Monday, September 19, 2005
Plato's Cave Revisited
Imagine that the Earth had not one, but four suns. Imagine that these suns were so arranged that at any given time at least one of them was in the sky, so that mankind lived its entire life in brightness. The deepest darkness men would ever have known would be the greyish twilight of an overcast day. There would be no night and day, no stars (since the stars would never be visible), no real concept of darkness at all (except perhaps that tiny blackness that rests behind each man's eyelids).
Then suppose that one day a man from such a world stumbled upon a cave and discovered what true darkness was. How would he react to this? How would he explain it to his fellow men? Explaining a greater presence (of light, for instance) is hard enough, but how does one describe a greater absence; how does one explain, in fact, the complete inability to see (for men who have lived their entire life in light, this would be like not being able to breathe). And even if they believed him somehow, even if they came with him to the cave, would it not frighten them, the emptiness. Would they, who would have no night vision at all, not panic at being thus suddenly blinded? Would they not turn against him then, shut him away in his cave like Merlin, blocking the way out with a great stone, making, ironically, his darkness complete?
If there were no darkness, how long could we live in the glare of the truth?