Socrates’s Cave: A Love Story
On truth and connection
I’ve realised that I was asleep when I watched, and loved, The Matrix, a movie about being asleep and waking up. This is my favourite clip:
Why did I love it? I don’t know now, I guess I thought I was awake. Have you ever had a dream where the thought occurs to you in the dream, that you might be dreaming, and you convince yourself you are not, and go on with your dream. That’s what watching The Matrix was like prior to March 2020. A movie about waking up from a dream, watched within a dream.
That’s some crazy shit right there.
Then I watched this discussion between Weinstein and Sayers back in June 2022. Brett does a very good job of talking about “capture”, how all our “sense making” institutions have been captured and corrupted. Sayers unfortunately remains quite naïve to all of this.
This comment captures the point well:
Bret Weinstein was very civil in this interview. I would have reacted with apoplectic disbelief to these questions. Their implicit assumption is that politicians, public health officials, vaccine manufacturers, the media, social media, and scientists have all done their level best during the COVID-19 pandemic. The utter failure of each of these groups to do their job properly is already apparent now and will only become more obvious in the future.
Yes, there are a lot of people who think “they did the best they could…”
Anyway, the reason I’m mentioning the discussion is because Brett, for a brief moment mentions The Matrix and says that it’s a modern retelling of Plato’s Cave…what!? That was news to me, I know who Plato is, but I had no idea there was a cave story!
So, I went looking to see what all this cave business was about. This is a good telling of it:
Now let’s get one thing straight, how did Plato get the cave story credit? It wasn’t even his story; it was Socrates telling the story (allegory) to Plato’s brother Glaucon, not even to Plato. He was simply the note taker!
It’s Socrates’s Cave as far as I’m concerned.
The point of this stack is really to tell you a love story, and so here it is, it’s pure fiction off course:
They were born in the cave, they fell in love in the cave, they raised a family in the cave.
The shadows guided them and helped them understand the world. The shadows helped them connect with others who saw and believed in both the shadows and what those shadows meant.
There was love, peace and connection.
Then a pandemic happened, and the cave was full of fear, with more shadows flickering on the wall than ever before. All in the cave couldn’t take their eyes off the shadows.
Something didn’t feel right to her though, and suspicion crept into her mind for the first time. She jerked at the chains and to her surprise they broke, and so she turned and wandered towards the light. He stayed behind.
As with all those that wander outside, the light hurt her eyes, but she got used to it and discovered that the exit from her cave was simply the entry to another cave, and then another, so she wandered the warren.
From time to time, she would come back to tell him what she found, but he didn’t really want to know, they were difficult discussions, they were difficult times.
On one of her return trips, she realised that those running the cave, and explaining the shadows, had a “cure” they wanted all the cave dwellers to take, the shadows declared it safe, but she knew better, she knew that the cure was worse than the disease, that it would change you, that it would change him that she loved.
She told him not to drink it, they fought, they talked, he listened, he believed, he didn’t drink. She went back to wandering the warren, while he stayed in the cave, but rarely looked at the shadows again.
One day he said, “please don’t tell me anymore about what you discover outside, it hurts” and she said “Ok, but I need to wander, I cannot stay in here”, and so they reached a pact based on a new and deeper understanding of each other.
She had discovered that her highest value was Truth, while he came to understand that his highest value was Connection, and they came to understand and respect that in each other.
He said, “I want to stay connected with my friends and my community in this cave, I don’t want to live outside, but I now understand that you need to wander, discover, and figure out what is true versus what is a shadow.”
She said, “yes, I do, and I’m happy with this pact on one condition, and that is if I ever come back into the cave and tell you about a discovery, you will trust me and you will not doubt me because the shadows are telling you a different story. If you don’t want to put the time into wandering, you need to believe me when the time comes. But I will only speak on things that really, really matter. If they bring you another cure, for example, I will speak then, and you agree to believe me and not the shadows.”
He agreed, and they shook hands, the way businesspeople who are in love do.
