Once upon a time, as all good stories go, a Greek philosopher told his friends of an allegory that conveyed the importance of education. The philosopher was Plato, and the allegory was the Cave (wonderfully illustrated by Zontul Films here). In the Cave, Plato demonstrates the difference between an education that is acquired passively, and an education that is felt or experienced. In a word, the message being driven home here is that education confers responsibility. We need to be active agents of learning, questioning supposed truths and inquiring after that which can be conferred as real knowledge. The allegory is of course part of the complex amalgam of books that make up Plato’s Republic, but it can be understood in isolation as a fitting metaphor for the way in which we understand, interact with, and learn from the world in which we live.
As a former luddite I stood against the rapid advances of technology, but having quickly realised how utterly immersed we are in this Digital Age, I have acquiescently adapted. Technology, it must be admitted, is a valuable connector to knowledge. Indeed, the world around us has never been so connected. Yet, simultaneously, in all the ages of humanity we have never been so terribly disconnected. The omnipresence of digital media is progressively turning consumers into the consumed. We are entering a critical phase in which we are being shaped more and more by virtual space, and less and less by the physical topography of place. In essence, we are receding very slowly but assuredly back into the Cave of shadows – a place of untruth that Plato cautioned us from entering more than 2 millennia ago.
Fear not readers, for I don’t intend to trail off into a sophistical rant about the demise of civilisation. Rather, there is a simple task I wish to ask of you.
I ask you to reflect momentarily on the last time you stood upon the pavement (any pavement) as you rush from pillar to post in your daily life, and contemplated your relationship with the physical world that you inhabit.
I define “world” here as a marriage between space and place. For some of you, I know that your answer will yield a promising frequency. For others however, I fear that you may not recall an answer at all.
I would like to propose that the next time you find yourself street-walking in your nearest metropolis, stop for a moment. Look up. Look around. Observe the spaces that your eyes normally evade. Immerse yourself within that space with reckless abandon. Throw virtual reality to the wind and embrace instead that which is concrete and that which is real. Your relationship with the physical world in many ways defines you, just as much as you define it. We embody a symbiotic relationship with space wherever we may dwell. As an enthusiastic urbanite, I dwell in the city, but as the masterful architect Juhani Pallasmaa expressed it, the city also dwells in me.
I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me
– Juhani Pallasmaa
As a departing thought, I invite you to step inside a new visuality this week. Open your eyes to the world outside the Cave of shadows and make new connections with it. From birds on a wire to architectural landmarks and all in-between, your city has much to offer. Enjoy exploring it!
Featured is a small pictorial of subtle perspectives from Dublin’s cobblestones.