Plato’s Cave – Why Some People Want To Remain Prisoners

in #philosophy7 years ago (edited)

Plato was a student of Socrates. He wrote the allegory of the cave in his book The Republic to compare the effect of education and the lack of it on human nature. I have summarized it below.

Imagine a cave where people have been chained since birth. Their heads are trapped, forcing them to gaze at the wall of the cave in front of them and nowhere else – not each other or themselves. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the two is a low wall where people walk carrying objects so that the prisoners only see the shadow of the objects projected upon the one wall in their vision – not the shadow of the people. The prisoners cannot see any of what is happening behind them, they can only see the shadows. Any sounds the people carrying the objects is echoed in the cave and the prisoners believe those sounds come from the shadows.

Suppose one prisoner is freed and looks at the fire. The light would hurt his eyes and would make it difficult for him to see what is casting the shadows. If he were told what he was seeing was real instead of his perceived notion of reality, he wouldn’t believe it. The prisoner would turn back towards what he has been accustomed to.

Now suppose that the prisoner is dragged out of the cave and into the sun. He would be scared, angry, and in pain from the blinding rays of the sun. Slowly though, his eyes would adjust. First he would look at the shadows, then the reflections of people and things in the water, and then the people and things directly. At night, he would look at the stars and the moon until his eyes were strong enough that he could look directly at the sun. When he could look at the sun, he could reason to what it could possibly be.

Plato reasoned that the freed prisoner would think the outside world was much better than the life he had in the cave. He would be thankful for the change and pity the prisoners still trapped and want to see them freed. If he went back into the cave, he would be blinded by the darkness and the prisoners would think that the journey outside the cave had harmed him and they should not go. Socrates reasoned that if the prisoners were able, they would kill anyone attempting to drag them out of the cave.

Plato wrote this to show his belief that our senses are just opinion and to discover reality we need to reason it out philosophically.

Today many call this ‘living in the matrix,’ taking the blue pill is to be a prisoner and taking the red pill is to become free.

The blue pills are captives and only see the shadows of reality. The chosen objects to cast a shadow of reality being held up by the media, television, movies, politicians and celebrities. That what they think is real is just a shadow show being put on for their benefit, an agenda. Many people go through life accepting the societal norms they have been shown without truly questioning it all.

They are not just one step removed from reality, but two, since they see only the shadow of an object based on something real. This agenda has created an entire reality for the prisoners, the truth for them but for anyone outside a glaring falsehood.

Taking the red pill is like being that freed prisoner. Like Neo emerging from the pod, this is commonly called an ‘awakening.’ Someone who has recently been freed will read for days or even weeks about possibilities other than the one they have been shown their whole life. This often challenges and pains the person to see it, and some choose to return to what they are comfortable with – the cave as a prisoner.

Some, though, will continue to open their eyes even if it causes them pain and eventually be able to look directly at the sun. They will have seen life for what it is. They will want to help those still held prisoner.

All too often, the prisoners will fight against any help.

Can you imagine this in the world we live in? This allegory of the cave is just as pertinent today as it was thousands of years ago when Plato thought it up. One can link it to many things in life, politics, religion, and in other individual ways. I think it can be pertinent to the way people think about their financial situation.

I see people living like this day after day. They wake up, go work for 8 or more hours a day, spend every cent they make and more just do it all again the next day. Forever. Or at least until they are too old to do any of their dreams.

If you tell them there is a better way, buy less stuff, find a side hustle, invest in something that pays you a return on your money and become a little more free everyday – they fight back. They say it is impossible. They say they will work until the day they drop dead. They won't - or can't - see that other people have broken out of the cycle.

If you drag them out of the cave and into the sun they will find this cognitive dissonance uncomfortable, so will avoid the information you provide them that increases it. Instead they will scurry back to the life of work/consume/debt. It is comfortable. It is simple. It is easy. It is safe.

This is why you must educate those around you at a slow pace. Go too fast and their eyes are still in too much pain to see what you are trying to show them. Know that not everyone will ever want to leave the cave either.

Just by reading this, you have a more advanced understanding than most people in this world.

So if you see a curious soul looking for answers, show them the way. We were all the prisoners once. Show them that they can be free, that can throw off their chains and start living under the sun.

