Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Anarcho-Spirituality; Plato, A Cave and Coming Of Age
You know you're on to something when you spend a day typing something out.
This, in particular:
Coming of Age - A Platonic View
"Plato's 'Cave' was his 'analogy for the human condition'.
Here it has been simplified and adapted a little.
Imagine a society of people who live in a cave. The cave dwellers are tied to a bench, unable to move or turn their heads, even to look at those sitting next to them.
Behind them is the entrance to the cave, allowing daylight in, and just outside the cave is a road where people pass by carrying a variety of things. The cave dwellers can see on the wall in front of them their own shadows and the shadows of the passers by - nothing more. For them, the shadow world is the only reality, and the voices of the passers-by are understood as the shadows speaking.
But one among the cave dwellers frees himself and turns to see the people whose shadows alone he had seen before. Stepping out of the cave, he learns there is another world, three-dimensional and brilliant, illuminated by the sun, a light much more intense than in the world of the cave dwellers. He realises he and his fellow cave dwellers have mistaken the world of shadows for the world of substance. He has acquired an insight - a special knowledge that distinguishes him as a 'philosopher'.
Although the philosopher with the knowledge might meet scepticism, Plato says 'the capacity for knowledge is present in everyone's mind'. It is just a question of orienting the mind so that it is able to open itself to 'real being and reality at its most bright' (psychedelics, woohoo!).
For Plato, education should be the 'art of orientation' so that we are facing the right way - a faculty that allows us not merely to gather information but also to cultivate this special knowledge" - Clive Hamilton
...Then, you get online, and check your email. Only to find that a brother from another mother sends you an email, and inside it, you find this:
Inside the cave
Socrates begins by describing a scenario in which what people take to be real would in fact be an illusion. He asks Glaucon to imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been chained and held immobile since childhood: not only are their arms and legs held in place, but their heads are also fixed, compelled to gaze at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads "including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone and other materials". The prisoners watch the shadows cast by the men, not knowing they are shadows. There are also echoes off the wall from the noise produced from the walkway.
Socrates asks if it is not reasonable that the prisoners would take the shadows to be real things and the echoes to be real sounds, not just reflections of reality, since they are all they had ever seen or heard. Wouldn't they praise as clever whoever could best guess which shadow would come next, as someone who understood the nature of the world? And wouldn't the whole of their society depend on the shadows on the wall?
Release from the cave
Socrates next introduces something new to this scenario. Suppose that a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up. If someone were to show him the things that had cast the shadows, he would not recognize them for what they were and could not name them; he would believe the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees.
"Suppose further," Socrates says, "that the man was compelled to look at the fire: wouldn't he be struck blind and try to turn his gaze back toward the shadows, as toward what he can see clearly and hold to be real? What if someone forcibly dragged such a man upward, out of the cave: wouldn't the man be angry at the one doing this to him? And if dragged all the way out into the sunlight, wouldn't he be distressed and unable to see "even one of the things now said to be true," viz. the shadows on the wall (516a)? Fucking red pill or what ha!
After some time on the surface, however, Socrates suggests that the freed prisoner would acclimatise. He would see more and more things around him, until he could look upon the Sun. He would understand that the Sun is the "source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing" (516b–c). (See also Plato's metaphor of the Sun, which occurs near the end of The Republic, Book VI)
Return to the cave
Socrates next asks Glaucon to consider the condition of this man. "Wouldn't he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn't he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn't he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness? "Wouldn't it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it's not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn't they kill him?" (517a)
Remarks on the allegory
Socrates remarks that this allegory can be taken with what was said before, viz. the metaphor of the Sun, and the divided line. In particular, he likens
"the region revealed through sight" – the ordinary objects we see around us – "to the prison home, and the light of the fire in it to the power of the Sun. And in applying the going up and the seeing of what's above to the soul's journey to the intelligible place, you not mistake my expectation, since you desire to hear it. A god doubtless knows if it happens to be true. At all events, this is the way the phenomena look to me: in the region of the knowable the last thing to be seen, and that with considerable effort, is the idea of good; but once seen, it must be concluded that this is indeed the cause for all things of all that is right and beautiful – in the visible realm it gives birth to light and its sovereign; in the intelligible realm, itself sovereign, it provided truth and intelligence – and that the man who is going to act prudently in private or in public must see it" (517b-c).
After "returning from divine contemplations to human evils", a man "is graceless and looks quite ridiculous when – with his sight still dim and before he has gotten sufficiently accustomed to the surrounding darkness – he is compelled in courtrooms or elsewhere to contend about the shadows of justice or the representations of which they are the shadows, and to dispute about the way these things are understood by men who have never seen justice itself?" (517d-e)
How's that for synchronicity?
Word to the mothership.
Aside from that mindblower of a situation, I wanted to post Plato's theory behind the human condition - via his analogy of 'the cave'. It showcases quite well in analogical form, the 'coming of age' that I have talked about previously - something which you know and thoroughly can't deny when it happens to you personally.