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Rationalism and Skepticism

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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English 1A- Hong

Assignment 2

Rationalism and Skepticism (Prompt 2)

Samar Al-Haqab

Samar Al-Haqab

Mr. Lyman Hong

English 1A

October 8th, 2013

Rationalism and Skepticism: Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave and Wachowski’s The Matrix

Today’s modern media and society are greatly influenced by not-so-modern artists, philosophers, and writers. We have all watched, read, or analyzed something that was based off of the idea of someone before us. One example for this would be the movie Inception (2010), directed by Christopher Nolan. In this movie the depiction between the idea of a dream and reality is extremely contrasted to the point where it is difficult to draw the line between what is or is not real. The mind boggling adventure of this movie makes us wonder; did the director draw this idea from thin air? The answer is no. In fact, the animated film Paprika (2007), directed by Satoshi Kon directly resembles the ideas and concepts of Inception. This is because Paprika served as a basis for Christopher Nolan in his movie Inception. Movies, concepts, and ideas are always being interpreted or rephrased in different forms. Aside from these two movies, there are other works that are very similar by concept. Two pieces of work that will be discussed further in detail are, the philosophical work, Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and Lana Wachowski’s movie, The Matrix. Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave walks the readers through a dialogue between a character named Glaucon and Plato’s former teacher, Socrates. They discuss the predisposed beliefs of humans and how those beliefs cause them to create a false reality in which they live. Plato claims that our perceptions are not true, they only reflect what really is. He also claims that if we were to see the Truth, it would be extremely difficult for us to believe it due to our previous beliefs. In Wachowski’s The Matrix, the same ideas are used to create a movie for a more modern era.

Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” creates a dialogue in which Socrates creates a theoretical situation to explain the imperfections of human judgment. The situation consists of slaves who have been imprisoned their entire lives in a cave. The story goes on to show that the only thing these slaves are allowed to see are shadows displayed on a wall by “marionette players”. This entire summary serves as a metaphorical analysis of what Plato is actually trying to say. The slaves represent us humans while the cave represents the human mind. As such, the marionette players, as Plato mentions, serves as the manipulator of our mind, showing us the shadows; false reality, that we are forced to believe. Thus, we are imprisoned within our own mind. Plato describes this when he writes,

“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 bessels, and statues and figurines of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking. Others are silent. (Plato 19-20).”

This quote identifies trivial objects that are being carried back and forth the wall displaying various shadow images to the slaves. The simple objects reflect the easiness to which our mind can be manipulated. Take for example the way we were raised. Some of us are taught that Santa Claus exists. This idea is not something we create on our own. As a result, we grow up truly believing that there is this person who brings us presents on the 24th day of December. The Truth is NOT the simple answer to, “Does Santa Claus exist?” because if a question must be asked then the answer will only come from someone who perceives the answer to be no. The actual Truth is that Santa Claus does not exist, no questions asked. This Truth, as Plato argues, is difficult for us to see because we have been taught otherwise. We would, inevitably, believe nothing else. Plato continues,

“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 (Plato 20).”

In this instance, Plato is describing how vulnerable the human mind actually is. The theoretical questions that he writes for Socrates all lead back to the same conclusion. The idea is that, if we are not told otherwise, we will continue to justify what we see versus what is actually there. This draws back to the Santa Claus example. So, how do we actually find out the Truth about Santa? That crushing moment is when our parents sit us down, and explain to us that Santa Claus is not real. That what we have been told for all these years was a child’s game. And when we argue and try to justify it, they say, “It’s only your imagination, honey.” This example is parallel to the analysis above. Humans do not think otherwise unless they are told otherwise. When we find out that big old Santa is a fake, how do we react? This leads to Plato’s next claim in “The Allegory of the Cave.”

At this point, Plato draws two conclusions in “The Allegory of the Cave.” First, that there is a Truth in which humans cannot see at first glance. Secondly, if humans were to see this Truth, they would initially reject it. With this said, as the story continues, Plato now theorizes what would happen if the slave is released from the cave. When he turns his head toward the real world the first thing he sees is the Fire which is the light to which the shadows are casted upon. This light causes a him to strain his eyes which results as stated,

“And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eye which will make him turn away to take refuge 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 show to him? True, he said. And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is 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 (Plato 21).”

It is difficult for this person to accept the truth as it will be for us as well. This is the moment where we stop for a moment and say, “What did you just say, Mom?” This is where we feel hurt for having been lied to. We might kick and scream and question the truth. We might even cry and be in denial about it. The bottom line is, it is not easy and we don’t actually stop believing in Santa Claus until the next year when our parents show us that they’re the ones who buy our presents. This is the moment when Plato writes the response to the immediate quote above stating,

“Not all in a moment, he said. 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? Certainly. Last of all 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 (Plato 21).”

It is difficult for us to accept the truth, however, Plato points out that it is possible in moderation. To refer back to the consistent Santa Claus example, we eventually grow up and realize that Santa Claus does not exist and is in fact, just a child’s myth.

In The Matrix, the analysis above is depicted similarly within the transcript of the movie. Neo, the main character is an overqualified software engineer who spends a lot of time hacking computers. A few minutes into the movie and he is said to have a curiosity as to what reality is. Prior to this, Neo is being sent anonymous messages to his computer telling him to wake up. After he wakes up, his friends show up at the door and they speak as follows,

“Choi: Something wrong, man? You look a little whiter than usual. Neo: My computer it – You ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming (The Matrix transcripts)
When Neo asks Choi if he ever gets that feeling he was questioning what was real and what was not. This relates back to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in the cave and shadow figure sense. Because Neo has been led to believe for so long that what surrounds him is real, he begins having a hard time distinguishing between dream and reality. Plato also explains that humans have that error in judgment. When Neo finally learns the Truth about the Matrix and what the world has really become, he completely rejects it. In fact, in the movie, he begins to verbally deny is repeatedly and demands that he be sent back home. He reacts this way because he believes otherwise and is not ready to accept the truth. Eventually, Neo rejects it physically as well when he throws up. This instance in parallel to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” when the slave strains his eyes to see the light. Eventually Neo comes to accept what the Matrix really is. Humans are capable of accepting the Truth.
The relation between the movie and the philosophy of Plato is not a coincidence. This proves that Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” served as a philosophical basis for Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix.

Works Cited

Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” English Mercury Reader. USA: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2012. 19-21

N,Franken. “The Matrix Transcript”, 2001-2008, October 8th, 2013.…...

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