Monday, 30 July 2007

Plato's Shadowy Cave

Plato believed that we all live in a shadowy cave and can only see the shadowy reflections of reality, but not reality itself. He believed in aspects of physical objects in a literal sense; of them actually possessing an entity of form, which one could move toward understanding through intellectual discourse. The closer one came to identifying the form, the close one gets to reality. But in Essence we are all trapped in a dark cave and only the intellectual elite were capable of at the very least, shining a dim light of understanding into the 'cave' of 'unknowable' reality.

What Plato meant in more specific terms, is that every object such as trees, dogs, books etc, has a perfect form within the universe and what we grasp is only a shadow of that perfect form. In reality, what this really means, is that the universe is fundamentally unknowable, because the fundamental form of every physicality of nature, is forever beyond our reach.

It was Plato's ideas of form, that later coupled with religious edicts from individuals such as St Augustine, lent credence to the concept of heaven. Plato believed that there must be a "perfect Platonic heaven" where we go to at death and experience the 'forms' and step out of the dark cave. Well, this concept of platonic heaven, fits perfectly within the Christian concept of heaven. St Augustine was a big fan of the works of Plato and exploited this Platonic concept to the full, to strengthen the framework of the Christian ethic, built around heaven and hell.

Plato could best be called a subjectivist in the sense that nothing in reality is objectively knowable, because the 'forms' of reality are always out of reach. This was in direct contrast to Aristotle who was the student of Plato. Aristotle has been called the first true scientist by many. Aristotle was the pole opposite of Plato, in that he did not buy into the theory of forms and he believed that the universe was knowable through the process of logic and observation.

Plato essentially believed that, to understand reality (though never perfectly)... One simply had to intellectualize and could do so independent of observations in the real World. The simple process of intellectual discourse and study was the process necessary to get closer to understanding the "forms". The history of the idea of the 'unwashed masses' as apposed to the 'intellectual elite' stems directly from these original ideas of Plato. This idea is still prevalent among many academics, who often as just one example deride open source information, such as that in the Wikipedia Encyclopedia, because the authors are the general public... 'the unwashed masses' ...This begs the question of course, are the general public any less able to intellectualize than the elites in high places. From the studies of Wikipedia that have been carried out, it appears that the articles are no worse than that of mainstream encyclopedias and many of the articles may start of in unfinished form, but because of the editing progress a natural and one might say almost organic, editing process occurs, that leads to increased corrections which build on one another, which leads to articles that are no less accurate than those found in 'standard' encyclopedias.

The influence of Plato is far reaching and can be seen in the many existentialist ideas that permeate modern society. Indeed, politicians are often big fans of Plato. perhaps because of his "absolute truths" ...Politicians are very fond of absolute truths and often throw about statements like "unquestionable" "absolutely no doubt" "we are the one true party".

Another big influence that can be traced back to Plato as the subjectively unknowable are the teaching methods of John Dewey... Dewey like Plato believed that learning could be achieved independent of observation and merely as an intellectual exercise independent of that observation. This led to a spate of teaching methods based on the idea of simply "throwing an idea at a child" and then letting them "run with it" and "see where it leads" ...In reality, this has led to an appalling dumbing down of the education system, which should be based on the concept of the teacher, teaching the child real knowledge and not leaving the child to 'teach' itself.

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