book VI.)

      Return to the cave

      Plato continues, saying that the freed prisoner would think that the real world was superior to the world he experienced in the cave; “he would bless himself for the change, and pity [the other prisoners]” and would want to bring his fellow cave dwellers out of the cave and into the sunlight (516c).

      The returning prisoner, whose eyes have become acclimated to the light of the sun, would be blind when he re-enters the cave, just as he was when he was first exposed to the sun (516e). The prisoners, according to Socrates, would infer from the returning man’s blindness that the journey out of the cave had harmed him and that they should not undertake a similar journey. Socrates concludes that the prisoners, if they were able, would therefore reach out and kill anyone who attempted to drag them out of the cave (517a).

      • OMG! Here we are today. We being our African American brothers and sisters. We are taking down anyone attempting to take us out of our present existence; they are misinformed, we see the truth. Don’t worry us with facts.

        Perhaps several generations from now will lure us into reality (out of our cave). Minnie E.

  2. Whoa!! That’s the crabs in a barrel analogy! Listening to the video I thought that the movie The Matrix was an updated modernized version of this tale with a Hollywood Happy Ending. Deep. I will finish watching the video then start reading the book this weekend. Thanks for the synopsis.

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