Allegory of the Cave - Plato
#1
The Allegory of the Cave – also known as the Analogy of the Cave, Plato’s Cave, or the Parable of the Cave – is an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate “our nature in its education and want of education”. Most people live in a world of relative ignorance. They are even comfortable with that ignorance, because it is all they know.





Synopsis:
Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows.

According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners. Once you've tasted the truth, you won't ever want to go back to being ignorant.

Youtube Video Transcript:

@2:27
What happens when a prisoner is released? At first when he is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up on his feet, and turn his head round and look towards the light, all this light would hurt him and he would be dazzled to see distinctly those things whose shadows he had seen before. And then imagine someone saying to him that what he saw before was an illusion.

But now when he is approaching nearer to reality and his eyes turn toward more real existence, he has a clearer vision. What will be his reply? And if he was reluctanctly dragged up the steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the Sun itself...

When he approaches the light, his eyes will be dazzled and he would not be able to see anything at all of the cold realities. He would require to grow accustomed to the new sights of the upper world. At first he will the see the shadows best, next the reflections in the water and then the objects themselves. Then he will gaze upon the stars and the spangled heavens. Last of all, he would be able to see the Sun and not mere reflection of it in the water. But he will see the sun in its own proper place and not in another.

As he will contemplate the sun, as it is, will he not then proceed to argue that it the Sun who gives the seasons and in a certain way the cause of all the things which his fellows had been accustomed to behold?

Clearly he would first see the Sun and then reason about it. And when he remembered his old habitation and what was the wisdom of the cave and his fellow prisoners, do you not suppose that he would bless himself with the change and pity them?

And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who are quickest to observe the passing shadows (in the cave), and to remark which of them went before and which followed after, and who were therefore able to draw the best conclusions as to the future, do you think he would care for such honors and glories or envy the possesses of them? Would he not say - "Better to be the poor servant of a poor master and to endure anything rather than think as they do and live after their manner -" ?

@6:14
Imagine once such a person coming suddenly out of the Sun to be re-placed in his old situation. Would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness? And if there were a contest of measuring the shadows and he had to compete with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den while his sight was still weak and before his eyes had become steady, wouldn't they all laugh at him and say he had spoiled his eye-sight by going up there? And that it was better not to even think of ascending?

And if anyone tried to release another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender and they would put him to death!

@7:15
It is the task of the enlightened not only to ascend to learning and to see the good, but to be willing to descend again to those prisoners and to share their troubles and their honors whether they are worth having or not and this they must do even with the prospect of death. They shall give of their help to one another wherever each class is able to help the community.

End of Transcript


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#2
Socrates a man of logical thinking Big Grin, That's why we remember his name till now smile
I still think Naruto is the best manga ever \o/

" Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
"
~~~ A Psalm of Life
~ H.W. Longfellow
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#3
Very interesting video, but a bit too abstract. Given the synopsis, I'd instinctively substitute the chained characters to be the dogmatic and religious, discouraging curiosity. It'd be very interesting how a religious person would interpret this. No doubt the chained would be the barbarians/pagans(or even scientists!) laughing at their "enlightened" prophet/sage.
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#4
Some are wary that Plato's cave allegory is liable to be deployed as a sophist's rhetorical device to make a case for radical relativism of the postmodernist variety, or as a dampener of scientific inquiry citing the irreparably incomplete nature of the tools at our disposal. Let us address these concerns and in the process see how to use Plato's Cave as an aid to teach epistemic humility and promote pluralistic sensibilities, without lapsing into obscurantism.

On listening to Plato's Cave argument, a more constructive response than "We will never know it all. Why bother?" is "There is a lot we can't know. But there's also a lot we can know but don't. We can continue to know better." The impossibility of omniscience does not take away from the importance of better science. Middle World may indeed be the Plato's Cave our species is stuck in as Prof. Dawkins describes, and this situation may circumscribe our scientific endeavour as Prof. Sapolsky describes in this article, but provisionally useful findings from these endeavours are not things we will give up simply because they are not 'truly universal' or 'ultimate' or 'transcendental' in some way. Whether or not there is a Theory of Everything we can apprehend from the cave we call the 'observable universe', as Prof. Feynman puts, it is not something that needs to diminish our interest in 'learning more about the world'.

A common concern raised is that the use of Plato's Cave analogy may end up establishing a sort of equivalence between the mystic's line of, "This life is Plato's Cave from which you cannot understand the afterlife." and a string theorist's line of "Our senses don't allow us to 'see' more than 3 dimensions but there are as many as 11." This is a false equivalence, because the first is an argument from ignorance whereas the second is a construct which 'pays rent' (at least in theory) in terms of explanatory power, is motivated by observed phenomena and is a parsimonious formulation to the extent plausible. Also, apologists who use Plato's Cave to peddle tickets to the after-life, conveniently forget that the allegory calls for greater skepticism of any description by cave-dwellers of an outside world they have never experienced, rather than for abdication of attention from the accessible experience in the cave itself. The cave allegory if anything is a warning against taking a cave-dweller's word as the whole truth. A skeptic may well turn the tables on the mystic by demanding why, as a dweller of the same cave, a evangelist's word deserves the trust that is demanded.

A more contemporary aid to serve as a reminder of epistemic humility is the concept of 'umwelt'. From neuroscientist David Eagleman's post at Edge.

Quote:...different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals.

...The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its umwelt. The bigger reality, whatever that might mean, is called the umgebung.

...Our sensorium is enough to get by in our ecosystem, but is does not approximate the larger picture.

From an ecosystems perspective, vivid illustrations of different umwelts can be found in Prof. Dawkin's lecture 'The Ultraviolet Garden'. Similar vocabulary can be used in social ecosystems where we may say that awareness of marginalization and microaggressions is not part of the umwelt of a person with privilege, as this article vividly illustrates. Dr. Eagleman suggests the use of such vocabulary as an aid to sensitization in social settings.

Quote:I think it would be useful if the concept of the umwelt were embedded in the public lexicon. It neatly captures the idea of limited knowledge, of unobtainable information, and of unimagined possibilities. Consider the criticisms of policy, the assertions of dogma, the declarations of fact that you hear every day — and just imagine if all of these could be infused with the proper intellectual humility that comes from appreciating the amount unseen.
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