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5

My moment of honesty:

  • My interests vary but I strive for quality work, check my blog for proof.
  • I will not fill up your feed with crap, I have only resteemed thrice.
  • I will also reply to all your comments if they warrant any reply.
  • These things I promise to you. So follow me, or don't. I want you to do what you want to.



Could you not say all you are really doing is going from one cave to another? You presuppose your philosophy is the answer and I would rebut that it is just another cave. You haven't given me the premises of why this new cave is "better".

I am not the one to tell you how outside the cave works, only to show you that there is a world outside the cave. To live outside the cave is to be always thinking, to reason and theorize what this or that is and what is its purpose. Then use that reasoning to build upon the previous. It is the seeking of truths that never stops. Compare that to what you now know about your previous life in the cave, you know the tricks they play upon your former comrades.

The light of the sun is the truth. Use it to discover the real world.

Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but still:
Perhaps we're all prisoners, only in different caves. What's the point of educating someone about a different cave as if only that particular cave holds The Real Truth? Even I couldn't muster the arrogance needed.

Once one emerges from the cave and into the light of the sun it is just the beginning, but to even get to that point requires help from someone else. Think Neo and Morpheus as the Matrix is heavily influenced by this allegory.

The prisoners are chained and constricted to see only the wall in front of them. That the only things the prisoners have ever seen are shadows and appearances. That the real world awaits them if they are willing to struggle free of their bonds. When you are free to move about the world and see things from any perspective you choose, using the truth of the sun to guide your explorations.

I believe that everyone can leave the dark, restricted, cave existence of a designed shadow show; that is as long as they are prepared to struggle free of their chains of denial of the human condition - which many are not willing to do.

Not disagreeing there, as long as people aren't forced or "educated" to somebody elses "truth" when they are truly happy where they are. Wants, morals and realities differ, see also my slightly misunderstood comment under this post by @krnel.

My point was more that maybe the world you are free to move in once you have left your shadowy cave is just another cave, only more elaborate and slightly better lit 8-). You would then have to be a bit more careful about helping people "move caves", as you run the risk of making them unhappy without offering them a better reality, just a different one, and possibly one that doesn't suit them at all. I don't believe much in a Truth that is Best For All.

Yes, I did just finish reading @krnel's post and found it to be quite similar to a modern version of Plato's cave here - seems we had similar thoughts today in our writing topics.

The sophists of the past have used the many caves discussion, they were the 'devils advocate' or pessimists to the debates. Seems to fit you here @orcdu.

Towards the end of my article I touch on this issue of those that don't wish to leave. This is why you must educate those around you at a slow pace. Go too fast and their eyes are still in too much pain to see what you are trying to show them. Know that not everyone will ever want to leave the cave either.

While you must know that not everyone will want to leave the 'comfy' cave and head out into the 'unknown' world, those that have left the cave have a duty to inform the prisoners of it and help any that wish to leave. That they are chained and confined and shown shadows of real things.

I'm not sure you must educate people who are truly happy where they are, but I can also see the importance of telling them about other possible realities without forcing them, which is why I like your post.

It is when people start to claim things like a (Moral) Truth people should be educated towards by someone who knows The Way, without taking their wellbeing, or the possibility of other truths and morals, into consideration that I stop being just a pessimist and start disagreeing.

excellent post. almost every time i've heard this told, the teller stops before the ending. thank you for continuing to the end. this part is as instructive and integral to the understanding this allegory imparts as any other part.

Hey much thanks @lifeworship! Some will think of the story in a pessimistic way, and others in an optimistic way. Plato himself was more of an optimist, so I think he knew that the real world is just waiting outside the cave.

it seems to me that it is optimistic in it's message of "the world awaits, just outside, if we lift ourself up and go get it". it seems also a caution to those who are awake, to not try to wake others before they are ready, a lesson i've learned the hard way. i want everyone to be awake. i don't think i'm smart enough or knowledgeable enough to know how to accomplish this without harm. i am trying to learn, though.

Yes, so true. I did touch on this towards the end of the article because it is an important thing to realize.

