Shadows: Our limited conceptions of reality

Though our biased and limited conceptions may be only shadows of reality, they are all we have ever known. We have been taught to accept them as real by our families and culture. In large, we blindly accept and imitate what we are taught. We might question this or that shadow, but we do so within the mindset that the shadow paradigm is the model of reality. If we can free ourselves to search for the truth behind the shadows, we can discover greater truths as we emerge from our caves of ignorance and prejudice.

When we free ourselves from the chains of our ego and ethnocentric thinking, we will realize that the shadows were created by manmade constructions paraded between a fire and the wall. However, we may then believe that these representatives of actual things are real when they are just a higher level representation of truth. A much clearer apprehension of reality awaits us as we gradually free ourselves from the darkness of the cave of ignorance that we do not even know we inhabit. However, this is a very difficult process and those still chained to the wall will probably not welcome the news that they and their friends have been wrong all along.

Our experience put us at the center of the universe and sees reality from that narrow perspective. From our constrained viewpoints, reality depends upon our perspective. We do not view the plant we live on as a rotating ball hurling through space. It appears flat and stationary. As we gained a more comprehensive understanding of the earth, we thought it was central to the cosmos and the sun moved around it. This is the view children have and we would have if we were limited to only our visible world. These perspectives can be compared to the cave dwellers limited worldviews based on the shadow knowledge they had. Our language still reflects this thinking in such terms as the sun rising and setting.

Today we accept such earth-centric thinking as irrational, but when heliocentric ideas were first proposed, the originators of them were the ones considered foolish, even heretical. Many of the great revolutions or paradigm shifts in thinking have been the result of people freeing themselves from partial viewpoints and seeing things from a broader or higher perspective. Many of authors of these new ideas did not allow their theories to be published until after they had died for fear of the backlash against them, much like reception the freed prisoner might receive who challenges the accepted shadow dogma in the cave with new ideas.

For example, the Copernican revolution was based largely on a shift in perspective from and earth-centered universe to a sun-centered cosmology. This simple change of viewpoint challenged the established knowledge and theories of astronomy. Copernicus’ new theory helped initiate a revolution in astronomy and science. However, Copernicus could only see so far. His thinking too was incomplete as we discovered later that the sun was not the center of the universe, not even of our galaxy. As we emerge from our caves of restricted knowledge with clearer vision and greater insight, we gain new perspectives that allow us to see our previous understandings as partial. In other words, these earlier theories and views are not necessarily wrong, only appropriate for limited conditions and paradigms.

We are in the midst of another such revolutionary process, which some call a paradigm shift. If our paradigms consist of shadows, we will try to make sense of new information according to the shared views of that shadow world. As world problems and global crises deepen and our old paradigms no longer work, humanity will become more willing to discard old ideas, values and behaviors and begin to investigate reality in the clearer light of the principles of truth, love and justice.

Einstein was right: the problems created by the prevalent way of thinking cannot be solved by the same way of thinking. This is a crucial insight. Without renewing our culture and consciousness we will be unable to transform today’s dominant civilization and overcome the problems generated by its shortsighted mechanistic and manipulative thinking. . . . The conscious orientation of the next cultural mutation—the shift to a new civilization—depends on the evolution of our consciousness. This evolution has become a precondition of our collective survival. (Laszlo, 2006, pp. 39, 77)


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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