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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Belief Systems and Human Interaction Are Illusory, The Allegory of the Cave

In Plato's "Allegory of the Cave", prisoners are shackled and restrained. Behind the prisoners, at the mouth of the cave, there burns a large fire. As the prisoners face a wall of the cave, their movements restricted and unable to turn around, they view shadows on a cave wall. Shadows that begin to take various shapes. The prisoners, unable to see what is actually creating those shadows describe them as cows, or sheep, or perhaps a lion.

The shadows then are as close as the prisoners get to reality and in fact, those shadows are their reality. They accept those shadows as a true representation of what they believe to be an accurate depiction. A truth.

One night a prisoner breaks free. He is able to turn and see that in fact, a puppeteer captor is making those shadows. It is the first time he is able to see that tiny puppets and their projections are responsible for casting the shapes he has seen.

This then is his first glimpse of the truth. In that moment, his perception and reality have changed. He realizes that those shadows were intangible and illusory all the time.

Human beings, from birth, are given a set of operating instructions. A belief system based on opinions and experience. Indoctrinated and trained not unlike animals, small children accept what they are taught by their parents as true. They know nothing else. Many of these belief systems are accurate but some are not. As children grow they acquire different beliefs based on their interaction with other children and the world around them. They acquire different belief systems which not unlike the operating instructions given by their parents, they accept as true.

These belief systems guide how we respond to other human beings. Who we choose to like or dislike. How we judge and misjudge others. The problem with those belief systems is that they are fallible and sometimes wrong. They are based on opinions and isolated occurrences. It never occurs to us that once we have acquired a belief that quite possibly it is wrong. We very often never re-examine our beliefs. At times, we find ourselves rigorously defending those beliefs not unlike those prisoners viewing illusory shadows on the cave wall.

As we characterize people and make opinions and judgments based on our limited experience and knowledge, we are often wrong. This causes conflict and in some cases sets off a chain of "one-ups-man-ship" and diminishing behavior as one human being feels attacked and launches a counterattack. Each rigorously defending belief systems which may be partly true or untrue.

Some describe this as the insanity of the planet. In the worst case, it has caused millions of deaths due to conflict and war. On a personal level, human interaction between two people can quickly spiral out of control as two people hurl insults at each other while defending belief systems. Hurting feelings and damaging others. In turn, being hurt and damaged ouselves.

The only thing we can control is our individual self and our perceptions. How we choose to see the world.

In our quest for emotional freedom, we have seen this or lived through this insanity. In order to end this madness, we are willing to take our first step. We have been viewing shadows. Essay number one deals with the recognition that we all have faulty beliefs and that we are willing to accept that premise in order to feel better about ourselves and quit hurting those around us.

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