Shadows on the Cave Wall

Recently someone I know asked me for some information about myself. I had only a vague general idea about why she was asking. But, in my thoughts, I made up a mini-story about the questioner’s benevolent motive, and gave her the information.

Later that day, my friend said he had also been asked for the information. My friend had less background knowledge about the questioner than I did. So he made up a mini-story about the questioner’s malevolent motive. “I feel she is checking up on me,” my friend worried.

That night, I could not sleep. My disorganized thoughts finally took shape when they found a topic to worry about. “Is she checking up on me? She is checking up on me. She doesn’t trust me. I have given her no reason to mistrust me. I won’t stand for this. If she is undermining me, I will take action.” For a full hour, I reviewed these same thoughts in a continuous loop. And got more and more agitated.

Even though I knew my worry was based on my friend’s worry, which was based on imagination, which was based on lack of information.

Even though I recognized that I was mentally chained to the lowest level in Plato’s cave, where my thoughts were based on shadows of imaginary things. Not even on imaginary things themselves, but on someone’s account of a belief they were left to generate through imagination because they had no first-hand knowledge. 

So many of the building blocks of our inferences are based on these kinds of shadows.

That’s the harm of gossip: people share their emotional reactions to emotional reactions to emotional reactions to things they heard might have happened. In this way, factually false things become emotionally true. And once they are emotionally true, correcting them with facts becomes difficult.

Emotions have their own energy and trajectory, independent of the information that triggers them.

That’s how I was able to feel so anxious while knowing the object of my anxiety was a fiction.

The study of phenomenology teaches us to observe a complex of thought, emotion, and imagination. As we observe, we separate out the different strands. As we separate them, we learn about the different energies of consciousness and how we experience them.

Phenomenology, as described by philosopher Edmund Husserl in his book Ideas (1931), has become a part of my natural process of self-observation.

Though I admit: the other night it did not help me sleep. It only helped me understand where my insomnia took me.

To fall asleep, I lay down on the couch near the terrarium where my three nocturnal fire-bellied toads live. All night they sing each other songs of love and friendship. That night, I eavesdropped, and let them sing me to sleep.

A completely different energy of consciousness.

Thank you.


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