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.

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