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Or: Plato's Cave With A Twist


A Thought Experiment

Imagine -- within one room of a house -- a small aquarium, with a single fish floating peacefully within it. A video camera is set up on one side of the aquarium, to record the fish head-on. Another video camera is set up at right-angles to the first one, to record the same fish from a side-view.

The images from the two video cameras are projected onto two separate screens, on two adjacent walls of a different room of the house. You sit peacefully on a chair in the middle of this second room. The image that you see on one of the screens (of a fish head-on) looks quite different from the image that you see on the second screen (the side-view of a fish), and so -- unaware of the true source of the images -- you assume them to be independent entities.

What you soon notice, however, is that -- curiously enough -- the two images tend to move, to transform, in relation to one another: when one moves, the other frequently does so also (though the specifics of their shape/color patterns are unique); when one is relatively still, so also is the other. From such perceived correlations, you begin to wonder if it might not be the case that the movement of one were somehow the direct result of the movement of the other (though occasionally, the two movements appear to transform simultaneously, which is even more mysterious).

Cause-And-Effect & Simultaneous Arising

In order to explain this phenomenon, in a more formal way, you propose a cause-and-effect mechanism: what must be happening is that a signal of some sort (i.e. energy/information) is being transmitted from one screen-image to the other other screen-image -- and in this way (via the transmitted signal) the movement or stillness of one image initiates, i.e. “causes” -- across the intervening space/time -- a corresponding movement or stillness in the other.

But then you wonder: what about the movements which arise simultaneously? Since the screens are not physically touching one another (nor overlaid), there doesn’t seem to be any way for one to communicate instantaneously with the other (transcending the limitations, say, of the speed of light). This apparent hole in your cause-and-effect theory -- though initially felt to be something of a problem, or at the least an irritation -- later proves to be a gateway to the deeper truth of the situation ...

For rather than being “exceptions to the rule” of our proposed cause-and-effect mechanism, such instances of seemingly-inexplicable “simultaneous arisings” are actually a truer representation of the deeper mechanisms at play: They point to the possibility that projection -- from nonlocal Source into local manifestation -- is always simultaneous, always transcends (or, if you will, operates “at right angles to”) space-time mechanisms -- though in a way that allows also for the relative-world appearance of cause-and-effect.

In particular, a cause-and-effect mechanism “makes sense” to us in instances when the seeming time-delay or space-gap between perceived “objects” or “events” is of a certain middle-range distance or duration: not so small or brief as to give rise to a perception of simultaneity; and not so great as to create the assumption of the objects/events being wholly unrelated.

So, returning to our situation, sitting in the middle of the room, watching the two screens with their separate images: The apparent cause-and-effect relationships, along with the less-frequent and apparently miraculous synchronicities, are easily explained by the common source of the images (viz. the fish floating/moving in the fishbowl, in the other room), whose superficial differences have only to do with the different relative points of view, as recorded by the two video cameras.

The Return

The moment I get up out of the chair that I’ve been sitting in, and walk out of that room -- that fishbowl of dualistic/deluded perception -- into the room which contains the aquarium and the video cameras -- as soon as I’m able to do this, the two-dimensional illusion, with its corollary cause-and-effect theories, collapses. I now see directly that the source (the ultimate “cause”) of all of the projected movements has been a single fish.

When the fish moves in such a way as to create a ripple through its body -- one part moving slightly before or after another part -- the projected images appear as separated by a time-delay. When the fish engages in whole-body shivering -- every part moving simultaneously -- the projected images appear, “miraculously,” to be arising simultaneously. In both cases, it’s simply One Body moving.

So, to make explicit how this extended metaphor relates to spiritual practice, to our journey from delusion to awakening as Pure Awareness, the Body Of Tao:

* Our position as the person sitting in the room with the two screens, seeing only the projected images, corresponds to the assumption of an “external world” (governed by Newtonian cause-and-effect mechanisms) which exists independently from our perceptions of it.

* Walking out of that room with the screens, and spotting the video-cameras, corresponds to a realization that our human bodymind -- with its conditioned cognitive/perceptual mechanisms -- is something akin to one of the video-cameras -- an understanding which allows us then to “witness” this recording/projecting process, rather than being automatically identified with the images which it produces.

* Seeing the fish -- and realizing in an instant that it, and it alone, is the ultimate source of all of the projected images -- corresponds to the apperception of Pure Awareness, the Body-Of-Tao, and an awakening to ourselves as none other than this One Fish.


Of Related Interest:

* Turning The Light Around
* The Tao & Dongshan’s Five Ranks
* Taoist Visualization & Three Natures Of Existence
* The Dance Of Mutual Enhancement
* Multiplicity, Modulation & Continuity In Taoist Practice
* Tying Up Loose Ends: Topology Swallows Quantum Computing

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