Oh, For the Love of Thought
Many thinkers have existed throughout history. These thinkers were called philosophers because they literally loved knowledge. In fact, the root phil means love, and the root soph means knowledge. These lovers of knowledge have always looked for ways to spread both their knowledge and their way of constantly thinking to other people. One of these attempts was Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave.
Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave describes, through a conversation between Socrates and his student Glaucon, cave dwellers who see only shadows of puppets on a wall. Socrates emphasizes to Glaucon: To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. Socrates continues his supposition by rhetorically asking: What will follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error?. It turns out, says Socrates, that the experience will be painful at first. Once a liberated cave dweller leaves the cave and goes to see the sun, he will see a greater truth than those in the cave. Socrates and Glaucon continue to discuss the cave and determine a set of possibilities: The cave dweller who does not leave the cave will be ignorant; he will not know nor want to know the truth. The cave dweller who leaves the cave and returns will be considered heretical; while he knows a greater truth, he must suffer for it. The cave dweller who leaves the cave and does not return will be cause for the cave dwellers to consider the sun, enlightenment, or the ultimate truth to be dangerous; it will be reason for the cave dweller not to leave the cave.
The allegory, continued in a reader’s mind to a deeper level at which visible reality is an unraveling ball of infinite size with ultimate truth at its core and layers of illusion surrounding it, shows that there will always be a deeper truth. No one person can be fully enlightened and see ultimate truth just as no one person can see the whole of a sphere. It takes the perspectives of all to even begin to see the ultimate truth. Plato begs man in general not to consider the ideas of other men to be heretical because the ideas force people out of their comfort zone and do not make immediate sense to them. People must be continually open-minded. Man may find a new insight into something shedding a layer from the aforementioned ball of reality, but that just means that there are infinitely more insights to gain before the layers of illusion are shed.
Ultimate truth, like the mathematical limit, is a destination. It took thousands of years before the idea of nothing was accepted as non-heretical before people began realize that a limit could eventually be reached. This was the birth of Calculus. Similarly, it will take an even greater magnitude of years before mankind realizes ultimate truth. The trick is to be open-minded and accepting of the ideas of others.
The modern philosophers of the world, the true geeks, can synthesize existing ideas to yield new ideas, drawing ever closer to the ultimate truth. Their tools, the Internet and similar technologies, may prove to literally be the path to enlightenment. The Internet allows for a free exchange of ideas without the introduction of biases. An Internet user does not know the age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, or other characteristic with which to discriminate against the source of an idea. In fact, the traditional geek has been called an Internet junkie, hacker, cracker, and several other words of negative connotation because he or she spends much of his or her time on the Internet. This, however, is changing. Like Plato’s cave dweller who left the cave and returned, the modern geek sees deeper meaning; he sees a greater truth. However, when he tries to share his insights, he is chastised by those who have not left the cave.
The true geek, following the path to enlightenment, faces challenges to making the world better and to introducing his synthesized ideas to others. These obstacles are the concepts of patent, trademark, and copyright. The laws that implement these concepts are meant to protect intellectual rights. However, a true geek neither misuses information nor violates intellectual rights. A true geek, like a true scientist, shares information in order to learn more, to create new ideas without repeating the ideas of other, and to more effectively advance humanity. This is precisely what is happening in the more recent Open Source movements. It is the geek who tries to see the ultimate truth. It is the geek who tries to share his insights so that others may see the ultimate truth. It is the geek who questions everything. It is the geek who will save the world when the ignorant do not, and will not, care.
Plato. Allegory of the Cave. in The Norton Reader. Linda H. Peterson et al., eds. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. 652-655.