Sunday, December 6, 2009

Intermission: An Illustration of a Major Paradigm Shift

The Cave  
An Allegory for All Mankind

In the 4th century BCE, Greek philosopher Plato wrote a collection of dialogues of what we now call The Republic.  In the beginning of Book VII, Plato's main speaker, Socrates, is conversing with his peer, Glaucon.  The following conversation takes place--
Socrates: 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.
Glaucon: I see.
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?
Very true.
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.
This is the beginning narration by Plato's main character, Socrates, of what has become known as The Allegory of the Cave.  It is an effort on the part of Socrates to explain to Glaucon the process of coming from a controlled ignorant state of mind to that of a free and enlightened mind and the implications of the journey that must be made in order to achieve this mental transformation.  (Though this is not the core theme or purpose behind their entire conversation in Republic, this allegory has and can be analyzed on its own, something which we will do in this article.)

Over the years, it has been illustrated literally through artistic representations (as shown to the left), but nothing in our modern age has illustrated this allegory in both imagery and story as well as The Matrix.

In Part IV of My Story, I presented you with how I first experienced the core premise of The Matrix, something which had opened my mind to a whole new dimension of looking at the world I lived in.  Allow me to speak further concerning this before I continue with my memoirs.  I would like to present you with a personal interpretation of this allegory as I believe it is very pertinent to the events that took place in my life following the epiphanies I received when watching this film.

The "Matrix" is the world presented to us in our upbringing by our parents, our culture, our educators and especially the government.  It is the metaphorical projection and contrast of shadow and light by the marionette players who stand in front of the fire with their puppets as described in Plato's allegory.  Neo is a representation of a prisoner who has had his head directed towards the wall in front of him his whole life.  But, like Neo, this prisoner has began to question what he sees because he feels something is not right.

I, too, had realized I felt like something was not right with my life.

It would be a few years before I discovered that The Matrix was all actually an elaborate modern illustration of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, but at the time I did come to realize how I could apply the story's message to my own life.

However, I did not completely realize the full impact a major paradigm shift as large as this would do to a mind.  Back to the allegory, Socrates continues-- 
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if 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...
In The Matrix, after Neo has chosen the red pill, he is lead to a room with strange machines.  Morpheus says to him,
"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference, between the dream world... and the real world....?"
It is then he is released from his bonds.

It is also here where the film excels at illustrating Plato's Allegory of the Cave. We witness Neo experience a huge initial shock as well as an immense amount of physical pain when he is woken up into the real world.   The hoses that were connected to his body have broken off symbolizing his release from the bonds of The Matrix, the experience obviously a painful one.  But it does not stop there; the scenes after show the crew caring for Neo, rebuilding his atrophied muscles and nursing him to good health.  When he physically comes to, Neo must then mentally adjust to this new reality.  In Plato's Allegory, Socrates continues--
...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?
Far truer.
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.
We watch Morpheus take Neo into the Construct, a loading program that is similar to his former reality within The Matrix.  Morpheus, as his instructor, explains to Neo how the things of his former reality were nothing but shadows.  We watch as Neo learns the true nature of his former life which, in turn, causes him great mental "pain" as his mind attempts to cope with this realization.

Back to the Allegory, Socrates' continues his conversation with Glaucon--
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.
After this scene, Neo asks Morpheus, "I can't go back, can I?"

Morpheus responds, "No, but if you could, would you really want to?"

Neo's reply is silence.  Morpheus tells him he is sorry for putting him through this as they usually only wake up a mind before a certain younger age.  However, Morpheus expressed to Neo his high hopes for him as he believes he is the one who will finally free humanity once and for all.  If only we could know what Neo is thinking when Morpheus tells him this.  What we can assume, though, is that because of the faith Morpheus has invested into him Neo has realized his purpose is much more important than he originally anticipated.  In this sense we can see he has seen himself in his "own proper place" as he wakes up the next morning with fervor and enthusiasm for his training rather than continuing to recede in disbelief.

To further illustrate this section of the allegory in The Matrix, we watch as Morpheus takes Neo through a series of training exercises to teach him the differences between his old reality and the new.  Morpheus also shows Neo how, if he changes his mental paradigm, he is capable of and can do much more than he could in his former state.

In order for Neo to complete this paradigm shift, he must take a leap of faith.  This is what the "Jump Program" illustrates in the film, that of separating from your past self and "jumping" into your new reality.  Morpheus tell him, "You've got to let it all go, Neo: fear, doubt and disbelief.  Free your mind."

"Everybody falls the first time." What this has shown us is that experiencing a paradigm shift if not easy and can even be painful.  After coming out of The Matrix and back into the real world, Neo finds that his mouth is bleeding.

"I thought it wasn't real?" Neo asks in confusion, obviously in pain.

"Your mind makes it real, " Morpheus replies.

Neo thinks for a second and then asks in return, "If you're killed in The Matrix, you die here?"