This is why you must educate those around you at a slow pace. Go too fast and their eyes are still in too much pain to see what you are trying to show them. Know that not everyone will ever want to leave the cave either.

thank you again for including the ending. this is worth a resteem.

Hey thanks! That means a lot to me. :D

I get wrapped up so much in how cognitive bias affects politics that I forget it affects EVERYTHING you do.

"The Cave" is a form of cognitive bias:

They won't - or can't - see that other people have broken out of the cycle.

While some people can calculate self-employment on a risk/reward basis, and THEN decide to remain at a "safe" job, most people don't even bother to make the analysis; "the cave" keeps them "safe".

up to this point, this approach has worked for the majority of Americans, at least...up to now

The majority of people have always stuck with what is comfortable. If nothing too jarring happens, there is no cause for concern. I used to be the same way, but luckily I was helped out of the cave.

As you have alluded to, the allegory can be used for many things, from seeing the light of Religion, Spirituality etc to seeing the light of Cryptocurrency. I tend to interpret the allegory as meaning to investigate things properly, use critical thinking and logic to explore the nature of reality. I would suggest that Scientific principles are the most reliable tools to investigate the nature of the physical Universe. I believe this is what Plato was meaning myself.
"I used to be the same way, but luckily I was helped out of the cave."
Can you say who helped you out of the cave and in what respect this helped you "see the light" so to speak.....?

Sure thing, I wrote about it towards the beginning of this post about two months back. I also touch on it from time to time in some of my other articles.

Thanks to the internet, more people can escape the cave than ever before. I would say though, that it is just a path out of the cave. A way to see something different. Still, well researched books are some of the best ways to get your mind working.

True, logic and reasoning are the two areas that one needs to be utilizing often. Gather these ideas together and use them as a ladder to climb to a higher vantage point to see everything from a new perspective - review what you know to see if your way of thinking still works. I touched on this in my last article here.


OK, I'm replying out of order here as no reply option under your last post. Your reply does not address the questions I asked unfortunately, almost as if you just completely ignored them. You instead apparently decided to tell me (by quite condescending and presumptious allegory btw) how you drip feed information to others because people wouldn't be able to comprehend the full genius all in one bite. Now this way of thinking is indeed interesting in itself, however it does not address the questions I asked. My question was about explaining the apparent contradiction in logic/reasoning you advocate in the two other posts you made. Can you clarify this for me please.
"The crazy guy did not seek out an audience willing to listen"
But that is exactly what you have done here, otherwise you would not have written your post here. If you are saying you are just posting, but not answering, then isn't this just lecturing from some self perceived higher intellectual ground? I would rather be spoken to directly with reasoned argument, rather than simplified allegory as it causes confusion and sounds very wishy-washy and hand-wavy to me, nevermind condescending. Thanks

Was my consumption of news helping or hurting me? Was any of it actionable? The answer was no. It was absolutely hurting me. Little, if any of it was actionable. It had only led to poor decision making, usually by using fear. Overall it had been destructive to my emotional health and taken time from more productive activities.

Everyone has emotions. Everyone makes decisions. If I have time to sit down and think about something, I remove the emotional element of it to logically and rationally think it through. For instance, the news might cover a plane crash and someone that needs to travel might say they are going to drive that 800 miles instead because they are scared of their flight crashing. Now, the facts that are available show that per mile traveled, aircraft are much safer. Because of the emotion, fear, that person has made an irrational decision. I have never said to remove emotion from your life, just don't use it to come to conclusions about things you have time to think about.

Everyone has to find their own path. Everyone has to think for themselves. I only write from my own perspective, if you do not agree you do not have to read it. So by posting here I am the exact opposite from "The crazy guy did not seek out an audience willing to listen." Only those that wish to take the time to read what I write will hear what I say.

If you want a step by step guide I am sure some self-help guru will be happy to sell you a program. I am not selling anything though.

I don't think I have been condescending to anyone, ever. But again, that is your own perspective and you will think what you want to think.

