Metaphysics which is often referred to as the “first philosophy”, was created by the philosopher Aristotle, with the term being coined by an editor who was organizing his works. While I know I have written a bit about the general idea of what Metaphysics is, I figured as a follow up to my last article on the subject, and my recent show with Dana Harvey of Modern Masters, I would dive a little bit deeper into the origins of this field, in order to gain a higher understanding of what role philosophy actually plays in this community. To properly do that, however, I realized I needed to take a step back, and talk a bit about what came before metaphysics (clue: the answer is not “physics”). Thus this post focuses on looking at and analyzing Plato, more specifically his “Theory of Forms”. Since Aristotle studied under Plato, he starts “Metaphysics” by looking at the ideas of Plato and his theory of forms, and breaking the theory down a bit. Without any knowledge of this theory, it would be difficult for you, my reader, to really understand the difference between the two philosophers and their great works. Thus, today I am focusing on Plato, so that next time, I can focus on Aristotle.
In “The Republic”, Plato claims there are two versions of the world. The first being the intelligible world comprised of ideas and what we could think of as “reality” or the real world. The visible world, on the other hand, refers to the version we see and interact with. However, this visible world is not real, but rather mimics the real forms of the intelligible world. Plato better explains the difference between the two forms in his work through the use of the “Analogy of the Sun”, the “Analogy of the Divided Line”, and most importantly the “Allegory of the Cave”. It’s through these three short examples, that he is able to fully explain his theory and concepts, using these ideas to build upon one another, allowing you to fully understand his view of reality.
In many cases, even today, we operate on a need for visual or physical evidence that something occurred. Often, someone will tell a story that is beyond the scope of what we consider normal, and the response from the audience is usually something along the lines of “Pics or it didn’t happen”. We rely on our sight and vision to confirm what we are experiencing on a day to day basis, allowing us to discern what is “true”. In fact, Plato states “Did you ever consider that the objects of sight imply a faculty of sight which is the most complex and costly of our senses, requiring not only objects of sense, but also a medium which is light; without which the sight will not distinguish between colours and all will be a blank?” We need light in order to see the objects around us, it is through the visibility of the objects, that they become real, and we “believe” that they exist. In fact, without light, we would stumble around in the darkness, relying on our imagination to decide what surrounds us. For example, if there were no sun, it would be completely dark outside, since the sun lights the moon, there would be no moonlight either. In this darkness, you trip over something that is about 5 feet long and 3 inches in diameter. What did you trip over? Was it a root? A snake? A pipe? If you cannot see it, how do you know what it is? Plato takes this analogy a step further, stating that light/the sun represents “the good”, or in his opinion, truth and knowledge. Specifically, he states, “When the sun shines the eye sees, and in the intellectual world where truth is, there is sight and light…And this idea of good, like the sun, is also the cause of growth, and the author not of knowledge only, but of being, yet greater far than either in dignity and power.” In other words, in Plato’s opinion, the only way to know the truth is through a combination of both light and our sense of sight. Without light to illuminate what we are seeing, our vision is useless. We instead have to rely upon our other senses to gain an understanding of our world. In contrast, if there is light, but we don’t have the ability to see, the truth is then pointless, because it there would be nothing to interpret or grasp the concepts that are going on. Taking that a step further, if we assume knowledge and truth to be the “good”, as Plato insists that they are, you can look at this analogy more clearly. Let’s think for a second in terms of Ufology, and the whole idea of seeing a UFO, and practicing CE-5s. If you do not have the knowledge and truth of what you are looking for, and just happen to look up at the sky, there is a chance you will see something. However, once you gain the knowledge and experience from practicing CE-5s and going to the right locations to look, you will more than likely see a UFO almost every time you try. Your experience and knowledge act as the light, which “illuminates” what you are trying to see.
Building on this idea of what you think and understand versus what you imagine and believe, Plato moves into the “Analogy of the Divided Line”. In this analogy, Plato asks you to imagine a line divided into two main unequal parts, to represent the visible and intelligible spheres. These two sections are subdivided again into two unequal parts to make a total of 4 sections. Starting with the two lower sections that comprise the visible sphere, he states, “The lower portion of the lower or visible sphere will consist of shadows and reflections, and its upper and smaller portion will contain real objects in the world of nature or of art.” Here he is stating that the lowest part of these realms is that of the shadows and reflections of reality, or in other words imagination. In this sphere, the understanding of what an object is, is based entirely on the idea of something, without really knowing what it is. Pretend you are describing a ranch style house to someone. If they were imagining the house, they would base it not on what it actually looks like, but instead, on what their idea of a house is. If they are used to looking at a victorian style of home, they will likely imagine a ranch style home with victorian features, since that is the “shadow” they are basing the idea upon. The second part of the visible realm deals with “real objects” or belief. In this case, going back to the “Analogy of the Sun”, it’s the visual representation of the object. Take that same person, who has no concept of what the house looks like. You decide to give them a better idea, so you show them a photo of a ranch style house. At that point, the house in their mind, goes from an abstract concept, to something more real. They now have a visual representation to “believe” in. Next, Plato discusses the two parts of the higher sphere, the intelligible realm, “The sphere of the intelligible will also have two divisions,—one of mathematics, in which there is no ascent but all is descent; no inquiring into premises, but only drawing of inferences. In this division the mind works with figures and numbers, the images of which are taken not from the shadows, but from the objects, although the truth of them is seen only with the mind’s eye; and they are used as hypotheses without being analysed. Whereas in the other division reason uses the hypotheses as stages or steps in the ascent to the idea of good, to which she fastens them, and then again descends, walking firmly in the region of ideas, and of ideas only, in her ascent as well as descent, and finally resting in them.” According to Plato, this first part of the intelligible realm refers to inferences or thoughts that are based upon views of the objects without true understanding. Going back to my house analogy, this would be the person taking their impression of what a ranch style house is, and applying it externally. In other words, this person has heard a description of a ranch style home, has seen a picture of this type of home, and has even read the specific visual qualities that comprise this style of home, thus they decide that they will now draw and correctly identify ranch style houses. They are familiar with the aspects that comprise the style of home, and thus theoretically are able to describe and think about what the home SHOULD look like. However, at this point, the person does not yet understand the design of the home, and thus cannot be an architect. That ability comes with the highest level of the intelligible world. According to Plato, this realm is that of understanding, and is comprised of the true forms themselves. Say our aspiring architect spends a few years visiting different ranch style homes, talking to different architects, and researching the history and purposes behind this type of design. At this point, the house person would completely grasp not only what a ranch style home is, but truly understand the form itself. They would gain the ability to design different types of ranch homes that are still true to its base form, but are not cookie cutters of that original form. It is with this concept of what true knowledge and understanding is, that allows Plato to take us into our final allegory for this post, the “Allegory of the Cave”, which is really a way to look at our thought and belief systems.
