7 Days of Perception - 1/7 - Allegory of the Cave

October 25, 2018

Allegory of the Cave was one of the starting points

if you’re not familiar with the story, you can start with the Wikipedia version:

Allegory of the Cave on Wikipedia

It’s interesting that everyone looks at this story a certain way. Though the full text by Plato has Socrates go through a lot of interesting things that arise from this allegory. It’s actually a very easy read:

Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s “The Republic”

For example it has a section dedicated to Sun and it’s functions from a philosophical point of view, after the freed prisoner comes out of the cave and gaze upon the sun for the first time.

So let me lay some of the points down that i found intereseting:

The Gist

There are good short videos that lay down the story better than i can. Here’s a few

Simulated Reality

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave - Alex Gendler

PLATO - Allegory of the Cave Animated (This one mentions most of the allegory)

The Interesting parts i never knew about

Plato mentions REALLY interesting details of the process the freed prisoner has to go through, which interestingly is a pattern we all repeat whenever we think we “saw the light” .

Pain, rage, blindness

SOCRATES: …would not the one who had been dragged like this feel, in the process, pain and rage? And when he got into the sunlight, wouldn’t his eyes be filled with the glare, and wouldn’t he thus be unable to see any of the things that are now revealed to him as the unhidden?

GLAUCON: He would not be able to do that at all, at least not right away.

Getting used to the light

SOCRATES: It would obviously take some getting accustomed, I think, if it should be a matter of taking into one’s eyes that which is up there outside the cave, in the light of the sun.

So in light of the new information (pun intended), the “enlightened” would not be able to completely comprehend all the new information he has to digest right away. These are radically new things. Or better yet, the same things are now radically different and need a lot of things to move around inside his head. He’s seeing the world with a new lens and everything has a different meaning attached to it, a different potential of what everything implies and how are they related tom him.

What would the liberated prisoner now prefer?

SOCRATES: Do you think the one who had gotten out of the cave would still envy those within the cave and would want to compete with them who are esteemed and who have power? Or would not he or she much rather wish for the condition that Homer speaks of, namely “to live on the land [above ground] as the paid menial of another destitute peasant”? Wouldn’t he or she prefer to put up with absolutely anything else rather than associate with those opinions that hold in the cave and be that kind of human being?

GLAUCON: I think that he would prefer to endure everything rather than be that kind of human being

Right, once the scales are off your eyes, there’s no turning back. It takes another radical shift in your worldview for you to even consider going back to that worldview.

That happened to a lot of us multiple times maybe. We had that phase where we went all conspiracy theorist and think there are always “hands behind the curtain”. Only to later grow up and accept that most things are actually just what they seem.

People who you might call “radicalized”, or people who go through a cult life might also experience this back and forth. It’s a radical change one way, and it’s a radical change on the way back.

We don’t have many cults where i come from which are as elaborate as the ones in the US. Maybe the closest example in Iran would be MKE. The stories of parents trying to get their children out of that organization is the same as the ones in the US: it’s mostly a battle on the nature of reality and perception, not on the facts and figures.

The documentary Deprogrammed on Netflix shows great examples of this.

The return: blindness

SOCRATES: And now, I responded, consider this: If this person who had gotten out of the cave were to go back down again and sit in the same place as before, would he not find in that case, coming suddenly out of the sunlight, that his eyes ere filled with darkness?”

GLAUCON: Yes, very much so.

Which illustrates the fact that the “enlightened” is not necessarily all seeing now. His new lens might not be appropriate for seeing the intricacies of his previous life anymore. He might have been an expert on understanding the shadows and the sounds associated with them, but now his ability to perceive those details have either faded away or he his ability to understand their importance is now in question.

Take the case of an immigrant for example. Time and time again after the immigrant has moved around and saw the world outside of his home will come back only to find what he once found beautiful or interesting is no longer noticeable or interesting anymore. There are input he used to have that were sharp to those details, but not anymore.

This happens a lot when the radical change happens on a political level. The “Conspiracy Theorist” reaction is strong, thus making you feel betrayed by the previous party you used to be a part of. As a result, you would steer very sharp towards the other direction. If you were on the left, you would go hard right; and vice versa. As a result, you might actually be blind to what your former party had to offer actually. In other words, you stop seeing the beauty in it and throw the baby out with the bathwater. (In Farsi we say “The dry and wet burn together”)

The debate with the other prisoners

SOCRATES: Now if once again, along with those who had remained shackled there, the freed person had to engage in the business of asserting and maintaining opinions about the shadows – while his eyes are still weak and before they have readjusted, an adjustment that would require quite a bit of time – would he not then be exposed to ridicule down there? And would they not let him know that he had gone up but only in order to come back down into the cave with his eyes ruined – and thus it certainly does not pay to go up.

Now isn’t this fascinating?? Oh my god isn’t this fascinating??

Wouldn’t he be exposed to ridicule down there? Of course he will. Not only that, His former friends will label him as blind to the realities down there and thus use him as an example to defer others from having their eyes ruined. They don’t want him “exposed” to the new light.

Isn’t this how we think of controversial and “radical” ideas? Wouldn’t you stop others from being exposed to the new ideas for your fear of them being “radicalized”? Where do you think you are in this story, in your last serious debate?

And why are we so keen on pushing others to see the light? That’s sort of my motivation as well when i started to think about my research for Temporary Expert. This is the motivation for a lot of other things inside and outside that class. And it’s not a “safe” endeavor by any means:

And the final outcome:

SOCRATES: And if they can get hold of this person who takes it in hand to free them from their chains and to lead them up, and if they could kill him, will they not actually kill him?
GLAUCON: They certainly will.

the end

And of course, that’s what happened to Socrates as well. Death.

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