A parable on “reality,”

from Plato’s “The Republic:”


“Consider a group of prisoners chained in a cave. Behind them, a fire flickers. Between the prisoners and the light of the fire, figures come and go, carrying cardboard cutouts of trees and animals and hills. The prisoners, bound so that they face the back wall of their prison, can only see the moving shadows. For them, the shadows are all they know about. They are “reality. “


But if one of the prisoners was set free, he could turn and see the fire. At first it would be too bright for him to look at it. But when his eyes grew used to the glow, he would walk beyond it to the mouth of the cave. There he would see the sunlight, and again the brightness would blind him. But eventually he would see the real trees and animals and hills --- reality.


If he returns to the cave and tries to tell the others what he had seen, will they believe him?


Paraphrased from 'The Universal History of the World, volume 2: Ancient Greece', page 158, by J, L. Steffensen, 1966.