A NASA Allegory extension

The Cave of Decisions

The Cave of Decisions

Des Pensable (copyright) 2010.

Plato’s ‘Cave of Shadows’ (see http://www.hermes-press.com/plato_cave.htm) is an allegory where we are invited to consider that we are all deluded and living in a world of illusion. Decarte’s evil supreme entity, the philosopher’s ‘Brain in a Vat’ and the movie ‘The Matrix’ are all adaptations of the same motif.

Plato sees us as prisoners chained facing a wall. Behind us is a fire. Between us and the fire is a roadway and partition. A troop of passing entertainers on the roadway show puppets above the partition that cast shadows on the cave wall. We are unable to look to either side or behind us so must accept the shadows we see on the wall as our reality.

He considers what would happen if we were unchained. When we turned around the fire would hurt our eyes and we would be reluctant to look at it. If we were shown the true objects that cast the shadows we may not accept them at first, as the shadow objects were much more familiar. He goes on to take us, the prisoners, out of the cave, showing us the real world outside. We see the trees and the rivers, the sky, the sun and so on.

The sun outside is of course an allusion to truth, god and the world outside, the true reality as revealed by god. He suggests that if we go back into the cave and try to convince others inside then we will have a hard time, as the others cannot conceive of the world outside unless they experience it for themselves. The others might in fact be quite aggressive as to the new concepts and kill us for even telling them about it.

This allegory is popular amongst those who are apt to believe in conspiracy stories, however, it is logically flawed as the persons releasing the prisoners may themselves be trapped in another illusion. It is here that the deluded prisoners may again be deluded. Decide for yourself.

Consider that you are one of the ten prisoners and have been chained to the wall all your life. The shadows have been your reality. Suddenly four people burst in and unshackle your chains then shepherd you out of the area. You travel a short distance and enter a cave.

“We have released you from a false reality.” says one of the four that released you.
“This is the Cave of Decisions, from here you can be guided to a new true realty! There are four pathways out of here. Each one of us who released you is a guide and we are prepared to guide you down one of the pathways but they all lead to different realities. You must decide which pathway to follow.”

“Can we ask about what we might expect if we travel down the different pathways ?” asks one of your fellow prisoners.

“Yes ask each of us and we will tell you what you might expect but please ask the other three guides before you ask me.” said the guide.

“Tell me about your pathway,” says one of your fellow prisoners to the first of the guides.

“If you follow me down my pathway I will tell you of my all powerful god that will shelter and protect you and if you believe in him he will help you live a good life but you must obey his rules. His teachings will reveal the truth of the world to you. He will expect you to pass on these teachings to others especially your children so that they will know the truth.”

“We believe that you are made of two parts, a body and a spirit. When you die your body will disappear but your spirit will go to him and be judged. If you have lived by his rules he will let your spirit stay in his wonderful house and it may live happily with him forever.”

“That sounds wonderful but what happens if we disobey his rules?” asked a prisoner.

‘Well, if you question his truth we may burn you at the stake and if you don’t live by his rules your spirit may be sent to a terrible place where it will suffer horribly forever.’ replied the guide.

“Tell me about your pathway,” says another of your fellow prisoners to the second guide.

“I have no god that offers everlasting life to your spirit. In fact I don’t believe you have a spirit that lives on after your death. Our prophet has shown us that each of us has the ability to transcend to a higher plane of reality which is not only blissful but shares existence with all creatures. It is here that you will learn for yourself the truth. If you follow my pathway I will give you instructions in how to transcend and if you don’t succeed then I believe you will be reborn again to allow you to continue trying.”

“What is the downside?” asked one of the prisoners.

“You must be mindful of others, you must live a simple life and try to cast off all your worldly attachments and meditate on the true meaning of life. This is not simple as it is easy to be seduced by material goods and desires. It may take many lifetimes to achieve the perfection that will allow you to transcend.”

The prisoners now all turned to the third guide and asked him about his pathway.

“Down my path are explorers. They have developed methods that they call scientific. They are based upon measurements that all agree on and give results that are repeatable. They use them to try to reveal what is true and what is false, what is real and what is not. So far they have revealed a great deal and improved their lives immeasurably but they still have more to discover. They don’t believe in supernatural beings, spirits, in life after death or in reincarnation as they can’t prove these things exist.”

“The downside of my path is that it won’t offer you everlasting life. It won’t give you all the answers or offer you a set of rules to tell you what is right from wrong as you will have to decide on those yourself. It will only offer you the freedom to seek, learn and decide for yourself what the real truths about life are even though you may never truly understand them.”

The prisoners all turned to the final guide and asked what he offered.

“Come with me. We will return to where you were. The other guides are trying to seduce you into believing that things are better elsewhere. It was comfortable and safe in the cave of shadows and you were happy there. The people you know there are friendly and good and you will not need to learn anything new or worry about what is right or wrong.”

“Perhaps the Cave of Decisions would be more aptly the named the Cave of Delusions as we all ask you to take a path that may be wrong but now that you’re here you must decide.”


This story takes on a different dimension if you consider the background of the slaves. If they are children what path do you think they would choose and why? If they were teenagers , older women or men, conservatives or progressives, religious or non-religious. Personal beliefs, free will and freedom of choice is a very complex issue.


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Selected mischief


Brain in a Vat Concept has Strings Attached

A What if ... satire of the classical concept of teh brain in the Vat.

The Cave of Decisions

This one is more serious satire- its an allegory about an allegory.

Are You Deceiving Yourself?

A serious look at self deception from a philosophical and behavioral point of view by Des.

Does Scientific Realism Model Reality?

A serious philosophical view of our current understand of science that leaves little room for belief in the supernatural.

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A philosophical view on the differences between religion and science

Can Science Explain Beauty?

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Why is Religion Opposed to Secular Democracy?

A speculative philosophical view on whether democracy and religion can coexist.

Does Social Media Increase Our Ignorance in the Current Post Truth World?

Is all the false news around is doing us harm?