Plato posited that we all live in a cave, we all face away from the entrance and toward the back wall, and all we perceive are the shadows cast from the outside onto the back wall. Thus we are severely if not terminally limited in what we can know about the real world.
Since Plato, many folks have expanded on this. The current edition is Postmodernism, the basic principles of which are:
- All of our senses are severely limited and ultimately faulty. Therefore we can know for sure absolutely nothing about ourselves or about anything in our environment. Therefore what each of us knows is the sum of our opinions.
- As we have only opinions, no one can be objectively correct. Therefore, no one is justified in forcing their opinion on anyone else. Therefore, all power, all authority, is illegitimate.
- Therefore, each of us must be allowed to think, say, and do whatever we want. (Caveat: So long as no one harms anyone else, but we observe that no one can have the power to enforce this.)
- Corollary: Each of us must unconditionally, enthusiastically, and publicly approve of everyone else’s thoughts, words, and deeds. (Enforcement problem again.) (We must envision a universal community of like-minded people, I suppose, at least on these principles.)
We see these principles advocated and applied increasingly in the Western world and wider. (If they ever gain cultural dominance, we will have Anarchy, followed closely by an absolute dictatorship. Plato again.)
Now, let us examine what we would need to be like to avoid Plato’s Cave and its Postmodern incarnation. I propose that each of us would need to be able to perfectly perceive, unaided, all at once, everything in the Multiverse, from the smallest, most basic quantum level to the largest, most complex structures, from before the beginning of time to the end and beyond; to understand how it all works and how it all works together; and perhaps to be able to command it all. Anything less than this, and we are back in the Cave.
Clearly, we are not like this.
We started out with only our senses and made do with them only for a very long time. Only in the last thousand years, long after Plato, have we begun to augment our senses with technology. The Scientific Revolution was about 500 years ago. Since then our reach has increased steadily. If one believes Ray Kurzweil, our technology is increasing exponentially (and in fact the entire universe has been exponentially increasing in complexity ever since the beginning, and we and our technology are part of that exponential growth).
We always suspected that things were going on that we couldn’t perceive. Only with the Scientific Revolution have we been able to demonstrate the reality of the unseen, by technological extension of our senses. Now we can see at a very small quantum level and at a very large astronomical level; the technology to do these things is both large and expensive. We can see not only visible light but also beyond it in both directions, and we can use what we see. In many, many ways our perception today is much more comprehensive than before. We are still limited, but we know it, and we are working on it. Undoubtedly, our perception will continue to improve.
And the point is that, even before the Scientific Revolution, we survived and thrived. Had we actually been unable to perceive reality, the odds on such surviving and thriving would have been infinitesimally small; we would have been very ill-suited to our environment. We wouldn’t be here. And how much better we do now! That we are here, moving Onward and Upward (as we Air Force types like to say) knocks down Plato’s Cave and invalidates both the foundation of Postmodernism and its consequences.
So if you encounter Postmodernists, anarchists, people who say that there is no such thing as reality, people who say that all rules are bad, people who want to tear down civilization by attacking its major institutions, be assured that they are simply wrong. It might not do any good to tell them that, because they don’t believe that right and wrong exist. It might be necessary to resist them forcibly. We cannot allow this worldview to gain such prevalence that we slip into Anarchy, and then absolute dictatorship.