Essay—The Allegory of One (Issue 7)

Summary:- The Allegory of One tells Plato’s allegory of the cave and the story of Creation—and then considers how things might have turned out differently had the story of Creation been interpreted allegorically rather than literally.

Quote:- There is nothing in the universe but empty, curved space. —John Wheeler

The British philosopher and mathematician Alfred Whitehead (1861-1947) once suggested that all philosophy after Plato (427-347 bc) is merely a footnote.  For Plato, philosophy and mathematics were a passionate way of life.  He was obsessed with many things including the idea of transcending the physical world and achieving eternal existence.  Plato used his famous allegory of the cave to illustrate the difference between spurious belief and genuine knowledge—a distinction that lies at the heart of his most important work The Republic.  An allegory is the figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.  Imagine prisoners chained inside a cave such that they only see the shadows projected on the wall from the fire behind them.  A prisoner named Socrates breaks free of his chains and climbs out of the cave into daylight.  After a time his eyes adjust to the light and he returns to the cave intending to free the prisoners.  But back inside the cave Socrates now has trouble making out the shadows.  And his obvious attempt at liberation only serves to anger the prisoners for revealing the illusionary nature of their existence.  They become so overwrought with anxiety that they proceed to kill him for it.

The Fall.  The story of Creation from Genesis originated about three thousand years ago.  The book describes how God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when the earth was still void.  According to the story, as told by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) in The Concept of Anxiety—Adam and Eve were going along nicely until one day God commands Adam not to eat the apples from the tree of knowledge.  Up until then, Adam had not even considered eating the apples.  But once he knows he can do so, he is confronted by an overwhelming sense of dread as he faces freedom of choice for the first time.  Unable to shed his anxiety, Adam breaks down and commits an act of violence by eating an apple—for which he is expelled from Eden.

One Fixedpoint.  The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) defines existentialism as the philosophy for which existence precedes essence.  For manmade things, the idea of the thing comes before the actual thing itself—that is, essence precedes existence.  But for man, who arrives on the scene and then becomes what he is, existence precedes essence.  The difference is that man continually creates his own essence in every moment through his decisions and actions.  Sartre radically insists that subjectivity must be the starting point.

The Original Sin of Christianity.  Interpreted literally, the story of Creation depicts our progression from innocence and bliss to our existing state of knowledge, misery and sin.  The inference here is that God is a superior artisan who created the essence of man prior to his existence in Eden.  As such, God is responsible for Creation and man is responsible for following His rules.  And it is clear that the implications arising from this essence-precedes-existence interpretation are utterly staggering.  Because of it, schools today only teach the most superficial aspects of philosophy and science.  Yet philosophy and science, taught from a historical perspective, are necessary for us to be in position to create value.  And creating value means creating value for the universe, and not just for our selves and our companies.  Plato wrote that we only exist to the degree that we exist eternally.  And we only exist eternally to the degree that we create value for the universe.

Fleeing the Scene of Existence.  We cannot deny the simplest truth of all—that we have absolutely no idea who we are or why we are here.  And the entire world is caught up in the unconscious conspiracy to flee this fact.  Society today produces spectacular images that provide the illusion of progress but which, in reality, merely make the whirlpool spin faster.  Real progress, quite frankly, only comes about as the result of the rare and difficult solo efforts called for in swimming upstream.  And let us not forget that true creativity and innovation often seem desperate and vulgar at first appearance.  It took four years for the scientific community to realize the significance of Einstein’s special theory of relativity from when it was first introduced in 1905.  As Einstein himself tells us—Great spirits are always violently opposed by mediocre minds.

Creation and Violence.  If the story of Creation is to be interpreted allegorically, as many have suggested, then it is likely that Adam and Eve existed in nothingness prior to space and time—while only possessing the most primordial characteristic of Being, namely awareness.  And for there to be awareness, there must first be light—from which it stands to reason that Adam and Eve were in fact beings of light or photons themselves.  God then pulled the oldest trick in the book by using reverse psychology so that Adam would take responsibility for eating an apple from the tree of knowledge—which he did by splitting himself into an electron and a positron—that is, matter and antimatter.  This violation of nothingness turns out to be the rupture that we have come to know as the big bang—bringing into existence space and time and the universe as we know it.

According to the dictionary, creation is an act of violence causing to exist that which did not previously exist.  And the way to go about creating something from nothing is to get all fucked up, and then recover from it.  The question is—When does the recovery begin?  At this point we are well advised to heed the words of Gustave Flaubert (1821-81) from his timeless classic Madame Bovary—Be regular and orderly in your daily life, so you can be violent and original in your work.

Empty, Curved Space.  Most people see the future as something that happens to them rather than something they must learn to create.  By way of analogy, it could be argued that addiction stems from the inability to conceive of the future.  Addicts grab hold of what they can now before it goes away.  The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued against the existence of curved space for the reason that, he said, we cannot conceive of curved space in our mind.  But it turns out we can conceive of curved space in our mind, as Einstein showed us with the general theory of relativity in 1915—it just happens to be very difficult.

Nonlocality.  In 1982 Alain Aspect, Jean Dalibard and Gerard Roger performed a monumentally important experiment in Paris which established, beyond a doubt, that all photons in the universe are instantaneously connected to one another—regardless of distance.  Yet remarkably, the world’s leading physicists are at a loss to explain the result.  But the explanation is simple—the world’s leading physicists are not very bright.  Special relativity (1905) clearly indicates that photons exist outside of space and time.  Similarly, quantum theory (1925) clearly indicates that electrons and positrons exist, with some degree of probability, at every point in the universe.  If one conceives of the universe as an object in the same way that one conceives of an apple as an object, then it is easy to imagine photons, electrons and positrons as being located adjacent to the universe—and therefore connected to every point in the universe instantaneously.  From this we must therefore conclude that there is only one photon, one electron and one positron—for the simple reason that there is no need for more than one.

Emerging into Daylight.  The American physicist John Wheeler once pointed out that the application of quantum theory to the entire universe implies the very act of observation brings both ourselves and the universe into existence.  He also wrote, because the observer’s consciousness determines the fate of quantum experiments, that the distinction between observer and participant all but disappears.  By way of allegory, consider Erwin Schrödinger’s classic cat-in-a-box thought problem applied to the entire universe as follows.  Both a quantum-cat named Adam and an apple from the tree of knowledge are placed in a box.  The box is such that the observer, also named Adam, cannot know what is happening inside.  Adam then chooses to either eat the apple or not with equal probability, and his decision is carried out—or is it?  In the strange world of quantum mechanics, subatomic particles exist in several places at once and only become determinate upon observation.  Schrödinger argued that the eating or not eating of the apple does not take place until the moment the box is opened.  Unobserved inside the box, Adam’s state of knowledge can only be described by a probability wave.

Conclusion.  But the question is not whether Adam inside the box has eaten the apple—it is whether Adam outside the box has eaten the apple.  In fact, the enlightened man has no need to open the box at all.  He leaves behind a simple map in the form of an allegory, then stands up, climbs out of the cave, walks toward the light—and never thinks about the prisoners again.