Adam Kirsch’s introduction to Allan Bloom’s translation of The Republic of Plato (that includes the cave allegory in book 7), has this interesting section:
This tension is illustrated in the parable of the Cave, the most famous section of The Republic. Here Socrates imagines the people of a city as being like men chained in a cave, who never see real things, but only shadows cast against a wall. The philosopher is like a man who escapes the cave and sees things directly, in the light of the sun; he knows the truth, whereas his fellow prisoners merely know opinions and appearances. Only such a philosopher would be fit to govern a city, Socrates argues, because he is the only one who knows how things really are. But as Socrates points out, there is nothing such a liberated soul would want less than to return to the cave, where he would have to contend with the illusions and ignorance of ordinary people.
Socrates saw this allegory through the lens of those that might rule over society. He never imagined that an iPhone might fracture and control people’s relationship to reality, within the same household. In that case, you have to venture back into the cave.
But “this Socrates denies,” Bloom insists; “the philosopher does not bring light into the cave, he escapes into the light and can lead a few to it; he is a guide, not a torchbearer.”
I think this Guide versus Torchbearer distinction is a useful one for us today. How many of our discussions with those in the cave have been with a torchbearer orientation and posture. I know for me the answer is far too many!
Full understanding of the truth is necessarily confined to an elite, Plato believes; it cannot be made the basis for a democratic society. Most people will always need to be governed by what Socrates famously calls the “noble lie.”
So, this is where Fauci got it from!
This is an excellent moment to quote from Kennedy Hall’s important essay.
Now, the thing about red pills is that they can be dangerous.
What I mean to say is that there is a point when you can take too many red pills, and, by doing so, the red pills stop doing what red pills are supposed to do.
The purpose of the red pill is to get you out of the matrix, which is to say out of the world of lies and partial truths. However, if you have been liberated from the lies that you believed before, there is a temptation to then distrust everything that your senses and lived experience tell you. This poses a danger because we can go from a mere liberation from untruth to a complete distrust of all things that are presented as truth.
Now, imagine that story but with a character who goes even further than liberation from the cave. Imagine if after seeing real trees and real animals for the first time, he then assumes that those real things were in fact just more highly advanced shadows of real things that he has still not seen. Imagine that when he sees the sun he takes it to be simply a reflection or imitation of the real sun which he has yet to see.
You can easily see how deep a man could go down the path of speculation, to the point where he is in complete doubt of his reality. He may not be physically shackled anymore, but he will have mentally paralyzed himself from contemplating reality. In a way, he has created a new cave for himself of his own making, wherein he believes he still only sees shadows.
But, what if after rejecting our former matrix we then create another?
In addition, a life lived on red pills is an unstable way of being. We spend the whole time tearing things down and disbelieving things so that we leave little room to build things up and to believe in real things. I dare not group in all alternative sources of information as “conspiracy,” but it must be said that there is a tendency in the world of continual red-pilling to become a bit negative or even to despair about the state of things.
It is one thing to see the truth and live in the truth, and it is another to spend all your time debunking everything you see to the point where you see nothing good at all.
This is not to say that a good red-pilling is not necessary here and there—it surely is! But too many red pills might be bad for your health.
“A life lived on red pills is an unstable way of being.”
Warren wandering and stability are likely incompatible.
We need to tread carefully and choose wisely.
For completeness, here is the full allegory of the cave.
It is book 7 of The Republic, and I’ve chosen Jowlett’s translation as he is the only person to have translated all of Plato’s works, and so I think has the best insight into the context and meaning of Plato’s works.
SOCRATES - GLAUCON
AND now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:--Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it' the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them,--will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
True, he now
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
Not all in a moment, he said.
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?
Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.
And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
Certainly, he would.
And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, “Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?”
Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
To be sure, he said.
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
No question, he said.
This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you.
Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.
Yes, very natural.
And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavouring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?
Anything but surprising, he replied.
Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.
That, he said, is a very just distinction.
But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.
They undoubtedly say this, he replied.
Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.
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