I just copied and pasted this from a private message reply to a friend of mine. So it’s a simplified version of Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’.
Okay. I just read an internet page to remind me of this, as it was several months ago since I last revised it. The link is here:
but i imagine it may be difficult for you to understand, so i’ve summarized it below ^_^
Imagine a situation where there are several prisoners tied up, facing the back wall of a cave. They cannot move their heads or turn around, so they are always watching the wall. They have been there their entire life and only know the shadows and the other prisoners.
Above and behind them is a horizontal wall; and above and behind that is a fire. Between the fire and the horizontal wall, people walk back and forth carrying statues and other objects. The set up is such that: the prisoners can see the shadows of the people behind them walking back and forth being cast by the fire on the wall in front of them. So the prisoners are watching the shadows of the people moving.
Still with me? ^_^ Re-read that if you didn’t grasp it all, it’s vital you visualize it.
Anyway, suppose we release one of the prisoners and let him turn around. What would he see? He would first be blinded by the direct light of the fire, and then he would see the people walking around behind the horizontal wall. He would recognise that the shadows he has been watching are false.
Suppose then, the now free prisoner climbs up past the fire. He would be blinded by the light of day shining in through the cave entrance, and not be able to go outside until he has adjusted. When he finally walks outside, he will first be able to view the reflections in the river, and the other shadows. Gradually he will be able to see the objects around him more clearly, and finally, he will be able to gaze upon the sun and stars in the sky and truly know the world.
What would he feel for the other prisoners then? – still watching the shadows as if they were the real world? He would take pity on them and return to tell them of the real world. But they would not believe him! How could they believe such an outrageous story!?
A pile of sticks giving birth to flickering hot light? (the fire). The shadows being cast by real people and the strange shapes being 3D objects? And then, a world outside of the darkness? (the cave). A world where there is a giant orb that casts bright white light in amidst a blue quilt of cloud? (The sky and sun). They could never believe such a story; and would surely kill him if he tried to free them from the comforting shadows they have grown accustomed to.
That’s the basic story, and the meaning?
Well, we represent the prisoners. Our bodies are the chains binding our souls, and we can only see the shadows on the wall. Philosophers attempt to free themselves from this, realising that they are not able to see the true world as it is, and are forced to view mere shadows.
The fire in the story represents the sun as you and I know it today. And as the ascent out of the cave – described in the story – symbolises our soul’s journey to discover true knowledge.
So basically, the story is saying the world as we know it is merely a shadow of the truth. In order to find the truth, we must free our minds and free our soul. We must stop focussing on physical pleasures (e.g. luxuries, such as having lots of food, going to see a film, playing sports – etc) and focus on using our reason (our mind and soul)to move closer to the truth.
Did that make sense? I hope it did… Feel free to ask about anything you are unsure about. It took me a while to understand it the first time I heard it.
Oh, and you asked whether or not i believe in it. I suppose i believe that there is a ‘Realm’ – a sort of Heavenly place where absolutes such as beauty, love, courage, and goodness are. I believe there is a God – in some form or another; not necessarily the Christian God described in the Bible – but i have faith in another world besides this one. I don’t completely agree with Plato because I don’t think we should completely cut off our physical pleasures, but i do think people should be more spiritual and at least give some consideration to the rest of the world. I’m not a great example, but i do strive to be more altruistic (more people-orientated) and help others.
Anyway, what do you think?
That was surprisingly cathartic. I’m still feeling pretty despondent, but writing that helped me to realise there is more to the world than my simple little problems ^_^.