Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Jumping Mouse

Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Jumping Mouse

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Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Jumping Mouse


Truth is like trout. Slippery, it becomes difficult to grasp tightly in any attempt to catch it, and is even more difficult to show to other people, in that when one holds it up for scrutiny it is often lost in the struggle to do so. "Jumping Mouse" and Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave" have a common theme in the form of the search for truth, and showing this truth to the unenlightened. They vary greatly, however, in the carrying out of their exposure of truth, and more, their view of truth and how it is to be handled.

In the ancient story of "Jumping Mouse", Mouse finds his way to the river and medicine through his ability to literally jump past his fears and see the sacred mountains. When he does so, he catches a glimpse of a personal vision that is to drive him through the remainder of the story, and eventually to a higher plane when he is changed into an eagle. This vision is everything to him from that point on, and he strives from then on to reach it. After he has seen it and fallen into the river, he returns to where the rest of the mice are busy with the same thing they did when he left. They are enthralled in their narrow worlds and views, and so treat him with fear when they see him. They choose to make a story to explain his physical change, an excuse to stay away from him, possibly because they fear the ideas of change he brings back with him.

On the most basic level, Jumping Mouse at that point threatens their existence. They are mice, and defined by the fact that they are ever busy: burrowing and nesting and foraging; Jumping Mouse comes back with the idea that this might not be the only thing to life. Obviously they cannot simply drop everything they had known to that point and take up his view, so they instead rejected him.

Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" is similar in that a fabled and nameless man who had been chained to his illusions was set free and saw the true nature of all that was around him, outside of the cave. When he hypothetically returns to try to tell those who are still chained there of the outside world, and how everything they see is only the faint shadows outlining the true nature of reality, they reject him outright.

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He would be immediately mocked, and any attempts to convince the remaining prisoners would be rebuffed in their futility. Acceptance of his ideas would mean a complete restructuring of all that they now accepted as reality. Any previous satisfaction that they could have had in their position would be lost with their view of that position, and that causes a great deal of discomfort in the minds of the prisoners, given that they are not sure of the same happiness on the other side of change. It does not seem graspable to them that they might find more happiness after they see the truth from the returning prisoner's point of view, so they choose the safe alternative, that of close-mindedness.

In this way the two stories coincide. Upon returning with the truth, both parties are rejected by those who previously had accepted them. The reason for this is similar: fear of change. The fear of change is derived as all similar situations are; fear that comfort felt in one's present situation will be lost in the new situation. Possible benefit weighs very low in one's mind compared to tangible benefit. So the result is a lack of belief from those with whom the two characters normally associated.

Rather than simply accepting that they could have been wrong, the characters both look elsewhere to deal with this spurning of ideas. This is the point at which the stories diverge in path and view. "Allegory of the Cave" takes the stance that this enlightenment, the only real truth, must be shared with others without rest until all are converted. "Jumping Mouse" seems to say that one must go out and reconcile in one's own life the affect that this truth has on the person, rather than everyone seen.

In "Allegory of the Cave", Plato in all ways sets up in description the truth as being a higher plane of enlightenment than is achieved by the normal man. By describing it as the "light" and the alternative to truth as a form of "captivity", he sets up the prisoners below as being chained to their weak ideals. In a demeaning tone he speaks of how the chained men have contests among themselves to pick out quickly what they believe to be reality, but which is only a shadow, as is everything they see.

When the freed prisoner is returned, he attempts to convince the others of what he saw, and Plato backs out when they refuse to listen, so that he may tie it in to his own example, as though he has found the only higher truth. By virtue of his setup, there can be no arguing as to the validity of another "truth", because it becomes difficult to argue that there is another valid form of reality, of sunlight or voices, that we do not perceive. Plato designed his allegory to focus on the idea of truth, rather than the thought that multiple truths may exist. This fits well into Plato's theory of one higher truth, but it is a view not necessarily shared by all, and so makes weak ground upon which to base one's argument.

By contrast, "Jumping Mouse" takes a completely different course. When the other mice expel him from their society in fear, Jumping Mouse does not spend his time attempting to convince the rest of the mice that his is the right way to do things, only continues to live, to find that it is the most opportune way for him to survive, and that in the end, for him, it holds great reward, when he changes form entirely to that of an eagle. He does not spend needless time trying to turn the close minded mice from their paths, only goes on in his own path.

This is the more feasible alternative to take-- that of living one's own life despite what others say-- as it provides more opportunity for further personal enlightenment. Since a degree of comfort is obviously provided before enlightenment occurs (otherwise everyone would spend their time looking for this enlightenment, or grab at it when someone else offered), it seems as though those who would not accept the truth that those who see it would offer should be let alone to their lives, since they have found a relative degree of happiness as they are.

Plato's view is slightly less accepting of other views, and therefore inadvertantly alienating in a subtle way. The story of Jumping Mouse is, conversely, more applicable to life, despite the fact that its main character is a small foraging rodent. Both deal similarly with truth and inacceptance of it, however, and both have themes which ring true for us today. This truth may be found with only a little effort, slippery as it may be at times.
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