The cave

Stephen Few and Alberto Cairo (Alberto is the host, that’s why he doesn’t say much)

And now let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a meeting room, which has a projector with a Powerpoint presentation always turned on; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Behind them a computer with the data they can never see, just the Powerpoint slides, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

I see.
And do you see the data passing along the computer screen with all sorts of patterns and insights? Some data points are labeled, others silent. But the prisoners can’t see them.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves; and they see only their own slides, or the slides of one another, which the projector throws on the opposite wall of the meeting room?

True; how could they see anything but the slides if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the patterns which are being present in the data in like manner they would only see a glimpse of their true nature?

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.
And suppose further that the meeting room had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when the data they see came from the passing presentation?

No question.
To them the truth would be literally nothing but the presentation.

That is certain.
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it: the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the computer, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen in the slides; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real data, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the patterns as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the presentations which he formerly saw are truer than the patterns which are now shown to him?

Far truer.
And if he is compelled to look straight at the data, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the Powerpoint slides which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the data, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the data his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment.
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the real patterns in the data. And first he will see the slides best, next a few basic charts; then he will gaze upon the multiple patterns and trends and outliers in the data.

Last of he will be able to fully explore the data, finding relationships and getting relevant insights, and not mere reflections in the Powerpoint charts, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly he would first see the data and then reason about it.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.
And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing Powerpoint slides and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure.
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the Powerpoint slides with the prisoners who had never moved out of the meeting room, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that out he went and in he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of getting out; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him out to the computer, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

(In case you don’t recognize the text: it’s a *slightly* modified copy of the Allegory of the Cave, in Plato’s Republic, Book VII)

Image source: Wikipedia