OK, I read both of your other posts, the first of which seems to be contradicted by the second. Basically in the first, you are advocating not reading/watching any news - in order to make oneself feel emotionally better. (If that's the goal, then fair enough - if on the other hand, the goal is becoming better informed by critically assessing various news sources and using one's own judgement, then clearly putting one's fingers in one's ears and going "la-la-la" is not the most efficacious method of inquiry. There seems to be conflicting ideas here.
The apparent contradiction I speak of, is that in the second article, you state:
"Remove all emotion. Decisions based solely off emotion are nearly always wrong."
So why is ignoring all news sources, based on the desire to feel emotionally better not a wrong decision based solely on emotion?
This does not appear to me to be using the logic and reasoning you are advocating, maybe I have missed something and you can explain the apparent contradiction. Thanks

Imagine you are walking down the street and a 'crazy' guy starts talking to you about how people are keeping the truth from you and only showing you a version they have concocted to keep you controlled. Most people would brush this person aside and not listen to a word he was saying. But what if what the crazy guy was saying is a truth based upon him putting thousands of pieces together to complete the puzzle. The crazy guy did not seek out an audience willing to listen nor did he slowly bring forth bits and pieces and let his audience ponder them.

I write my articles in a way to show and then gently nudge willing people to look further into something. I do this by either using examples from my own journey or showing a differing perspective on a subject most take for granted. What I cannot be is the 'crazy' guy as that helps nobody. You can look around steemit for people such as these if you wish.

The news ARE the performers of the shadow show on the wall. But if I can get some to stop looking, they may realize that it is just a distraction and seek to discover things for themselves.

If you wish, you can read my reply to jaredandanissa in the 'news' article I wrote. Or this post by @krnel as he wrote a very similar article to this one yesterday and had just as many questions about it.

I use the phrase "getting whacked in the head with a clue-by-four" just hope there aint a nail in it!

latest reply

OK, first off, I just want to say how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this discussion. I also appreciate your step by step guide to your thought processes/actions, I would like to continue as I think it is getting interesting now.
I am now clear of one aspect of what you were saying – do not act impetuously whilst “in the moment” under emotional stress…….right? I further agree that the decision to not watch any news can be seen as a rational choice. However, this rational choice has involved the weighing up of the positives (less emotional distress) against the negatives (being less informed) – do you agree?
On the one hand you gain some comfort and on the other you know less about what is going on “outside the cave”. You seem to have inverted this idea, so that “News” keeps you in the cave instead. This is where the main bone of contention lies between us and why I said your argument was the antithesis of the “Plato’s cave” allegory. This allegory cannot feasibly read as to suggest that we should blot out information sources about the outside world to gain some comfort, as it appears to be advocating the exact opposite – or are you saying it can?
I understand that the “shadows in the fire” possibly allude to the powers that be and falsehoods told in order to maintain the status quo. However, to me this is advocating challenging prevailing wisdom, investigating stories told, critical and free thinking etc. I’m asking how you can possibly do any of this without the raw material of news events and the stories told, you would have nothing to sift through and apply your logic/reasoning to other than from books.
Having read your list, it is clear (to me at least) that you are articulating the “ignorance is bliss” idea and there have been greater people than me warning of the dangers of accepting such thinking.

I would also just add that your argument appears to include the idea that all news is bad news and does not distinguish between good or bad sources (this would entail investigation, reasoning etc).
The other problem is what about any warnings of impending danger etc? Would you rather not know about the escaped Lion last seen walking down your street?
To sum up, I see it as you sitting in the cave with your hands over your eyes, so as not to see the shadows…..definitely not outside the cave.

I say I will reply to all comments that warrant any - and I do what I say, but this will be the last under this post. I doubt that many others here on steemit would though.

Think what you wish about me. Instead of caring/knowing/worrying about something that doesn't affect me, I can't affect, and doesn't change my life in any way I spend my energies on my family, learning new skills or information that I want, working my side hustles, or just plain relaxing.

If you saw me out for a drink with friends, you would not see my phone anywhere. I would talk and listen and not be distracted by something that doesn't matter. I am not some old person either.

When my children were born, that is when I found out their sex. Why? Because there was nothing I could do about it. Picked two names and done.

Maybe a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa causes a storm in my life after a chain of events. But it is a chain of events I cannot stop, so why worry about it? Why create mental anguish over it all? Use that for a better purpose. That purpose would be to better yourself and your life to become stronger to weather through more storms of life. Not to spend precious hours of our life where it doesn't count.

