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Leonardo DiCaprio & The Nature Of Reality: Crash Course Philosophy #4

Crash Course Philosophy is brought to you
by Squarespace. Squarespace: Share your passion with the world. We’ve spent a couple of lessons thinking
about how philosophers reason. Now it’s time to do some actual philosophy. And one of the most important hallmarks
of philosophical thought is that you should never take things at face value. You should always be willing to accept that
there’s more to the world than meets the eye. Because, whatever truth seems obvious today,
might turn out to be not so true at all. It’s one of the more daunting pursuits in
philosophy — pondering what’s really real, as opposed to what you think is real, and
how you could ever know the difference. Fortunately, there are some guides who can help you on your journey, when you’re exploring the nature of reality. And you know who’s really helpful here?
Leonardo DiCaprio. I mean, I guess you could say that a lot actors can transport you to another reality if they’re good enough. But that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about Inception, that movie
where Leo plays a thief who steals ideas from people by invading their dreams. A super-handy ability if you want to, say, steal corporate secrets from a CEO, or military plans from a head of state. But after a while, it becomes hard for some
members of Leo’s team to tell the difference between one dream and another, or to discern
dreams from reality. The whole film is populated with people who live
in a dream world, convinced they’re living real-life. To them, the dream is all there is – it
has become their reality. But from the perspective of those outside
the dream, who see their sleeping bodies, the reality they’re chasing is simply false. It’s a real cool premise for a movie. I
haven’t ruined it for you — you can still watch it. And the fact is, the same concept
has been around for thousands of years. The basic question that Inception asks has
vexed philosophers all the way back to the very roots of Western philosophy. Is it possible that my current reality isn’t
real at all? Before we had Leonardo DiCaprio to walk us
through this question we had Plato. [Theme Music] Around 2400 years ago, Plato wrote his famous
book, The Republic, in which he describes — probably better than anyone before or since
— the nature of reality. He does it by telling a story about prisoners who have been chained since birth in a dark cave, facing a blank wall. All kinds of people and objects pass behind
the prisoners, and a fire casts the shadows of those things onto the wall in front of
the prisoners. These shadow images are all the prisoners ever see, and they come to understand the shadows as reality. Now just hold up a minute and imagine what
your view of the world would be like, if all you’ve ever seen are shadows. You wouldn’t
know that there was anything more. 3D wouldn’t even be a concept for you. The prisoners spend their whole lives understanding
only this shadow reality, until one day one of them escapes from his chains, and crawls
into the daylight. After spending a lifetime in fire-lit darkness,
the man is blinded by the sun at first. But in time, he comes to see the things outside
the cave are far more real than the shadow images that he once took for reality. They have substance. They occupy an extra
dimension. Think about how that would feel. To suddenly
realize that everything you believed just minutes ago turned out to be merely faint
outlines of reality. This is what happens to a lot of the
characters who inhabit the world of Inception: Once they realize there can be multiple layers of reality, they never look at the world around them the same way again. And for many of them, the
experience becomes intoxicating. This is also what happens to Plato’s escaped
prisoner. He goes back into the cave to tell his friends
the exciting news about what he’s found. But the conversation doesn’t go the way
he thinks it will. He expects them to be amazed by his discovery
— he figures they’ll be as eager to join him as he is anxious to get back. But they all think he’s crazy. As far as
they’re concerned, he’s babbling about some “higher reality” that they’ve never
seen, or heard of, or have any evidence for. To make matters worse, going back into the
fire-lit cave, after being in the sunlight, temporarily blinds the man again. So, from his friends’ perspective, his journey
into the outside world has actually damaged him, because now he can’t even see the shadow
images that were once his whole world. Now, you don’t have to be Plato, or Christopher
Nolan, to dream this stuff up. In fact, you might have experienced a diluted
version of this kind of reality-shock for yourself. For example:
Do you remember your first teddy bear? That bear was, philosophically speaking,
your only contact with, and your only way of understanding,
the concept of a bear. Then one day, you went to a zoo, or a wildlife refuge,
or a national park, and you saw an actual bear. And suddenly you realized that your previous
understanding of ‘bear’ was way, way off. Bears don’t have button eyes and little smiles made
of thread. They’re not soft. You couldn’t hug one. The bear you spent your first years of life
