I have always thought about the world and the way it is exposed. Things such as how and why people don’t always think beyond what portrayed to them by media, governments, family, etc. really fascinates me. And usually if they do they are probably rejected or treated with contempt. “You Can Recognize A Pioneer By The Arrows In His Back”!
So when I stumbled across the Greek Philosopher, Plato’s theory, it took me a while to understand what he actually meant.
This is Plato’s theory:
Imagine some people living in an underground cave. They sit with their backs to the mouth of the cave with their hands and feet bound in such a way that they can only look at the back wall of the cave. Behind them is a high wall, and behind that wall pass human-like creatures, holding up various figures above the top of the wall. Because there is a fire behind these figures, they cast flickering shadows on the back wall of the cave. So the only thing the cave dwellers can see is this shadow play. They have been sitting in this position since they were born, so they think these shadows are all there are.
Now imagine if one of them manages to free himself, the first thing comes to his mind would be, where did these shadows come from, until he turns around and sees the real figures, he would be dazzled to see the sharp sunlight, he would be dazzled to see the clarity of the figures because he only saw the shadows on the wall, and if he manages to get out and climb over the wall and past the fire into the world outside, he would be even more dazzled. But after rubbing his eyes he will be struck by the beauty of everything. For the first time he will see the colours and clear shapes. He will see the real flowers and animals that the cave shadows were only poor reflections of. But still he would be asking himself, where did the flowers and animals come from? (Adapted from ‘Sophie’s World’: p.82)
There are quite a few different understandings of his theory, a common one being that the relationship between darkness of the cave and the world beyond, corresponds to the relationship between the forms of the natural world and the world of ideas. For example, in the natural world we have pleasures such as food, music, material ambitions etc. The worl of ideas makes us think that there is something beyond this.
Metaphorically, this basically means that we live in a world of shadows, which we think we enjoy, and don’t see the reality of ideas.
Also, Plato postulated that philosophers’ role in society is to be the investigators of reality by constructing ideas from outside/beyond the box (meaning outside the cave).
I personally think of the theory as:
The people who have their feet and hands bound and have their back to the mouth of the cave are us (normal people today) and the human like creatures that walk past the mouth of the cave are the media and people in the spotlight (government, celebrities, etc) and the various figures they hold up are what they want us to believe and think (things like talent shows and beauty pageants). Lastly the fire could represent how all of these things are exposed to us, like TV, Magazines, etc. So on the whole Plato’s theory is about how we live in a world where things are shown to us and automatically we are brainwashed to accept it and believe it is the way society works.