Plato's Cave Myth: Do you live in darkness or in light?

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Louise Hay
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Plato's cave myth is one of the major symbols of idealist philosophy. It not only influenced the development of philosophy and psychology, but it also marked the way of thinking in Western society. Although at first it may seem like an old and outdated idea, the truth is that this myth is a perfect metaphor that attempts to reflect the dual reality we all live in, from which it is difficult to escape. That is why, in post-truth times, Plato's cave myth is more relevant than ever.



Those who live in darkness are refractory to see the light

A few years ago, Philip K. Dick wrote: “reality is that which does not disappear even if you stop believing it”. But how can we be sure that what we observe is reality? After all, much of what we experience is the product of our perception and is mediated by our internal experiences.

About 2.400 years ago, Plato proposed the same dilemma and tried to explain it through the myth of the cave, which has become a very interesting parable about the meaning of life in society and the nature of reality. He described it in Book VII of the Republic, in which he imagined an ideal society.

Plato tells us that a group of men were sentenced at birth to remain chained in the depths of a cave. They never managed to get out of it, nor did they have the ability to look back and understand the origin of the chains or see what was happening behind them, outside the cave.

Therefore, they only looked at the cave walls. Occasionally, other people and animals passed in front of the cave entrance. The chained men could only see their shadows and hear the echoes, which were projected onto the cave walls.



The prisoners perceived these shadows and gave them names, believing they perceived real things, as they were not aware that they were only projections of reality. However, one day, one of the prisoners is released. This comes out in the light, but the sun blinds him, he discovers that everything around him is chaotic since he can't give it meaning.

When they explain to him that the things he sees are real and that the shadows are just reflections, he can't believe it. He finally adjusts and decides to return to the cave to tell the rest of the prisoners about his fantastic discovery.

However, accustomed to sunlight, his eyes now have a hard time making out shadows in the dark, so the rest of the chained men believe the journey outside made him stupid and blind. Therefore, they do not believe him and are opposed to being released, even resorting to violence.

This funny video summarizes the myth of Plato's cave.

Fundamental lessons that we can apply to our life

Do not think that you are immune to deception and lies

Many people can benefit from keeping others in a situation of deceit and lies, such as prisoners chained in the cave. And it's not just about the political class or the financial power, but also about simple people behaving like manipulators. In fact, gaslighting is a perfect example of how someone can manipulate reality to achieve their goals.

We think we are immune to deceptions and lies, because we are smarter or have more experience, and that means that this possibility does not bother us, so we are giving them an edge in their shadow play. Instead, we must continually question things, even those we have always taken for granted, because there is always a better, more convenient or just different way to do and understand everything.



Don't miss the rays of light

In a way, a part of us are those prisoners chained in the cave. Part of us feels comfortable with family stereotypes and beliefs, with traditions that make us feel safe. When we see a ray of light that forces us to analyze these things from another perspective, we are afraid and can behave like prisoners, denying the new reality.

It is true that paradigm shifts can generate fear, because they take away the benchmarks and make us question some of the beliefs that we have always considered absolute truths, but if we really want to grow, we must not cling to any absolute way of seeing the world. we must open up to the flow of new ideas and perspectives.

Breaking free is difficult

Breaking free from chains, when they continue to bind others, is usually an emotionally complex process. It is not easy to rebel when there is an established social dynamic that we have been part of for a long time.

Revolutions, both social and personal, always involve contradictory emotions and require concessions. During the "process of liberation" we will not only have to deal with people who are important to us who prefer to remain chained in the cave, but we will also have to free ourselves from the beliefs that until then were part of the core of our personality. And this can generate discomfort and distress. There are those who think that the sacrifices are not worth it and prefer to remain "chained", in a metaphorical sense. However, you make the decision you make, the important thing is that you have had the opportunity to decide for yourself.


Ignorance is comfortable

Alan Watts said that: "Most people not only feel comfortable with their ignorance, but are hostile to anyone who points it out to them." It is the same idea that Plato tried to convey with his myth, in fact, we must not forget that some of his ideas were considered too dangerous for the status quo of the time and caused him more than one problem.


Sometimes we overlook this detail, so we try to enlighten people with our knowledge, but those people are not ready to assimilate the new perspective. The doors of the mind cannot both open in an instant when they have been closed for a long period of time, because we could even expose ourselves to a violent reaction. The solution is not to give up, but to gradually open small gaps.

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