Some philosophical work is so profound as to be influential for thousands of years. Plato's The Republic is one such series of dialogues. It explains and explores the relationship between state institutions and individuals. One of the central dialogues is called the Allegory of the Cave. Socrates speaks with a fellow philosopher and proposes that what people take to be reality in total is only a partial reality or an all out illusion.
Socrates begins "let me show you in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened Behold! human beings living in an underground cave." As all like philosophy, the Allegory is layered, but it is partially about seeking individual knowledge and perspective.
In the Allegory most people are chained in the cave and forced to watch images on a cave wall. The images are cast by the controllers of the cave who use a fire behind them to produce shadows. The prisoners interpret the shadows and whatever noises are made as reality in total, for it is all they know. There are other prisoners in the cave who are unchained, but are so transfixed with the imagery on the wall that the shadows are all they see.
It is further hypothesized what would happen if a prisoner was released. After initial distress the prisoner would learn to distinguish between real and shadow and would see the fire producing the shadows. And if he was brought out of the cave, he would first be blinded, but eventually would learn basics of nature. He would learn what is real, what is shadow and reflection. He would earth and water and that all is dependent on the Sun from shadows, to seasons to all life. After learning of reality outside the cave the prisoner would be inclined to return and inform those in his former home and in his former predicament.
A more complete and visual explanation of the Allegory of the Cave is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQfRdl3GTw4&feature=related
The text is available here: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html
The subject of the Allegory of the Cave is somewhat insidious despite often going unrecognized as such. It has provided lessons in politics, philosophy and individual enlightenment since it was penned some two thousand years ago.
The story of 1984 takes place within the allegorical cavern as an imagined dystopian future by George Orwell. The Telescreen, which ever transmits and as well as oversees, is equivalent to the shadows on the cave wall cast by unseen controllers. These images are controlled by the Inner Party. Most people in 1984 are Proles, they are equivalent to the chained in the cave. They have been prisoners their whole lives and do not notice the fact they are chained. The unchained and yet transfixed with the party line told through the Telescreen is the Outer party. They are so loyal to the imagery they will believe what they are shown and not what they observe. They will believe two plus two is five, as the saying goes.
In the Allegory of the Cave, it is pondered what would happen when a prisoner left the cave. In 1984, George Orwell likely pondered the same. Emmanuel Goldstein is a character in 1984 who figuratively left the cave, or understood the Inner Party's images were lies (Emmanuel = God is with, Goldstein = gold rock) and attempted to get others to understand the institutional lies. Emmanuel is supposed leader of the elusive Brotherhood in 1984 and is scorned, even hated by society.
The main character in 1984 is Winston Smith. Winston's story is one of a person who attempts to leave the cave. He is privy to certain Inner Party lies and begins to question and seek alternate perceptions other than the Inner Party line. Winston attempts to leave the cave only to be shut in and beaten down, made to hold the party line. Winston's end is not a happy one as well as Socrates' hypothesized result return of the prisoner.
Some fictional literature is so profound as to be relevant for decades and even serves as an expansion of language and thought. 1984, by George Orwell is one such literary work. 1984 is a post WWII interpretation of the relationship between individuals and state institutions using the archetypal Allegory of the Cave.
Both the Allegory of the Cave and Orwell's 1984 contain corresponding layers. Both explore a diabolical form of control through presentation of information and images in combination with strict surveillance and imprisonment. Further relationship between the more contemporary movie, The Matrix and the Allegory of the Cave are hardly subtle.
The original title of 1984 was proposed as The Last Man in Europe. Certainly that is the way one would feel, as if you were the last lone person, when you are aware of lies and partial truths presented as totality by controllers and accepted totally by everyone else.
George Orwell's 1984 spawned new language for age old procedures, as presented in the Allegory of the cave, the word Orwellian being one among many. This all encompassing term is reflective of lies made to be truths, unfair institutional surveillance and logic so distorted as to not only be convinced that "ignorance is strength' and two plus two equal five, but to also deny the very basic elements of nature.
Ignorance is strength - to institutions. Everyone has their own personal cave and we are all figuratively in a larger societal cavern. Coming up with your own questions is the way get out of the cave and gain enlightenment. Questioning what seems like a lie, or illusion in the cave, is the step outside the cave.