The Allegory of Plato's Cave

Samuel's picture

The Allegory of Plato's Cave
Category: Religion and Philosophy

Samuel Thomas Poling, Blog #141, The Allegory of Plato's Cave

For those of you who do not know the Allegory of Plato's cave, let me just explain it shortly.

Imagine the human race is chained to a wall of a cave, they can not move even their necks. Behind then is a tunnel leading out of the cave into the bright world. Behind them also is a fire pit. Puppets dance in front of the fire, casting shadows on the walls of the cave for the prisoners to see. The humans can talk to each other and were chained there their entire lives.

When they talk, wouldn't they talk of the shadows as if they were real things? What would happen if one was freed and could see the actual puppets and could go outside into the real world? Would he go? Would he be blinded by the light and not be able to make sense of anything? Will he return to his chains? Will he free the others? Will the others wish to be freed? Lots of questions. Is reality just an illusion and is everything only shadows?

Well, I was asked if I would consider myself one who would venture out or one who would remain chained. Here was my response.

Would I consider myself one who goes out and ventures or one who stays chained to the norm? There are a lot of ways to answer this - depending on how you take the question. Most people will think it means either out going/willing to try knew things or not. Thus, everyone will probably respond: "I consider myself one willing to venture out of the cave."

So, although I do believe myself to be one who isn't chained to the norms, I feel someone awkward saying so. Why? Because everyone else is saying it.

If it is unpopular I am more likely to consider it. Although something's popularity isn't what I use to make my choices, if two things are otherwise equal I will go with what is unpopular. Things are more attractive to me if they make me stand out. Like, although I am an atheist for logical reasons, I enjoy the shocked looks on other people's faces when they hear it.

I do venture from the norms, but that's what everyone else is saying!
In other words, by saying, "I stand out!" you are... well... not, because everyone is saying the same thing, for the same reasons. It's because it sounds "good" and "right" to you, because it's considered cool to be "open to new ideas." But in order to actually be open to new ideas, I'd like to hear an appeal to why one would remain chained to a wall.

So, in order TO venture forth, I must now appeal to being chained. Because everyone else is taking the other path - thinking they're taking the lone one, when they are obviously not.

Why would I remain chained to a norm? It's simple. Because of doubt. Not fear, not cowardice, not laziness... Doubt. Let's consider, for a moment, the venturing forth is believing in a new idea. Accepting something new. Well, where is the doubt? What if something new is false? What if something new is dangerous? What if something new, if believed in, will contradict and slow down learn the progress of acquiring real truth?

Their must be doubt. Their must be questions. Their must be debate. For if you automatically believe something - if you automatically accept something - you may be making a mistake. And a mistake, once so believed, will take the place of wonder. And that is a terrible loss. "Let me tell you how things are," appealed Plato, "You are caught in delusion." Yes, Plato said he knew much more of the truth. Obviously not in those exact words, but you get the point.

If you accept something just because it is new you sacrifice wonder. You trade the truth (that you do not know) for what could be, for all you know, to be falsehood. Keep your wonder; don't let anyone tell you the answer. Until you know the answer to be truth, with reason, observation, and experience, then you cannot believe it. You cannot believe it because then you will never know if it is true or not, and you will never wonder and seek the answer. Let us preserve our veracity, as Robert G. Ingersoll once put it.

For maybe what we believe are shadows dancing on a wall are real, and the puppeteers are the illusions - the shadows of the imagines flashing on the wall.

If you mean going out to seek the truth, then yes, you should do that. You shouldn't be chained to something for the sake of avoiding research. You shouldn't refuse to cross examine yourself and your beliefs. You should, for it you do not, you may be incorrect, and that can be very problematic.

But if you mean going out accepting a new idea just because it's offered to take you from the norm, you shouldn't do that either. You should remain chained until you know the idea is true. Chained to honesty. Chained to the correct answer: "I do not know." Don't unhook that chain. Not until you do know.

If someone returns from outside the "cave" claiming to be enlightened, then yes follow him in one respect, but do not follow him in another.
Follow him out into the world and ask for his reasoning and evidence. Question him and follow what he is trying to say when he explains his alleged enlightenment.
But do not follow him out into automatic acceptance of his claims. That is to say, do not follow him blindly.

Perhaps the "enlightened one" is blind. Follow him out without questioning the tone of the sun, and you may become blind as well. And then you may never see the truth of the question at hand.

This is all I am saying. Be open minded to the possibility, but do not automatically believe it.

Samuel Thomas Poling, Blog #141, The Allegory of Plato's Cave