Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Plato's metaphor of the cave

Plato's parable of the cave is a metaphor for ignorance and knowledge. Imagine, says Plato, a cave in which prisoners are chained in such a way that all they can see are shadows thrown on a wall in front of them. All they know of life are these shadows. They would think that these shadows were reality, having known nothing else. If one of them were freed, and allowed to emerge into the daylight, he would see things as they are, and realize how limited his vision was in the cave. He would be quite unwilling to return:

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?...you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell. (Republic VII, 516)
Yet to his fellow-prisoners, he would seem the fool, not they:

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady...would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending. (Ibid, 517)
I suggest that the lethal text may not in fact destroy the mind, but rather cause it to move up to a higher level of consciousness, which would seem "weak" to the people left behind. He might have a direct apprehension of Plato's world of Ideal Forms. Instead of having been destroyed, such a person might simply have transcended the body and no longer have need of it. (Such a fate is implied in Macroscope.)

I further suggest that the person who enters cyberspace has, in a metaphorical sense, left the cave. She has entered an abstract dataspace-a world of Ideal Forms-and has no need of the physical body. Indeed, the person wearing a bodysuit and VR goggles seems vaguely ridiculous to anyone watching her twist and turn in response to no apparent stimulus. She is, in a literal sense, a visionary.

From http://deoxy.org/alephnull/platocav.htm


Indigobusiness said...

It occurs to me that as few comments show up here, it probably isn't because of few readers, it's more likely because these sorts of posts are so difficult to respond to concisely.

For awhile, I thought I had driven more than my share of your readers away (probably have), but now I think I've sussed it out.

This post was a fascinating wade through the links...but how does one attempt a response? Daring to go beyond the glib nonsense of my usual commentary, I'll risk the serious by declaring that what this was all about is the root of meaning.

Meaning masquerades in symbol and opinion, and erudite expression. Maybe even in lethal text. Surely.
But the point of all these frameworks and languages and myths is to know that the essential exists independently, and to know it is to hold fire in the palm of your hand.

Stepping through the thresholds of trancendence is alway a oneway, terrifying ordeal. Something is gained and something is lost. You can't go home again.

By virtue of the Golden Mean, the Fibonacci series, and other sacred ratios and geometries, fundamental magic is built-in and builds all that is. The stuff and substance of reality rings with it. All else is metaphor.

Paulette said...

The only thing harder than commenting on my posts is answering your comments, Indigo. LoL

Yeah, very well put. "But the point of all these frameworks and languages and myths is to know that the essential exists independently, and to know it is to hold fire in the palm of your hand." And I feel I can't get back to where I was before, but I wouldn't call that home...
You write really well. When I grow up I want to be just like you.

Indigobusiness said...

Going home is a metaphor.

Growing up is overrated, and I'd much rather you be like you.

Blog ho said...

it should come as no surprise that the cave is vaginal to me. and the ones in the cave are as eggs in an ovary. and outside the cave is sadness and bright light. this is the cave as i think plato meant. and i think he meant pluto, as well. yes, tea. thank you.

Paulette said...


ahram... (cleaning throat)

"when I grow up I want to be like you" is a metaphor, too. LoL

What I think Pluto meant is that we think we know reality, and it constrain us. Yes, you can say the root of meaning. To know how to free your mind and construct your reality and your own meanings is as wonderful as it is scary.

I love lethal texts. They are always taking me out of the cave. sometimes is sunny, but sometimes is rainny and miserable, but still wonderful to be out. The way people run away from paradoxes entertain me in a morbid way. As the lethal text text said:"Quite simply, the lethal text is a text that, when read, renders the reader incapable of reading. It destroys the reader's mind. It induces a crippling insanity. Only those who have read a lethal text know what it says...but they are in no position to share their knowledge.

What does the lethal text say? By definition, no one can know and remain capable of telling it. But perhaps it is a logical paradox. The human mind has a kind of protective shield against paradoxes: it gets confused and gives up, instead of attempting to resolve them. They can stop "running the program" set up by a paradox. But the lethal text somehow penetrates this shield, presenting a paradox the mind cannot stop trying to resolve.
Which is why the lethal text is (probably) not possible: the mind is not a computer. The mind can deflect paradox by ceasing to think about it."

Don't know about that last bit... I love thinking about paradoxes.

Well, ceases to think, then real knowledge comes in. It tickles my brain! I still like the "the map is not the territory" analogy, and Robert anton Wilson quote: "Doesn't matter how many times we say water, we will be thirsty still." And if you apply this formula on a bigger scale you see how we are fucking stuck in a cave. Language, beliefs, programs...

Indigobusiness said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Indigobusiness said...

Au contraire!

It troubles me to have to disagree. There's been so much disagreement in my life lately...what with the Blog Ho menudo knock-down/drag-out, and all.

So, I'm forced to point out that "when I grow up I want to be like you" is NO a metaphor, it is a simile. And, God knows, I knew you didn't really want to be like me. Whatever that means...and who would really want that, anyway?

Really is a recurring theme, it seems. Which is where we began, actually, somewhere off Pluto.

Even our lies are real. The point of the cave, and all the secret, sacred, and especially lethal texts is our potential for wisdom. The idea that we can pierce the veil of illusion.

Leaving the cave is one of those terrifying thresholds of transcendence I mentioned. Representing a paradigm shift, the world is suddenly, and forever, different. Meaning is unmasked.

It takes the courage of a genuine spiritual warrior to risk the leap across the threshold, into the unknown...beyond the current paradigm of understanding while sacrificing the comfort-zone of the cave, to know the world beyond metaphor.

---In related matters:

Hey, Ho-- Blow me.

Blog ho said...

if we 3 ever get together and drink you'll recognize me as the one on the couch fliping through the sports channels and fanning myself with US magazine.

Indigobusiness said...

Ok, Ho- Is that somekind of twisted sexual metaphor?

Paulette said...


I think we are all expressing the same point of view using different arguments...

Indigobusiness said...

Paradox is the springboard of lateral thought, an avenue into the clear pool of universal meaning beyond personality and bias...the fundament of truth.

(Ho will love that definition.)

Paulette said...

A didactic and yet entertaining link!!
Very true!

Lazy said...

If you 3 met up for a drink you'd recognise me as the one who wasn't invited.

And never bought a round.

Ah, there you go, intellectualising with the best of them. You appear to have outgrown your unquestioning youthfully zealous anti-intellectualism of years past.

I'm trying to decide whether Aleph-Null is really saying anything, or whether he is just making an insanely courageous attempt to.


Indigobusiness said...

Aleph-Null says it all.

Indigobusiness said...

Lazy- No reason for you to be excluded. So long as you don't refuse to buy a round, or insist on resembling a Nazi golfer.

Paulette said...