Imagine that you are sitting in a cave with two of your friends. You are born in this cave and you have lived in this cave your entire life.
You and your friends have been shackled since birth. You are shackled in a way that forces you to stare at the big wall of stone in front of you. You have been staring at this wall your entire life. You have never seen each other; you don't know what your friends look like, and they don't know what you look like. You have not seen your own body. You and your friends can hear each other.
Shadows - a lower form of existence
There is a large road behind you. On this road, life passes by. Humans, animals, cars and alike pass by this road every day. These are unable to see you, and you are unable to see them. However, the shadows of these people are being cast on the wall in front of you. At this point, stop and think about this: Wouldn't you and your friends think that these shadows are real entities and that you can communicate with them?
The Light - truth is painful
One day, a guard marches down to you and informs you that you are leaving the cave. You are unable to process this information in a meaningful way. You react by instinct with refusal. You don't want to leave the shackles as you don't know of anything else.Thus, you fight the guard because you assume that life in the cave is normal. You fight back hard, so the guard has to physically force and throw you out of the cave.
You are now laying with your head in the sand at the entry of the cave. You try to lift your head from the sand and open your eyes, but the light is too powerful (truth). Your eyes are used to the dark (ignorance).
You see the reality of things
You adjust slowly to the light. After a while you can clearly see the reality of things. You see a blue sky, a sun shining, skies, people, your own physical body, cities in the distance and animals. You see the nature of shadows for the first time. You realize that your entire life in the cave was an illusion.
You want to help your friends still in the darkness of the cave (ignorance)
As you stand at the entry of the cave and you process all the new information, you realize that you must inform your friends about all this, so that they too can see the light and escape the darkness.
As you optimistically rush to your friends, you find that you are not able to go all the way down to them. You are now standing on the road behind them. They see your shadow cast on the wall in front of them as you speak. You tell them everything you have seen. You inform them that there is a higher existence; you inform them that the nature of shadows is an illusion.
You are happy for your friends and you enthusiastically tell them about what you have learned. However, your friends do not believe you; they think that you have become psychotic and are hallucinating. They laugh at your stories, and they are unable to process the information you present. They are not able to understand your perspectives and the stories seem too far-fetched. They deny you and view you as crazy.
For further reflection:
This is a simplified presentation of Plato's allegory of the cave. The allegory is a reference to the death of Socrates and a description of human beings' circumstance. This is a beautiful story about the importance of keeping an open mind, especially if one is strongly convinced about something.
I have tried to explain some of the metaphors through the titles. Please reflect and interpret the allegory for yourself. You can also use this in your life on a practical level. You can now question your own assumptions and other things that you have never considered to question before. For example, what if the physical world that you and I see is not the highest form of existence? Plato thought that there was an even higher existence than what we experience. We can't see that existence because we are in our own cave as we are shackled by our senses.
Here is a short video that beautifully illustrates Plato's allegory of the cave: