When I was in Highschool I was an odd little teenager that read Doestoyvski and Hesse and the beat writers as well as classical Greek philosophy (as well as the existentialists and plays and poetry and etc, but that’s for another day). One of the things that stuck with me a lot was Plato’s parable of the cave, which was a symbolic explanation of his ideas of basic forms and the mathematical truth behind reality….this idea that what we experience in the meat and bones of this world is actually a shadow of another world, outlined and just out of reach.
His idea that if someone spent their whole life in a cave, watching shadows flickering on the light of the cavewalls, that was how we experienced this world. And eventually, the person would go outside of the cave, and see the light of the sun for the first time. I think also GK Chesterton used this in his St. Francis of Assasi book, and took it a step further, saying that it would be like looking at the world upside down, and seeing everything created from air, suspended above us.
Now, before we go on, yes, the Catholic church did take these ideas and warp and bend them to it’s own structure and thoughts of transubstantiation, and all that, where something not only exists as a shadow cast on this world, but the thing behind the shadow can change somehow and become something truer, more real or super-real or whatever. To me, I don’t see the religious side of this idea, of this construct, of the cave and truth and matter and light.
Side note: one of the things I love about object oriented programming is that it is this idea in programming form, that it is about creating base things and then building and inheriting off of it to create the object in the reality around us. The chairness of a chair, the windowing GUI’s basic structure before it transcends and becomes the user interface in front of us.
It’s an interesting idea, this theory of the cave, and of what reality is and isn’t. In there, there is something maybe, somehow. Plato thought the pure-er reality would be an entirely math based one, and in a way I wonder if he has it backwards. That the cave isn’t shadows on the wall, but rather our mind creates the shadows, it labels things, it makes things out of nothing, out of air. We apply the taxonomies, our mind creating super-structures for each, explaining the thing away. The chair exists, the chairness of a chair is something that we use in our mind to mold and create shape out of the chaos of our world. The chairness is our symbolic architecture, it is our thoughts and minds building a world inside of us out of the constructs it sees around us.
The sun then is the mind, the world then is not the cave. Maybe the light isn’t a flickering torch light creating shadows, maybe the light is the light of the sun and the shadows aren’t made by puppets, but instead by the objects outside of it, and the cave is our mind, creating these shadows themselves.
Maybe, maybe not who knows, what is the purity of it anyway? Still, there is something to this idea, of chained people being a reality and there is something outside of it, some sort of ur-reality we strive for, and that it is somehow truth. Maybe this parable of the cave is appealing to people on some intrinsic level because we want it to be true, or in a way it’s sort of true because our minds what that reality to be the more important reality. That inner space is more interesting than outerspace, that our mental structure and recreation of the world around is more important than actuality of it, which is filled with pain and pain and more pain. All reality is suffering in some way…
Striving for something, it’s about striving for something out there, external, and us wanting it…needing it somehow. I’m not sure I think it’s right or real or truth or whatever, but the symbolism behind it is a strong symbolism that yanks and tugs on us, pulling us into the concept. We want to think it truth, even though it might not ever be truth. Maybe in a way the sea is a cave and Ahab is chained, and he knows that the white whale of a sun is out there, taunting him, wanting him to come and harpoon it…