The Matrix and the cave

Plato explores the idea that the real world is an illusion in the Allegory of the Cave in The Republic. Plato imagines a cave in which people have been kept prisoner since birth. These people are bound in such a way that they can look only straight ahead, not behind them or to the side. On the wall in front of them, they can see flickering shadows in the shape of people, trees, and animals. Because these images are all they’ve ever seen, they believe these images constitute the real world.

One day, a prisoner escapes his bonds. He looks behind him and sees that what he thought was the real world is actually an elaborate set of shadows, which free people create with statues and the light from a fire. The statues, he decides, are actually the real world, not the shadows. Then he is freed from the cave altogether, and sees the actual world for the first time. He has a difficult time adjusting his eyes to the bright light of the sun, but eventually he does. Fully aware of true reality, he must return to the cave and try to teach others what he knows. The experience of this prisoner is a metaphor for the process by which rare human beings free themselves from the world of appearances and, with the help of philosophy, perceive the world truly.

Neo is pulled from a kind of cave in the first Matrix film, when he sees the real world for the first time. Everything he thought was real is only an illusion-much like the shadows on the cave walls and the statues that made the shadows were only copies of things in the real world. Plato insists that those who free themselves and come to perceive reality have a duty to return and teach others, and this holds true in the Matrix films as well, as Neo takes it upon himself to save humanity from widespread ignorance and acceptance of a false reality.

So if you are struggling for inspiration to help explain Plato’s cave analogy then the Matrix is always useful. Here is a clip of a different scene, where Morpheus challenges Neo to make a decision about how he wants to live his life. If he takes the red pill then he will be on the journey to true knowledge (released prisoner leaving the cave) but if he takes the blue pill then he will continue to live in ignorance (the prisoners chained in the cave).

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