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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Your Knowledge is Your Reality

One of the most influential philosophers in history was Plato, and he played an important role in discussions about what is considered “real” in the natural world and what is “reality”. He combined ideas from rationalism (belief on theories) and empiricism (belief on experiences) to answer the questions about “real and reality”. He believed that forms and shapes (physical things) are not real; the reality is only in our mind, so our ideas are real. He was known for use allegories and metaphors to exemplify his ideas, and the most famous one was the Allegory of the Cave. “The allegory communicates in rich and symbolic terms the journey through the various stages of knowledge, which echo the metaphysical and epistemological structure of the Divided Line analogy.(1)”

One of the versions of the Allegory of the Cave was basically the story of a group of people that was living in that cave for a long time. These people were chained in front of a blank wall and the only things they could see were shadows on the wall, resulted from other people passing in front of a flame of fire in the back of the cave. They had no idea of what the shadows were; the only thing they knew was the shape of the shadows. One day, someone from outside of the cave came and unchained one of those prisoners so he could get out of the cave and the person accepted the challenge. This person was able to know a whole new world and he felt he should tell the others from the cave how worthwhile that new world was and that they should see that with their own eyes. In contrary to what he thought, those people did not believe him, they thought he was crazy and they even wanted to kill him because of those crazy ideas he had brought to the cave. Then, people from the cave asked him about the shadows, but he could not see the shadows so clearly anymore, because his eyes were already used to the clarity more than to the darkness. As a result, people did not want to take the risk of leaving the cave the way that person had done. “What is “real”? How do you define “real”? If you are talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then “real” is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.(2)”

This allegory can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, because there is no specific interpretation for the elements of the story. One of the discussions is about how the allegory can represent Christianity; the cave would be the life without Jesus Christ, the outside of the cave would be the life after knowing about Jesus Christ; the person who came from the outside is someone that knew Jesus and how good life was after knowing him, so the person is someone who wants to free the others by taking them to the path God wants them to be in; the person who accepted the challenge was someone unsatisfied with his life inside the cave and he wanted some change; and the other people were just afraid of the unknown and they preferred to stay in their comfort zone in the life they were used to.

Another way to look at this allegory was interpreting it as the cave and the outside of the cave being two opposite ideas; people from the cave had a limited vision about life, because the elements inside the cave were limited, so they had limited knowledge; people who experienced the environment out of the cave were more open minded, because they now had two points of view about reality and they could then choose which one was better and which one was the reality about their world. This idea was strongly used in the movie The Matrix when the character Neo (Keanu Reeves) was shown the reality in a simulator by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne); “Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged, […] and most of them are hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.(3)”

Applying the idea of the allegory in the movie The Matrix, the cave would be the Matrix (the limited world thought to be real) and the outside of the cave would be the real world; Neo would be one of those prisoners from the cave and Morpheus would be the one to rescue Neo from the imaginary world. This idea can even be applied nowadays if we think about the role media plays in people’s lives, because people see what is shown to them and only a few people try to look for the reality about the world, only a few people want to get out from the comfort zone and try to see something different, other points of view of the same subject; that is why who do not look for answers other than what the media shows, have trapped mind, they become prisoners of a limited knowledge about what happen around them, the truth about the world they live.

That is why it is so important to think “out of the box”, to think bigger, because the possibilities outside of the cave are infinite. Breaking out is necessary for everyone’s growth, mostly mentally growth, but it is not an easy thing to do; to break out and go into a new idea the person needs to want knowledge, he needs to desire to be educated about that new possibilities available for him, and the process of being educated is a really hard one. “Education then is the art of doing this very thing, this turning around, the knowledge of how the soul can most easily and most effectively be turned around; it is not the art of putting the capacity of sight into the soul; the soul possesses that already but it is not turned the right way or looking where it should.(4)”

The process of the education used to break out in the Allegory of the Cave is about the understanding where you are and where you want to be if you have more knowledge; it is about not letting only one source (for example media) take care of everything you know, take your options away. Your knowledge demands your reality, because your reality is in your mind.

Sources

1 Philosophy book “The Philosopher’s Way” by Chaffee – page 236

2   Movie “The Matrix”

3   Movie “The Matrix”

4 Philosophy book “The Philosopher’s Way” by Chaffee – page 240

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