One frustration in teaching Socrates' allegory of the cave in the last decade has been that its parallels with the movie 'The Matrix,' once indicated, tend to overwhelm the young mind with inopportune imageries, such that the original point is rather lost. Yet on the other hand, the students taught also me some new insights I did not expect, and one of those was the role of fear.

Things may not be What they seemed?
Things may not be What they seemed?

Plato, in his standard jovial manner of dialectic, casts the light of truth behind the slaves as wisely desirable; cold; dispassionate; and while often receiving of abuse from those who so benefit from it, they are only petty contrivances to be ignored.

On the other hand, when Keanu Reeves learns his existence is illusion, it is in a deliberately normal office space where his body is suddenly and horribly distorted, such that he has no mouth and cannot speak. Whether or not the metaphor is intentional, it certainly can portray the first experience of a soul, new to the experience of inquiry, then for example, discovering the limits of naive realism.

At that juncture there can be a profound fear of the unknown; when all words previously sensible appear as gibberish; and even worse, when all beliefs previously questioned in glib and youthful cynicism are suddenly beyond any further merriment, as they shudder into the shards of darkness and nothing of any substance at all can even be grasped. At that moment, the fear of the unknown should be a warning, an immediately recognized precursor of hopeless despair. Without a guide to the far greener pastures beyond, many are lost, at that very first moment of fear, at the first recognition of the unknown self. And unguided, unaccepting of guidance, they fall--from that moment of amazement at the previously impossible--thence--into a perpetual narcissistic skepticism, which when maintained by force of will, lets them hover over that strong current of effluence which showers eternally thence into the abyss of nihilism.

As to how long their egos can maintain any height above that dismal flow, before they succumb and descend into the far deeper abodes of the truly lost, who can know? They, unknowing, already cast aside any rope of belief which could have pulled them to the pastures of serenity around the philosopher's stone, so how can any person say? Not even they themselves, for they cannot even know where they are, where they might be, nor even where they could want to be, and if they were ever capable of discovering that at any time before, they could not accept it again any more.

Suspended over the dismal effluence flowing into despair by force of will alone, some SKEPTICS, becoming weary of maintaining that solitary posture, might with persistence discover a new poise, that of intellectual predator. This common yet unpopular pastime distracts from the weary hours of solitude by promising morsels of self aggrandisement, caught from those washing by in the endless flow of chaos below. Some of those skeptics reaching down to gouge the flesh of the less fortunate find pleasure in the inflicted pain and humiliation. Others are more interested in how their victims squirm and, tossing their minds about, like cats on a halpless mouse, seek to extort terror of the inevitable for as long as possible before delivering any death blow.

THE PREDATORY SKEPTICS, diverted by such idle tasks, think less of their own precarious grasp of solid ground. The greater the prey, the greater the diversion, the longer the chase, and the more the predator's own eventual yet inescapable demise draws closer, as engorged with the fat of their hapless prey, they make themselves an even likelier pick for an even more malicious marauder who, already weary of the simpler pickings, patiently eyes their cynical growth from the even darker mud of Acheron, and beyond that, from the putrid haze of Phlegethon's boiling fire in the beyond.

Below them, on the banks of boiling mud, ensconced within shells of their own construction, are the SOLIPSISTS. Unable to find anything with tangible reality except their own doubt, they reject the significance of others' consciousness entirely, and bury themselves like ostriches burying their heads in sand.

Upon their fragile shells stand the POPULIST CYNICS, organizing armies of lesser minds in a campaign to destroy the higher orders. Yet no matter how much effort they apply in their denial, they can never escape their own negativity, and can do no more than hop along the edges of the Acheron, using the backs of solipsists like pond stones.

So now I described the array of modern skepticism, and their manner of arrival at such places of thought, and their behavior; to any virtue may their existence be ascribed? Mostly, they are no more are carrion eaters, feasting on the destruction of ideas better than anything within their own souls; but even to such lowly life, a higher purpose is ascribed, in the refinement of scientific ideas....as to whether such purpose could ever really elevate any one of them? It is fear of that failure, a fear of never being anything better; that is the fear I came to understand from those young students, on Keanu Reeves in Plato's Cave.

William Blake's Vision of the Acheron
William Blake's Vision of the Acheron