The Allegory of the Cave (Explained)

For this entry, I thought I would explain the video that I posted last week in absurdly plain terms and see if that would inspire me on some rant about something.  Here we go…I’ll see you on the other side:

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a dialogue between Socrates and some other Greek dude I can’t remember.  Socrates describes a group of prisoners who are chained in a cave and face a wall, with a fire burning behind them.  I believe there are guards who are standing behind the fire projecting images onto the wall via shadows in the fire.

For arguments sake, I also believe Socrates says the prisoners have been in the cave for their entire lives.  The images they see on the wall of the cave are the only ones they know.  For them, the cave and the forms of images they see are reality.

Socrates then describes what would happen if one were to escape the cave, go topside, and see the world for what it really is.  “Behold,” Socrates probably says in Greek, “it so happens that one of the Cavedwellerz escapes!”  And I’m pretty sure his name was Sean-us Connery-us.  And what an amazing sight it is!  The light is blinding at first, but then the world opens up and he comes across a rabbit. The man had once seen an image of a rabbit on the wall of the cave, so he knew what it was (he knew its “form”), but what he then realized was that what he had seen was indeed just an image, a “form,” and not reality.  In reality, the rabbit is a robust creature, full of life and color and other fun descriptive words not identified with its “form.”

The prisoner runs around, taking in the world for the first time and seeing reality for what it really is.  He returns to the cave and describes what he has seen, but the prisoners don’t believe him.  To them, the forms on the wall are reality.  I like to think of the fish that gets caught and–for whatever reason–is thrown back into the ocean.  When he finds his buddies, he has the most awesome story for them, but nobody believes him:  “But dudes! I swear!…”  He’s pretty flipping mad.

Socrates uses the man who escapes the cave in order to describe the work of a philosopher.  A philosopher thinks (really hard) about reality for what it really is, and attempts to enlighten all of the laypeople (prisoners of some sort of wrong thoughts or something) about it.

I think that it can also be used as a way to get people excited about going out and having an adventure for themselves.  Learning about the forms of adventure (reading about someone who climbed Everest, or someone who had some great romp around the world) is indeed interesting.  But to do it for yourself is entirely another thing.  Maybe it’s even enlightening.

So, get out and live life’s big adventure.  You can go through life just seeing things on TV and reading about things on the internet, and you may very well never do any of them.  You, my friend, are a prisoner in Plato’s cave. Don’t wait for someone else to come back and tell you about it.  Do it for yourself.

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47 thoughts on “The Allegory of the Cave (Explained)

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