Morpheus answers plainly, "The body cannot live without the mind."

This is a powerful metaphor that shows while this paradigm shift may give you an advantage, it does not put you into "God Mode".  Though the realization of this new knowledge may give you much power; humility, discipline, perseverance and other virtues of the like are still required on your part.  In the end, you are still just as vulnerable as you were before and if you are not careful you can still get hurt.

In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Socrates describes what would naturally follow should the newly freed and adjusted prisoner think back to their former habitation in the cave--
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 a 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.
Later, Socarates refers back to this and concludes:
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...

There are a few things to be said of this selection from Plato's allegory, one being the idea of a newly awakened person wanting to return to his old habitation to help free his old peers.  The Matrix, aside from Neo's story, is centered on the idea of those who have been freed from The Matrix, learning of the true nature of their universe only later returning to The Matrix to free more minds from their enslaved estate (which I believe is a brilliant plot device in of itself).

But what I find most intriguing is the idea of using physical/literal sight as a metaphor for gauging the mind's conscious awareness of its surroundings.  In the allegory, Socrates' poses the situation of the free man returning to his old habitation without allowing time for his sight to adjust.  How is he going to make out anything in all that darkness?  How would his peers react to his "ridiculous" state?  How could the freed man ever hope to convince any of them to come up with him to surface in such a situation?

Think of how difficult it was for Neo to make the decision to take the red pill even when he was the one searching for answers.  How do you go about waking up a mind that is perfectly content in their "false" reality of The Matrix?

The next morning, Morpheus leads Neo down a busy city street to teach him one last lesson.

"You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
"Anyone we haven't unplugged is potentially an agent.  Inside the Matrix, they are everyone and they are no one."
This scene is profoundly important.  It is here we realize how immense the responsibility is to go back into "The Matrix" to free more minds.  We see how much danger there is involved in the operations that must take place in order to free someone from their bonds and also, symbolized by the "woman in the red dress", the temptations that are there to distract the freeman from his goals.

But we also find an interesting metaphor with the "agents" or as Morpheus calls them the "gatekeepers".  While potentially deadly for the operative, I believe this symbolizes the "programming" inherent to those who are still doscile to their true nature.  The "blue-pills" or "sleepers" who are still plugged into The Matrix are still suseptible to the mind-patterened programming and, though they feel they may be fighting for what they believe in, we know that they are only under the influence of an "agent".  I believe this is a very interesting and important metaphorical device that can correlate with many real-life scenarios one may face, but we will explore that notion at another time.

Ultimately, we see that it all comes down to choice.

On part of the freed mind:  Do you stay in the real world and avoid the danger of The Matrix all while simultaneously cutting yourself off from everyone you knew from your old life?  Or do you return to continue the work of waking the minds of those both familiar and strange?

On part of the enslaved mind who is searching for answers:  Do you take the blue pill and stay ignorant to the truth and to the questions in life you may seek answers to?  Or do you take the red pill and venture into the unknown, journeying through a major paradigm shift to that of clairvoyance?

I often wonder what Neo is thinking to himself after realizing he could die by going back into The Matrix.  But as the story continues, we see that Neo is suddenly faced with the choice of whether or not he should save the life of Morpheus, the one who freed him from his bonds.  (I won't spoil the rest of the movie for you if you haven't seen it.)

At the end of the movie, when all is said in done, we see what Neo has chosen to do as he gives a message to the metaphorical puppeteers of Plato's allegory.

I, too, have made this same choice.  I've chosen to share my story with the world in hopes that it may help lead others who are searching for truth towards the answers they seek.

It will now be my pleasure to take you through my real-life paradigm shift as I recall the events that took place during my young-adult years.  Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it has followed the same template which Plato outlined in Socrates' Allegory of the Cave as well as The Matrix.

"Buckle your seat-belt, Dorothy.  'Cause Kansas... is going bye-bye."

To Be Continued...


  1. Hi my name is Brent (1B)? My testimony of Christ is still a belief but the church is a different matter. I am looking forward for your next blog I feel that there does seem to be a growing awareness of peoples true sense of who they are and it doesn't always fit within in the rule book. Great Posts.

  2. Hi Brent,

    Many thanks for your comment. I am glad you are enjoying my story so far. I ran into some computer problems in the past week or so but I'm back up and running now. Please feel free to share this blog with anyone you think may be interested.

  3. Thank you for you article. I really enjoyed reading it.


1. Be Mature.
2. Be Open-minded
3. Please use questionable language in context and not out of immaturity. (See 1)
4. PLEASE POST YOUR CLASS AS DESCRIBED IN THE "INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW" (i.e. Hi my name is Anna (2B) and this is what I think...)
This is so I and other readers can understand where you're coming from and what your history is with the Church.

All comments will be approved by me if they follow these rules. I am not into censoring, this is to keep comments cordial and to the point. I look forward to your thoughts. :)