Lies to the Eyes

Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, introduces a thought provoking statement: “We all suppose that what we know is not capable of being otherwise; of things capable of being otherwise we do not know, when they have passed outside our observation, whether they exist or not.” (1139b36-1139b36 p. 1799)

A good example of this statement would be the story of the Cave that Plato (through the voice of Socrates) tells in Republic. In this story, the people who were born and raised in the cave believe in a reality that contradicts with what the people who have been outside the cave believe. Yet, while there is no consensus on the truth, each side fiercely believes in their respective opinions, and that what they “know is not capable of being otherwise.” A part of this conflict comes from the cave people’s shelteredness and lack of world-view. Because they have never experienced or witness the outside world, they are unable to comprehend whether a different reality can “exist or not.”

This kind of close-mindedness can be very dangerous, as it can create conflicts and prolong ignorance. Perhaps it would be in the cave people’s best interest to accept the reality that the people who have been outside the cave offer. If they’re too stubborn, they could end up suffering. In other situations, it may not even be themselves suffering, but others suffering as well.

A few days ago, I was scrolling through a blogging website and came across a lesson on perspective. A social issues professor held up a black book to his class and said, “This book is red.” His students disagreed, saying, “No, the book is black.” The professor however, insisted that the book was red. Bewildered, his students mumbled to each other that the professor was wrong, and that the book was obviously black. The professor then turned the book around and showed the class that the back cover was, indeed, red, and said “Don’t tell someone they’re wrong until you’ve seen things from their point of view.”

The students perception wasn’t wrong, the book was black (on one face). What was wrong was that they were unable to accept any reality other than what they knew and what they could see. I believe that this kind of stubbornness needs to be changed. Open-mindedness is a valuable virtue, and we all have a responsibility to practice it.

7 responses to “Lies to the Eyes

  1. You bring up a really good point when you talk about open-mindedness. But it is extremely difficult when, in this situation, a group of people who are brought up believing one thing have their belief argued against b someone who is enlightened. It is difficult because one group believes to know the truth and the other group knows the truth. This occurs often in touchy subjects such as religion, where one group will not accept another groups faith to be valid. Even if someone were to tell the truth, if the truth was against a life-long belief, it was be extremely difficult to convince them otherwise just through words.

    I also think that it’s a situation of mob mentality. The people believing the false reality are not alone in their beliefs, which will make convincing them otherwise all the more difficult of task.

  2. I like everything you said about how right/wrong is just a matter of opinion and how everyone has “a responsibility to practice” open-mindedness. The world would definitely be a more pleasant place if people were more receptive. I also like how you called open-mindedness a virtue. Which got me thinking about the opposite, being closed-minded or maybe a true believer. I feel that by classifying open-mindedness as a virtue, we are conversely classifying the opposite as a bad thing. However, I can think of instances where that is not always the case. From another perspective maybe if the people in the cave had blind faith in the philosopher king they would have followed him out of the cave. It is really hard to say whether it was a lack of open-mindedness or a lack of faith which kept the prisoners in the cave. I would love to hear what you think.

  3. Hi Trieste, from my understanding of the story, I would say that the prisoners were kept in the cave because of lack of open-mindedness. To them, the philosopher king that came back was not bring wisdom and truth, but crazy talk and blasphemy. It’s just because they believed in their cave-reality for so long. It’s like how everyone in the middle ages thought our universe revolved around the Earth, when actually the universe revolved around the sun. When Copernicus presented this idea, no one believed him, because they were so used to the Earth-centered theory that they accepted it as the absolute truth and so they couldn’t believe anything else was possible. So on this issue, I say that there are no “absolute truths” and that there should always be a degree of questioning, because there’s always a possibility that the “absolute truth” is not 100% true.

    I do think that faith is a good thing, as you said. But I wouldn’t don’t think faith is the opposite of open-mindedness, or close-mindedness. I think that close-mindedness would be the inability to consider or accept other possibilities and explanations. But in many cases, faith is when someone is faced with counter-arguments, recognizes their merit, but still chooses to believe.

  4. Close-mindedness is indeed the killer of development and the cause of arguments. For instance, my brother’s ex-boss was extremely persistent with his work procedure. However, there was a small glitch in the final product that he could not tell because of his procedure. On the other hand, my brother did not only follow the procedure, but also utilized the new technology to check his work. Thus, he spotted that glitch and presented to his ex-boss. As predicted, the boss denied his approach that could have yield much more qualitative and quantitative value. Later on, the same approach was utilized by another competitor of my brother’s company. That’s a short story that exactly demonstrates how costly closeness can be.

  5. Can we relate the close-mindedness the people in the cave exhibit to a modern day situation? I have been a runner my whole life. When I began to run officially on the track team at Emory I was told my form was horrible. But I had this form my whole life and have placed decently well in open races. In a way, I like the cave people, stayed in my shell and what I was comfortable doing was neglected the advice that could potentially benefit me. It is interesting how you bring up the point of suffering if you’re to stubborn. After a few days hard track practices of running the way I thought was superior, I ended up injured. The cave people may not know they are suffering, and could benefit from attempting to experience something new, as could I with track.

  6. I like how the topics of “close-mindedness” and “perspective” both come into discussion in this post.You argue that the kind of close-mindedness is potentially dangerous like that in Allegory of the Cave. In a way, I can see how it could be, but if we review what we covered in class in which we compared the Allegory of the Cave to The Matrix, we can see the other half of the story. The reason why people live in “The Matrix”(cave), is to live a peaceful, “normal” life, because the world that is, has been destroyed.
    The reason people live in the Matrix is to shield them from the harshness of “reality”, but the question comes up, is it really shielding them, or restricting them from the truth?

  7. Caroline, this is an amazing post that shows the importance of open-mindedness. I think that this post gives rise to an extremely important question: Is there a single universal truth to everything? It seems that the truth always changes as soon as you change your perspective. How, then, can we assign a universal truth (the ultimate reality)?

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