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158 Plato's cave revisied? disappeared?

Some restrictions are imposed by conditions beyond our control. Others are imposed by limitation of our perception. What we think matters even more than where we are.

The allegory

These stories are not endorsements of jailbreak. They are allegories in which confining self-limitation is overcome by (a) realization (b) investigation and (c) perception. Diverse details of the places are less important than the mental state (awareness and desires) of the subjects.


Plato's cave is a figure depicting a restricted mental condition. It represents a limitation which can be self-imposed. The allegory does not attempt to exhaust all possible implications. It deals with one human condition and a single response to it: the cave is a trap not because of the complexity of its structure, but because the inmates do not want to leave it, having been programmed to fear the light. Freedom lies in realization of truth.

Let's take a broader look at humans who feel restricted or caged in. Real-life people possess imagination and creativity. We are not imprisoned if we conceive productive ways of coping with confining limitations.


Consider a tale of police officers who corner a suspect in a night club and cover all the exits. In this story, let us picture that the accused goes to the washroom and escapes through a window. Unlike the mindset in the story of a cave with a single passageway, imaginative investigation creates an alternative exit.

In the cave, humans have the capacity to turn around and see that illumination comes through the entrance to the cave. Fear of the unknown light inhibits their desire to be free. In the night club, the desire for escape motivates discovering unsuspected possibilities.

What is the trap?


In Plato's version, bright sunlight is truth that people in the cave are not ready to endure. With the best of intention, out of fear, they also try to prevent others from being blinded. It is their fear that keeps them in the cave. Plato praises the courage of those who overcome fear and escape, recovering gradually from the overpowering light. We escape our mental confinement by facing our greatest fears.


A quite different science fiction story deals with earthly humans who are trapped by superior intelligences. The captors program the humans' minds to perceive themselves surrounded by barriers. The humans are trapped by the "walls" they are programmed to "see" around themselves. They are confined by what they believe to be their circumstance.

In these two stories the victims of confinement are mentally conditioned to accept their imprisonment. In both settings, freedom is liberation of the mind. In the ancient story, willfully moving out of the cave is presented as changing position, going to a new location. In the modern story, a purely mental change results in the disappearance of the barrier.

In real life

Victims undergoing deprogramming from cult conditioning typically experience some kind of egress, that is, going out. It might be as straightforward as bodily walking out of a compound. Nevertheless, the physical act follows weighty mental effort. Relocating to a better environment includes a mental journey.

The modern science fiction about escaping imagined barriers invokes a different metaphor: the prisoner does not go to another place; instead, the barrier disappears.

Intellectually working through and overcoming negative mindset causes the cult box to disappear. We abolish self-limiting beliefs. The barriers are no longer there when perception is realistic.


In either metaphor, a brainwashed cult victim experiences recovery in a new mental place. I distinguish between exiting the place and disappearing the barrier so that "getting out of" an external environment is not an essential component of the recovery. We may not significantly change what surrounds us. It might suffice that we change what we imagine that surrounding to be.


Do we make a distinction between being poor and thinking poor? The latter condition is a self-limiting belief that is an imaginary restraint. Religious cult norms might at first be overcome by rationalization, that is, viewing from outside. Eventually they are recognized as imaginary, and they become in essence nonexistent.

In a mental health sense, perhaps Plato's cave is not to be escaped. Perhaps it is rather to be disappeared.

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