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Is it better to come into the light, or stay in the darkness?


  In "The Allegory of the Cave", there is a comparison made between a person who has 'come into the light', and a group who has not.  In the story, this idea of coming into the light is used literally, but it symbolizes a form of enlightenment, a way of knowing some form of absolute truth.  But, as we have discussed in class, people live in their own universes of perception; the 'truth' of one person may be seen by another as false.  So how are we to judge truth?, how can we recognize enlightenment?  Can there even really be such a thing as enlightenment, or is it just another thing that we must strive to reach, knowing that we must fail?  And again, in "The Allegory of the Cave", who is right to look down upon the ability of the other, the man still blinded by 'truth', or the cave dwellers who, not blinded by insight, stand and observe the man "misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner" (1185)?  Truth is far more elusive than we try to make it; shadows can hide in the bright light of day while rays of enlightenment illuminate the cavern.

 In the interactions between Funes and Borges there is an ideal model of this reciprocal conflict.  Funes and Borges pity each other; each feels that the mind of the other is inferior.  Funes "ha[s] more memories in [him]self alone than all men since the world was a world" (Borges 4); Borges, although lacking this ability, is more capable of abstraction and analysis.  Which is better?  Who is better; whose self-belief is true?  In reality, it doesn't matter.  In reality, both are true, yet neither are true; each self-belief is seen by one as sunlight and by the other as shadow.  What is important is the conflict, the opposing nature of these ideals.  Funes and Borges are blind to this opposition, yet it is the one thing that they could both truly see.  An opinion is buried deep within one's own universe; a conflict is out in the open, out between two people, so both people can grasp it.  Yet it is anchored in opinion; tracing conflict back to its roots can reveal parts of a mind that would otherwise remain buried in shadow.

  Enlightenment is the search for an absolute truth.  Therefore, enlightenment cannot exist.  For absolute truth does not really exist; it is merely a nebulous idea, a shadow that disappears when the light of thought is shined on it.  This is why an 'absolute truth' can only exist as a feeling; the process of converting it to words, or even coherent ideas, draws it into the light of reason and doubt, where it is extinguished, leaving one tongue-tied and confused.  O'Brien has a unique view of truth; for him, 'truth' is not really what happened, but what feels true.  Through story-telling, he manages to convey the vaporous nebula of an absolute truth.  But even this truth is not truly absolute; it ebbs and flows with time, changing and reforming as his mind's eye wanders through new memories.  It is because of this that he "just keep[s] on telling" (O'Brien 85) his war stories; they are constantly changing in his mind, so his telling of them never stays true.  But we would not be human if we did not strive to do the impossible, to find the nonexistent truth, to tell the untellable story, chasing the blind dream that by refusing to acknowledge the impossible, we can do it.

  Relative thought, then, becomes the only real form of truth.  Science teaches us this, that nothing can be analyzed without analyzing it with respect to something else.  This is why O'Brien constantly refines his stories, "patiently, adding and subtracting, making up a few more things to get at the real truth" (O'Brien 85).  This is why we all keep returning to the same basic ideas, over and over again, regardless of what those ideas may be.  Somehow we are trying to refine these ideas, to compare them to new experiences and new thoughts and make them more true.  For the more ideas we collect, the more our personal universes expand and overlap, and the more we can honestly call any one thing 'true'.

  But then all of this leads back to the original question: is it better to come into the light, or to stay in the darkness?.  As discussed before, 'coming into the light' reflects an ideal, the ideal of finding the absolute truth.  But there is no absolute truth.  So coming into the light can only mean the discovery of an idea, and the common misconception that an idea that somehow feels right must be truth.  In this way, enlightenment is darkness, and darkness is light, for the only tangible difference is one's self-confidence in one's beliefs.  The best place to be, then, is in the shadow of dawn, an impartial step removed from either side.  From there, one can look out over the landscape of false ideals and truly understand that while there are no great beacons of truth, there are also no true falsehoods, no real lies.  And this knowledge, this unattainable vista, is my key to enlightenment.