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Allegory of the Cave Interpretation

Updated on November 22, 2017

Perspective Changes How We Accept Knowledge

Imagine that your world is black and white; your house, family, and even the flowers in your front yard. All you know is that world. The world of color does not exist to you because you have never seen color. Now, imagine that someone comes and brings you color. Suddenly, everything is drastically different. Your house is now a strange array of tans, grays, and whites. Your family is a pallet of different skin tones. The flowers are dozens of colors that you do not have the name for. Are you wowed by your new world? Do you miss the way things were? Or, do you completely reject your new surroundings? A scene similar to the one I just described takes place in Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” and begs the question, how does our perspective change the way we learn things?

Summary

In Plato’s “the Allegory of the Cave” there are prisoners chained in a position that makes them only face forward, away from the fire behind them. On occasion people will pass behind which will cast shadows that the prisoners can see (292). These shadows and the whispers of the people behind them is the only world the prisoners have ever known. One day, one of the prisoners is compelled to go out of the cave. The freed man is almost blinded by the light after living a life in darkness. Slowly, the freed prisoner begins to see shadows. Soon, he can see the reflections of objects in water, and finally he can see the objects themselves (294). What had originally hurt the freed prisoner and confused him was now a cause of his joy. Wanting to share the knowledge and experiences he had acquired, the freed prisoner goes back into the cave to tell the other prisoners. When the man got back to the others, he tried to compel them to come and see what he had, but not wanting to leave behind what they knew for something that was unknown, the prisoners chose to stay (265).

Real Life Example

Now, I know what you are thinking. Why would the prisoners not leave their cave of shadows for a world of light and knowledge. Well I’ll tell you. The prisoners’ perspective of the world was inhibited by the notion that the cave they were in was the only reality. That the world outside the cave was made-up, a figment of the freed prisoners imagination. This rejection of obvious truth and knowledge takes place quite often. In Ancient Greece it was believed that the God Apollo was the sun and that he would fly across the sky everyday. Between the year 310-230 the astronomer and mathematician, Aristarchus of Samos, presented the idea that the earth revolved around the sun. However, the Ancient Greece populus rejected the notion because they believed it to be false (Aristarchus of Samos). If the freed prisoner had treated the world outside the cave like the Greeks treated Aristarchus’s idea, he would have kept his eyes closed outside of the cave to keep himself from seeing a new part of reality.

Real Life Example

Of course, the example of the Greeks rejecting a new idea took place over 2,000 years ago. People living today couldn’t possibly make the same mistake, could they? In the 1990’s there was a very new science discovery, Gel Electrophoresis. This test can tell who a person is by comparing DNA. For example, if you gave a scientist a little bit of blood or dead skin they could map your DNA and compare it with any other bit of DNA from your body and tell that it was yours (DNA Fingerprinting). In 1994 Oj Simpson was convicted of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and a restaurant waiter, Ron Goldman. Blood was discovered in Oj’s car, on his socks, and on his glove. Using a Gel Electrophoresis scientists determined that the blood in Oj’s car was Nicole’s and Ron’s, as well as the blood on Oj’s socks and glove. Because Gel Electrophoresis was so new and not understood people’s perspective was that it wasn’t possible and therefore should be rejected. Sound familiar? The Greeks did it over 2,000 years ago to Aristarchus

Light Outside the Cave

Even though certain people’s perspectives in the past caused them to reject new knowledge their perspectives can change; today, if Gel Electrophoresis was used in a similar trial the person convicted would serve a life sentence in jail. As shown in the title, Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” is not just a story, it’s a representation of how humans gain more knowledge. Which is, by allowing your perspective to change; or in other words, allowing yours eyes to adjust to the light outside the cave.

Sources

-“Aristarchus of Samos.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Sept. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristarchus_of_Samos. Accessed 8 Sept. 2017.
-“DNA Fingerprinting.” Concepts in Biochemistry - Cutting Edge, www.wiley.com/legacy/college/boyer/0470003790/cutting_edge/dna_fingerprinting/DNAFingr.htm. Accessed 8 Sept. 2017.

© 2017 Will Cornell

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