That's a pain in the butt! The fake real is tough enough to figure out!
But in this, Plato has so much in common with virtually every religious and spiritual tradition we got. His near contemporary Buddha is telling his followers to get off the meat wheel and go inward. Jesus says you either sell all to buy the pearl or you don't. Elijah says idols are fake, Moses says true existence is a person. Lao Tzu has this unseen way of things. Virtually every great teacher we got our hands on says some form of 'look deeper'. Even Steve Jobs, make God rest his soul and kick his ass, told us to 'Think Different'.
But I'm not sure what Plato has to teach me! Is the cave something I'm studying from a historical perspective, as in, "This is what those who came before me figured out," or am I approaching the cave analogy from a moral perspective as in, "This is how I must figure out what to do"?
Historical perspective: So for the ancient world, was the idea of the cave by Plato a catalyst for looking more closely at the nature of things than the basic survival of self and clan that drove humanity until this point? I can imagine the ancient mindset looking at things purely in terms of their immediate usefulness. To go deeper or to see a hidden reality of things such as would lead to laws of physics and atom theory and heliocentrism would certainly need a dramatic shift in mindset, I would think. Was Plato's cave this shift? Or the initiating incident of such a shift? His student was Aristotle, who looked very closely at things. I'm not sure this theory has very much oomph, though. First, there were tonnes of solid natural philosophy before and beyond Plato. That is, people thought deeply about reality without him. Second, major golden ages as in India, Islam and medieval Europe took place far removed from Plato (or were they?). What exactly can Plato take credit for? Do I need to look at Augustine of Hippo and beyond to make sense of this question?
Today, looking back at the cave analogy we see that the electronic information age has much to do with what Plato describes. We might ourselves be 'chained' to 'shadows' on a variety of magic 16:9 rectangles. Might? Screen addiction is for real, and this blog post proves it! In many ways, it could be possible that young and old people are searching for an elusive 'realer' reality that can only be found with the power turned off. Again, looking at a person who looks back at you might in fact be the puzzling element that cannot be easily explained. That is, why is the best and worst thing in the world the human face IRL (In Real Life)?
Ultimately, my heightened oldest-child perfectionism wants to sort out and easily explain the complexities of Plato's cave, to reduce it to an applicable formula. The cave, though, shows up to complicate every one of my interactions with reality. What is the 'form' of chromebook, of blog, of streaming music? What deeper, unseen dimension explains and reveals who I truly am and the historical context that makes up my now and here? Which chains keep me entranced and which prophets do I repress and ignore so as to remain self-congratulatory, self-absorbed and voyeuristic?
For the Christian, of course, it is sin that enslaves us to the 'glamour' of evil (I only understood the phrase when I read Ioan Colfer's Artimis Fowl). The shadows include our self image that in fact is the negative space of the divine light - who we like to think we are without God. The light of Christ hurts the eyes at first, but by degrees we move towards our eschatological destination, the fullness of light by which every double darkness of ignorance and sin is obliterated. Even our 'shadow selves' are wiped away when we see ourselves and others in the dignity God has always wanted to clothe us in. Our chains have been forever broken by the Cross, and we have only to turn our gaze towards the source of light who is also a human face.