COVID-19 has wreaked havoc worldwide, socially and economically. The epidemic may have led to physical isolation, but also an unprecedented avalanche of knowledge through fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories.
We have become increasingly dependent on social media for information, but most of the time this information has nothing to do with the real situation, with the truth.
The allegory of Plato’s cave in the Republic is presented as a dialogue between Plato’s brother, Glaucon, and his mentor Socrates, narrated by the latter, a conceptual tool for a reader to distinguish between appearance and reality, highlighting the influence of ignorance on our nature. Plato descibe a group of people who have lived all their lives locked in a cave with a wall in front of them. They can’t see anything else over the stone wall in front of them. Behind the wall burns a fire that projects bright images of external objects on the walls of the cave. Those shadows are the reality of the prisoners.
The current epidemic isolation has brought us into the situation where the average individual cannot distinguish truth from falsehood through reason. We are caught in a contemporary version of the allegory of Plato’s cave, where the reality is distorted and darkened by the shaddows projected by WhatsApp and Facebook, that constantly misleads us.
Most people are trapped in their homes getting the external information by smartphones and television, which, through the projected visions, take us further and further away from the real world. Another kind of Matrix, where our senses can no longer help the correct analysis or critique of the information we are stuffed with, creating us so false perceptions without a connection with reality. And this trend is fueled and even forced by many leaders around the world.
The shadows that the inhabitants of Plato’s cave see projecting on the wall are the weakest form of knowledge: opinion. Social media abounds with “experts” spreading their opinions. So people end up grouping themselves according to the opinions they consider to be true, often without any rational foundation, acting in accordance with those opinions, sometimes against one’s own real interest. Moreover, such isolation is ideal for mass manipulation. And to induce emotions, and finally actions, for or against specific realities.
In his allegory, Plato describes what is encountered one of the prisoners when escape from the cave. After being blinded by the bright light of the Sun, he would discover that reality is not what they thought it was. The human condition is always linked to the impressions received through the senses.. And in the absence of direct senses due to the isolation, it remains impressions offered by the media, whether social or mass-media. Basically, Plato suggests that we cannot separate ourselves from the bonds of our human conditions , just as the prisoners of the cave cannot be freed from chains.
However, when (if) we will escape our cave, we will find a changed world, which many of us will no longer understand – another “realm”, the source of a higher reality than the one we knew.