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Butterflies Are Free To Fly
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Back to the Table of Contents
magine that for your entire life you have been sitting in a chair in a movie theater.
The place is dark, like all movie theaters; but you can feel…
No… wait! Before we go there…
There’s a famous allegory called “Plato’s Cave,” written of course by Plato. It’s a
fictional conversation between Plato’s teacher, Socrates, and Plato’s brother, Glaucon;
and, essentially, the first part of the allegory goes like this…
Socrates 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 so all they can see is a wall directly in front of them.
Behind the prisoners is a large fire, and between the fire and the backs of the prisoners is
a raised walkway.
As people and animals travel over the walkway between the fire and the backs of the
prisoners, the light from the fire casts their shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners.
The prisoners can only see the shadows, but they don’t know they are shadows.
There are also echoes off the wall from the noises produced on the walkway. The
prisoners can only hear the echoes, but they don’t know they are echoes.
Socrates asks Glaucon if it is not reasonable that the prisoners would think the
shadows were real things, and the echoes were real sounds, not just reflections of reality,
since they are all the prisoners had ever seen or heard.
Socrates next introduces something new into this scenario. Suppose, Socrates
surmises, a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up and move around. If someone were
to show him the actual things that had cast the shadows and caused the echoes – the fire,
and the people and animals on the walkway – he would not know what they were and not
recognize them as the cause of the shadows and sound; he would still believe the
shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees
The allegory goes on, but I want to stop here. (If you are interested, you can watch a
three-minute animated video at
Imagine that for your entire life you have been sitting in a chair in a movie theater.
The place is dark, like all movie theaters; but you can feel there are restraints – shackles –
over your wrists and ankles, making it difficult to move your arms or legs. The back of
your chair is high, rising above your head so it is impossible to look behind you. All you
can see is the movie screen in front of you and the people sitting next to you in the same
In front of you, sweeping around on all sides of the theater as far as you can see, is a
gigantic IMAX 3D screen. You sit there watching movie after movie, and it seems as if