snuggling with, was just a shadowy imitation of the reality of bear-ness. Now, check out this somewhat more mature example: Maybe you were the first member of your tweeny
group of friends to discover the wonders of romantic attraction. You might’ve felt like
your eyes were open to a whole new world that your pals were still blind to. And when you tried to explain to them what
had happened to you? And how you felt? They probably thought you were crazy. And
the feeling was probably mutual. And this is what our poor protagonist goes
through when he re-enters the cave. So why does Plato tell us this story? It’s not just about little a-ha moments,
like when we discovered that bears and boys were not what we once thought they were. It’s
more than that. Plato wants us to see that we, right now,
are prisoners in a cave. Everything in our world is actually a mere
shadow of a higher reality. Just as the man in the story once mistook
shadows for real things, we are currently prisoners in a cave of our own. But rather than mistaking shadows for the
material objects of the ordinary world, our mistake is thinking that the material objects
of the ordinary world are the most real things. In fact, Plato says, the physical world that we think is the most real, is actually a mere shadow of a higher truth. If this surprises you, think about how many
beliefs were once accepted as absolute fact – only to later turn out to be completely
false – The shape of the earth. The idea that the
Earth was the center of the universe. The belief that heroin, and tobacco, and lobotomies
were good for people. Those so-called facts turned out to be far
from the truth. So, there’s a lot packed into this little
story. Plato is urging you to consider that the
world is not really as it seems. And making a statement about philosophy.
Doing philosophy is hard. Accepting that much of what you’ve always believed might actually be false can make you uncomfortable. You might feel temporarily blinded. You may learn just enough to know that your
old beliefs aren’t reliable, but you don’t yet know enough to feel comfortable with these
new ideas, either. What’s more, your old friends, who aren’t on this journey with you, might think you’ve lost your mind. Or they might take you for an arrogant, pedantic
jerk who thinks they have all the answers. But philosophy is also awesome. Because, once you get through the growing
pains, you can see things in a new way, and you can see through things that used to fool
you. And that brings us to another puzzle. Consider
this argument: No cat has 2 tails. Every cat has one more
tail than no cat. Therefore, every cat has 3 tails. Now, you’re probably thinking, that’s just
clearly wrong. That’s not much of a puzzle. I mean, the two premises sound right enough.
But the conclusion is … wha? This puzzle exploits a strangeness in the
language that we use to discuss certain ideas — specifically the ideas of nothingness,
absence, or emptiness. In premise 1, ‘no cat’ refers to an absence
of cats. Think about things with 2 tails, and none
of those things you think of are cats. Because you probably can’t even think of anything
with two tails. But in premise 2, the language tricks us into
understanding ‘No-Cat’ as an existent thing, rather than an absence of a thing.
The way it’s phrased, No-Cat could conceivably be that elusive creature that has 2 tails. So this leads us to the conclusion that, if
the No-Cat has 2 tails, and every cat has one more tail than it does, then every cat
must have 3 tails! Which is just wrong. And it takes a moment to understand the source
of our confusion. The conclusion is faulty, because it mistakes the absence of something for the presence of something. But it strikes us as plausible, on some level,
because language has duped us into considering a reality where a creature called No Cat with
two tails is actually a thing. Figuring out puzzles like this is kind of
like flipping a switch — first you’re confused, and then the cause of the confusion seems
obvious. It’s just a matter of sorting through what’s
really real. And Plato thinks philosophy is like that too
— going from the darkness into the light is both disorienting and rewarding. It’s kinda too bad in this case, though.
Because: a cat with three tails? I’d kind of like to see that. Though, to be honest
I’d mostly just like looking at any cat. And with that, we wrap up this episode of
Crash Course Philosophy. Today we learned about Plato’s famous Myth of the Cave, questioned
the relationship between appearance and reality, and talked about the process of philosophical
discovery. Next time, we’re going to disappear even
deeper into the hole of shadow and disbelief – all in the hopes of eventually emerging
into the light. This episode is brought to you by Squarespace.
Squarespace helps to create websites, blogs or online stores for you and your ideas. Websites
look professionally designed regardless of skill level, no coding required. Try Squarespace at for a special offer. Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association
with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check out amazing shows
like Shanx FX, Gross Science, and PBS Game/Show. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of all of these amazing people
and our Graphics Team is Thought Cafe.
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