This post starts a reading list of works containing epiphanies, and it starts with the classic Plato Allegory of the Cave (Book VII of The Republic).The parable is about enlightenment, and the impossibility of imagining enlightenment from human perspective.
“And now, I said, let me show in a figure how our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:–Behold! Human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open toward 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 marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.”
Imagine some people with a very limited perspective. Plato describes them chained from birth with their backs to a fire, their field of vision constrained to the firelit cave wall. Shadow puppeteers perform plays where the shadows of people and animals play out dramas. If one of these prisoners breaks free, he would not likely understand the firelight and the perspective he gained, nor would he know how to walk and interact in this world. If he comprehends the workings of the scam, his compatriots will not be able to understand what he is talking about if he tried to describe it. The spectres he describes exist entirely outside of the reality understood by the prisoners.
This thought experiment is so famous because we can understand how crippling this confinement would be to somebody’s knowledge of reality. It’s troubling to admit that the prisoners wouldn’t be able to recognize truth if they heard it, and that the means of their confinement are invisible (they exist in a space not understood by the prisoner). We may not feel confined by limiting assumptions if we have known them all our life.
Shadows are two-dimensional projections of three-dimensional objects. Compressing the content expressed by the three-dimentional forms moving around in our world down to shadows means the overwhelming portion of the content is lost. Plato’s allegory talks about a dimensional compression from three to two dimensions.To get a simple picture of the amount of information lost when losing a dimension, we could consider the difference between two and one dimensions. It is as if we were forced to read text printed on a sheet of paper by moving our eyes down to the level of the paper and trying to read it from the side. Would we even be able to tell it was text?
The Allegory of the Cave and my “Epiphany reading list” series of posts are about enlightenment from the human perspective. Try to recognize that you are the person chained and the world before you is merely a shadow of the world in a way you cannot comprehend. What?
Until I understand what that means, I’ll be reading about epiphanies. Track posts tagged with epiphany, and see where this goes.