The Allegory of the Cave

“How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?” 
― Plato, The Allegory of the Cave

The ‘Allegory Of The Cave’ is a theory put forward by Plato, concerning human perception.

Plato tells us that we can think, and speak, but regardless of this yet have no awareness of the realm of forms of reality even within this 3D environment.

The allegory of the cave explains this in more depth.

We are as if within a cave, like prisoners staring at the wall of the cave and behind us burns a fire.  Between the fire and us there is a parapet, where puppeteers play. The puppeteers, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of our cave. We are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, or those behind them. What we see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that we do not see.

We mistake these appearances for reality.

So when we communicate with each other to describe these shadows, what are we talking about? We use words such as “book or knowledge or reality” What does that really refer to?

Plato’s point is that we are mistaking at looking at these shadows for reality. To experience the reality of the words “book or knowledge or reality” which we cannot see – we have to turn our heads around. In general terms, our languages are not “names” of the physical objects that we can see. They are names of things that we cannot see, things that we can only grasp with the mind and explain something that we cannot fully understand.

When we the prisoners turn our heads and see the real objects we then realise our error.

Our ability to think and to speak depends on the forms within this 3D environment. We remain prisoners and may learn what a book is by our experience with the shadow of a book. But we would be mistaken if we thought that the concepts that we grasp were on the same level as the things we perceive for our perception remains our perception and not the absolute truth or reality. Again this needs to be repeated: Our reality and our perception is only our reality and perception and does not mean what we see is the absolute reality or the absolute truth.

Cave – the prison of ignorance:

  • The Cave represents people who believe that knowledge comes from what we see and hear in what we consider reality – empirical evidence. The cave shows that believers of this knowledge are trapped in a ‘cave’ of ignorance.

Shadows – perceptions of truth:

  • The Shadows represent perceptions of those who believe this evidence ensures knowledge. So if you consider that what you see should be taken as truth, then you are merely seeing a shadow of the truth.

Game – chess pieces on a board:

  • The Game is how people believe that someone person can be a ‘master, guru, teacher, mullah, priest, holy one’ when they only have knowledge of this world of shadows. Plato tells us that this ‘master’ does not actually know any truth. That we exist as if like game pieces on a board.

Escape – stepping into the Sun:

  • When the prisoner turns and looks and starts thinking he escapes the cave to seeks knowledge outside of the cave and outside of the senses that he was accustomed to. As the prisoner leaves the chains of the cave he sees The Sun shining upon realms unseen by the former prisoner and this represents truth and knowledge where the free man now will journey to find truth and wisdom.


  • The other prisoners reaction to the escapee returning to the cave represents those people are scared of knowing truths and do not trust reality and feel comfortable within the cave.

Mohammed Abbasi

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