Plato begins his allegory by describing a set of prisoners in a cave. They see only into the walls of the cave, with a fire behind them. Their necks and legs are chained rigidly, and thus they can look only towards the wall, not at each other, or outside. Between the fire and these prisoners is a short wall, where others carry by representations of man, art, animals, etc. that cast shadows for the prisoners to see. They cannot see the shadows of the humans carrying the objects, because the people are protected by the blocking wall. The prisoners only see the small representations being cast against the wall, and only hear echoes of the occasion words spoken by the people; which to the prisoners seems to be the shadows themselves talking. To them, the shadows are reality and the way that things exist. Pausing here for a moment, it becomes clear that the prisoners represent humanity as a whole. Our concept of reality and what we believe to be true is based entirely on what we see and understand. This can clearly lead to issues, and really lies at the root of why people constantly argue about who is right when it comes to religion and spirituality. At the end of the day, unless someone invests their time and effort into gaining more knowledge and being open minded, their view and understanding of the world and universe is skewed by the cave they happen to have been chained up in.
What about someone who becomes exposed to the truth? Plato supposes that you suddenly turn the prisoners around to face the real objects and the fire that has been casting the shadows. In his opinion, they would immediately reject this new painful reality in favor of what is familiar. They can’t handle seeing the colored physical form of something, after having seen only the shadow of that object for their entire life. The best way to explain this would be the idea of someone who has never had any sort of paranormal experience suddenly seeing a ghost. Prior to seeing that ghost, they had no belief or concept of other dimensions or the afterlife. This person learned and assumed that ghosts do not exist. What many individuals end up doing in this case is totally dismissing the experience, chalking it up to a trick of light or hallucination. They are not familiar or comfortable with a reality that involves ghosts, so they reject that reality and return happily to the reality where ghosts do not exist. What if, however, the person is not given the opportunity to reject the new reality? In Plato’s allegory, he takes the cave a step further, stating that someone physically drags one of the prisoners outside of the cave, up an incline into directly sunlight. At this point the person is forced to accept their new reality. Obviously, they need time to adjust, since they have gone from total darkness into total sunlight. However, after their eyes adjust, they see the moon, the stars, people, animals, the sun, etc. They have been forced to accept this new reality, and are amazed at it. Thinking again about our poor individual who saw a ghost, what if they decided that instead of rejecting the spirit realm, to learn more about it? That person would be leaving the cave where there are not ghosts, and climbing that incline of knowledge to accept their new reality where spirits and ghosts exist after death. The person may not under it or how it works at first, but just like the person seeing daylight for the first time, they slowly begin to understand, and perhaps even communicate with those who have passed on. At this point, since they know and experienced so much, it’s impossible for them to go back to how things were before. What happens if they try?
The end of Plato’s allegory addresses the situation of the person going back to the cave in order to save the other prisoners. The freed person realizes that reality is being misrepresented to the prisoners, and thus wants to help their friends to see the “truth”. However, their eyes have now adjusted to the bright sunlight, so when this person returns to the cave to free the others, they cannot see as well in the darkness. The other prisoners see this as weakness, and do not want to be hurt by taking the same journey. In fact, they become incredibly defensive and resolve to kill anyone who tries to change their view or take their comfortable reality away. This part of it, I believe should ring true to many people in this community. We know and understand things that other people may not even fathom. The person who now knows ghosts exist may face ridicule from their former friend group for their beliefs. I know that I myself am considered “edgy”, because I study these types of subjects and have for over a decade. It’s a common occurrence for many of us to have a new understanding of reality and the world after and experience such as a psychic event or UFO sighting, to then be met by strong skepticism from those who are less open minded to the the spiritual, fringe, and paranormal. In fact, sometimes, people who are not on the same page can become aggressive, such as the prisoners in the allegory, berating people or publicly criticizing them for sometime as simple as recommending meditation as a stress relief.
In short, take some time to think these concepts over. As I said next time I talk philosophy (in a couple of weeks), I will be talking about Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”, where he takes this theory of forms, and instead of separating the visible and intelligible, explains how they can co-exist to create our experiences. Until then, think about yourself and the cave, where were you before? What cave shapes/shaped your understanding of the world? Did you exit the cave? Are you in the sunlight now? Or did you move to a different cave?