If you want to use your energies in following the latest presidential primary campaign, fine, it's your choice. All I say is there is another way. Think back to all the news you have read or watched over the years. How much of it matters now? Did your time spent watching who won what state presidential primary help you in life now? I couldn't say it would for me.

If there is a lion wandering your town, I think your reaction would be the same if you knew of it or not. But, like I said in my news article, if it is important enough you will find out anyway.

If you wish to know more about my way of thinking, you can read the writings of the stoic philosophers such as Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus.

“If you want to make progress, put up with being perceived as ignorant or naive in worldly matters, don't aspire to a reputation for sagacity. If you do impress others as somebody, don't altogether believe it. You have to realize, it isn't easy to keep your will in agreement with nature, as well as externals. Caring about the one inevitably means you are going to shortchange the other.” - Epictetus

Well, nice way to avoid the actual argument Not really sure why you wrote most of that as it doesn't really address anything, whereas I was quite clear on the points I was making. Instead you show disdain and then suggest you are going out of your way to engage me, more so than anyone else would? If you don't want to argue your case, then don't I'm fine with that but don't try to make out it's because of something else.
It is also highly presumptuous and again condescending of you to just assume I have not read any philosophers works. Again, you are assuming you are more knowledgeable and I'm in need of educating. If that were the case then you should easily be able to argue your case, yet you choose not to in a high handed dismissive way......what can we make of that?
BTW, I'd say I was a Stoic, rather than an Absolutist, I'll leave that to the religious.....Voltaire is more my cup of tea though.........goodnight then.....

Well done and said. We all are caved by our own actions and beliefs, or from the actions of others. So many contrasts with Plato - light/darkness, freedom/chained, sight/ causes me a lot of thought. Like Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning - "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." So we can be chained, imprisoned but free in our minds.

Humans will always see what they want to see. If they want to see the puppet show, even after being shown it is just shadows of forms of real things - they will. The best that you or I can do is show them another way, and hope that by seeing the whole show from another perspective they will explore the world under the sun. If not, then we will continue to do so ourselves since we now have the choice to live how we want to live, right now.

You can lead a horse to water....but you can't make it drink. Simplified :)

This is so true, and one of the reasons a believe Bitcoin and simular techs are hitting adoption walls. Many people just do not want to be free.

One of the reasons I like Plato's cave is for all the different scenarios you can imagine it in. This one with bitcoin just got me thinking, thanks ;p

That was a quality post @getonthetrain ! Maybe we can use those things that currently chain us to the dark e.g movies/ stories/ music/ writing to actually lead us into a path of awakening .... all these mediums if used correct could drive us towards a better understanding of life

There are people doing such things, making videos or music about this very subject. The more voices the better as then there means a greater chance for one to say it in the proper way to enlighten each individual.

Exactly! Storytelling is still one of the best tools to move people forward !

Hey bro! Congrats on a storming article!

Very interesting look at the human psyche of accepting the way things are and staying in that self-constructed bubble, possibly for the rest of their lives or until some catalyst releases them from it.

Always said it and I'll say it again. You're one of the most intelligent people I've had the pleasure of meeting and your diverse, expertly written articles are testament to that fact.

Simple awesome, bro! Well done!

I hope that some find it in themselves to search out a path out of the cave that many call home. Much thanks for some more of your kind words @ezzy. :D

I think people must find vary interest other than their work but this fast pace think is so real since the smartphone gave you more to consume, people are finding less time to find other interest. The smarthphone sort of taken the smart out of some people.

A smartphone can be one of the devices that can just be another 'shadow show.' But like anything else, there are good and bad within it.

Of course. Even Mr Nobel didn't intend for his invention to be used in bad way.

Interesting perspective - But 'freedom' is a relative term - It means different things to different people - And many people fear freedom - they prefer to be prisoners.

"“You are what you think.
All that you are arises from your thoughts.
With your thoughts you make your world.”
– Buddha

This is why I don't tell people what freedom is, just that it is out there. As always, do what you want to do as I often state in my moment of honesty.

Coin Marketplace

STEEM 0.26
TRX 0.11
JST 0.033
BTC 63746.34
ETH 3048.25
USDT 1.00
SBD 3.97