Radiohead and Plato

My son hosts a weekly radio show and listening to it every Thursday introduces me to lots of interesting music.  Recently he played a song by Radiohead called Daydreaming. I liked it and so I looked up the lyrics. They talk about someone who doesn’t want to learn or venture out into the sun.  I found out the inspiration for the lyrics came from a story the philosopher Plato told 2,400 years ago. 

Ted Ed video of The Cave

Illustration from the Ted-Ed video of The Cave. It’s great!

Plato talks about some people who have been chained up in a cave since they were children. They can’t turn their heads. A fire behind them gives off a faint light and so when other humans and animals pass in front of the fire the chained people see images of things on the wall which they give names. These shadows seem real to the prisoners and shape their entire view of the world.

Then one of the prisoners is freed and leaves the cave to go outside. The sun hurts his eyes and he doesn’t want to believe all the new things he is seeing can be real. He is being introduced to a whole new world and it is scary but also wonderful and provides him with a completely new view of reality.  He feels sorry for his friends back in the cave with their limited ideas about the world and he goes back to them to share what he has learned. 

But they laugh and say he is crazy. The shadows they see in the cave are real, not the world he is talking about.  The prisoner who has been outside the cave and seen the sun and all the things it illuminated, can no longer adjust his eyes to see the shadow reality. The other prisoners say their companion who has seen the sunlight is stupid and blind and they refuse to allow him to free them. When he tries they get hostile and violent. 

Plato's Cave by Lalita Hamill

Plato’s Cave by British Columbia artist  Lalita Hamill

What does Plato’s allegory mean? That many people are comfortable in their ignorance and hostile to anyone who points it out? Plato spent much of his life promoting rule by philosopher kings, learned people who had read and studied and ‘seen the light’. Are those the kinds of leaders we would do well to elect?

As we go through life are we resolutely certain that we know what is right or are we open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things and doing things?  What if allowing ourselves to think in those new ways challenged the norm?  What if thinking in new ways could endanger us or cause us to lose friends or alienate family members?  Are we open to seeing things in a new light? 

Other posts………..

Laughing at the Suffering of Others

Elegant Words

Hairnets and Helmets




1 Comment

Filed under Education, Music

One response to “Radiohead and Plato

  1. Pingback: Marc Chagall and Fiddler on the Roof | What Next?

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