Plato and the Truth We Know

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January 26, 2017 by Ray Yanek

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By JohnD’Alembert (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

I’d like you to do something for me.  Something small.  Something easy.  I’d like you to watch a child, or even an adult for that matter.  Watch them in that moment when something clicks in his head, when understanding flashes across her features.

When he or she truly learns something.  When he or she finally ‘gets it’.

Just watch.

I’ve been reading Plato.

Well, kind of, but not actually.  Sort of.  Really.

But everywhere I look, I see reminders  or mention of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the idea that what we perceive as reality is nothing more than a shadow on the wall, a shadow cast from the true form of a thing.  Most of us are chained in this cave unable, or unwilling, to turn around and see the true forms that cast the shadows.

I’ve heard this allegory a thousand times, but it struck deeper this time.  Maybe because I’ve also been contemplating Plato’s idea that we never truly learn anything.

Instead, we are remembering that thing as we knew it in a time before we were born. Plato argues that in pre-life we played among the true forms, that we knew them intimately.  But when we crossed into this world, that intimacy was lost.  Forgotten.  All we see here are the indistinct shadows of a truth we once knew.

The idea is both tragic and marvelous.  It’s hard not to think of the creation story in Genesis.  Perhaps that forgetting was the result of our Great Fall, a tragic reminder of our hubris and flaws.  But yet it’s magical and quite beautiful to see such a similar thought wind through different times and cultures.

It’s beautiful in that it reminds us that there is something more just beyond the thin veil, something that we can attain and reach.

So let me ask you again–  watch a child, or even an adult for that matter.  Watch them in that moment when something clicks in his head, when understanding flashes across her features.

When he or she finally and truly learns something.  When he or she finally ‘gets it’.

Just watch.
And think of Plato.

It’s quite amazing…

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3 thoughts on “Plato and the Truth We Know

  1. Pamela Liegl says:

    “Quoting Plato”, how philosophical of you. I use to tell my geometry classes about his idea that we are all just “images” of some “real” preimage. Freak them out! However, mathematical concepts often have images of some preimage, as in transformations.
    So cool that someone is checking out Plato!
    Yes, that moment when a student is struggling away on a problem and suddenly the light bulb above their head clicks ON. Makes my day.

  2. Reality changes as our perception changes. So, yes, when our perception is expanded by new knowledge or experience, it is indeed a remarkable moment.

    In fact, we are remarkable creatures because we can change. Our thoughts, our beliefs. We can decide that we were wrong, and choose a different way of thinking or looking at things.

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