Which way out of the cave? “What cave?” – Derek W.
Over the past few days in our classroom, there have been things going on that I feel don’t happen very often at our school. We’ve just gotten into Philosophy and the basics of it and the tip of the iceberg has already astonished me. I feel as though I have never thought before.
However, through the many things that we got a taste of, a select few really had me thinking late at night. I found myself thinking more and more about the ideas that I had never thought about before. Things that, if true, would tear and ruin the foundations of human knowledge and all we’ve ever known.
The most vivid thing I remember of my first few days in Philosophy was the word TRUTH. The capital T. I remember watching a video of Dr. West talking about Plato’s “Examined Life”. He touched on truth while presenting his reasoning and opinions and I started really liking the idea of a “Truth”.
Later in the last week, we began talking about the nature and foundations of human progress. First of all, we talked about scientific theories and the fact that they cannot be “proved” absolutely, but can be definitely disproved. The nature of our science is based on trial and error, and observations. We began to see that process itself cannot occur without previous work. Our class then started tracing the line of knowledge: blocks of information built on each other. Eventually we found that, however logical our theories and conclusions, they are all based upon the assumptions of truth. How can we base our knowledge on things that we cannot prove? How do I know that I am sitting in a chair typing on a laptop? There is always the possibility that what is happening to me right this instance is false. The possibility that my senses are faulty and that what I perceive this instant is artificial. To begin our quest for knowledge, we took must have assumed a constructed truth to work upon. We’ve become masters and experts of a contrived truth.
We may have built a grand palace on assumed foundations, but does this mean that what we have built is not a truth? Is there a better truth to be searching for? Yes: possible, but not plausible. The capital T truth that Dr. West talks about is something that could be at the end of any of the infinite lines of knowledge we could have assumed at our very conception. The beginnings of human knowledge must have made assumptions to ensure its survival. There was no other choice, our progress may be in vain but for us it is our truth.
As though in answer to the thoughts swirling around in my head, our class covered and discussed Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. If you aren’t familiar with this electrifying tale, take a look here. Within this story, the prisoners chained to face the wall have done what human knowledge has done. The prisoners have taken the shadows that dance upon the wall as reality and have assumed such. Within their assumed reality they cannot even imagine the working of the relative truth of the outside world. They in fact have become quite adept at discerning shadows and projections on the wall. So much so that, when a prisoner was freed and enlightened to the relative truth outside, the captive prisoners denounced him and his reality as ludicrous to them masters of discerning shadows. Plato’s cave, for me, really brought out and made tangible my scattered thoughts. For me, it brought acted as a keystone and solidified my previous nebulous ideas.
It was the scale of what philosophy impacted that really had me captivated. Sitting in philosophy trying to imagine what truth would be but ending up with more and more layers to be peeled back was like trying to imagine infinity. The moment you think what you’ve thought of might be close to it, you realize that it is literally infinitely larger than that. I can only wonder how many strains of subjective truth there are. Starting at square one, wherever that may have been, we must have assumed something and started in one direction. Was our primordial direction the one that leads to capital T truth? Maybe. Maybe not. I admit that we don’t know if what we see and think are just shadows on a wall or not. Is it still worth trying to work with shadows? Or should we abandon them and search for light? If so, how do we know our light is just a different way of looking at shadows? Should we even try?