A recent Twitter conversation – and, as an aside, how awesome is the #WritingCommunity? – was about epiphanies. You know, those times in your life when the way you see things changes.

I remember one moment as a child, when I realised that adults must feel pain just as much as we children. They just tended not to make such a fuss over it. After that I was a more stoic girl.

And another came during a philosophy discussion on Plato’s parable of the cave, as found in Book 7 of The Republic. He also describes a similar concept in beautiful terms in the Phaedo, which talks of the death of Socrates.

The video below explains the concept far better than I could but, briefly, a group of prisoners is held confined in a cavern, shackled so that they may not turn around. A flame burns behind them and all they can see on the wall in front of them are the shadows of people, animals, and objects passing in front of the fire.

One captive escapes and is able to discern the real world of things, and shadows and reflections illuminated by the sun above. No longer is he restricted to flickering shadows, he can see reality.

Or can he?

The lesson I took away gelled with the central theme of the Tao te Ching: if we think we know what something is, we are mistaken. Plato goes on to talk of the notion of forms: eternal notions of ideals that have no perceptible existence, but form the basis of everything we can perceive. We can imagine a perfect circle, but we will never meet one.

In The Sophist, Plato talks about identifying and listing the things that are. This dialogue pretty well turned my brain into a pretzel, and it didn’t help that we were taking breaks from Plato by looking into a particularly esoteric Plotinus text.

But it was Plato’s Cave which opened my eyes. We are all of us fooled into believing that our perception of the cosmos is the real thing. That we have in our heads the absolute truth of all things. A patently false notion, and yet so many people spend their lives forcing others to conform to some arbitrary model of existence.

Some people excoriate, excommunicate, and execute those who don’t believe the same things as they do. They might have a central tenet of their faith that says “be kind to others”, and yet they ignore it in favour of some interpretation they prefer, such as calling gay people names and beating them up in the name of Jesus.

My life changed with the Cave. I thought I knew how the world was, but clearly I was wrong. I could never be right. Anybody who claimed to know the truth was ignorant and a liar. Including myself. Especially myself.


Photo by Jeff Nissen from Pexels

life, philosophy , , , ,

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