Robot or Alien; and the CAVE

16 01 2010

 Robot or Alien.

It is a simple question, which are you? You know already, stop right now and answer before reading further.

The second, harder question is where are you? This pertains to the cave.

I usually write about the transgender subject area and leave most of myself out of the comments. Times are a changing. I am out more and offering others the chance to express and examine themselves.


Have you read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? The lesson of the cave is considered a fundamental question about us and how we see the world  and what is real (have you ever seen the Matrix?). Take time to read the summary – or for those with less time, watch the video after the story!

Inside The Cave
Socrates begins by describing a scenario in which what people take to be real would in fact be an illusion. He asks Glaucon to imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been chained and held immobile since childhood: not only are their arms and legs held in place, but their heads are also fixed, compelled to gaze at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads “including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone and other materials”. The prisoners can only watch the shadows cast by the men, not knowing they are shadows. There are also echoes off the wall from the noise produced from the walkway.

Socrates asks if it is not reasonable that the prisoners would take the shadows to be real things and the echoes to be real sounds, not just reflections of reality, since they are all they had ever seen or heard. Wouldn’t they praise as clever whoever could best guess which shadow would come next, as someone who understood the nature of the world? And wouldn’t the whole of their society depend on the shadows on the wall?

Release From The Cave
Socrates next introduces something new to this scenario. Suppose that a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up. If someone were to show him the things that had cast the shadows, he would not recognize them for what they were and could not name them; he would believe the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees.

“Suppose further,” Socrates says, “that the man was compelled to look at the fire: wouldn’t he be struck blind and try to turn his gaze back toward the shadows, as toward what he can see clearly and hold to be real? What if someone forcibly dragged such a man upward, out of the cave: wouldn’t the man be angry at the one doing this to him? And if dragged all the way out into the sunlight, wouldn’t he be distressed and unable to see “even one of the things now said to be true,” viz. the shadows on the wall?

After some time on the surface, however, Socrates suggests that the freed prisoner would acclimate. He would see more and more things around him, until he could look upon the Sun. He would understand that the Sun is the “source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing”.

Return To The Cave
Socrates next asks Glaucon to consider the condition of this man. “Wouldn’t he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn’t he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn’t he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness? “Wouldn’t it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it’s not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn’t they kill him?”

I have lived in the cave, at different times, about different things. I may still continue to live there, about certain things that I think are real and sound real, but are just the shadows and echoes. I have thought to be in love; many times in my life. Those times were shadows and echoes. One time I met a person who broke my chains and showed me the shadows and noises for what they were – then lead me into the sunshine, I was blinded. My eyes were corrupted – I was never be able to return to the shadows of the cave and be happy with their movements. The murmurs and echoes of the object bearers offered no comfort any more. This is the awakening that changes all. It can happen about nearly anything and nearly any time. There are times I want for the shadows, but there is no return for me.

Me, I escaped the cave years before, freed in so many ways. This is not to be taken as pleasant though. I often explain it like the loss of innocence rather than the gain of enlightenment. I have also pulled others from the cave, sometimes just breaking their chains was enough to free them, sometimes I led them to the surface. In one case, a person returned to the chains and shadows – wearing a mask to hide their return (having been exposed to the outside). A person can never fully return and be comtent with shadows and echoes.

For the full, correct version, check out this video. I really like this version. It is longer, but worth it.

So why bother with the Allegory? What do we have to learn here? It deals with two subjects at the heart of human substance:

  • What is real?
  • How do we fit into the reality?

That brings us to the simple question, the one I enjoy asking friends. Are you a Robot or an Alien?

I leave you with the challenge to look at yourself. It is up to the interpreter to figure out if they are a robot or an alien and what they even mean. Me? I am an Alien and always have been. Is one better than the other – better for what purpose? There are lots of Robots and Robots who wish they were Aliens. There are also Aliens disguised as Robots. It works both ways… Robot or Alien?

“Even with the prospect of Death…” (better watch that full version of the video).