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Everyone Lives in a Story by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Editorial  ISBN/ITEM#: EL090101ELIAS
Date: 19 December 2008

Links: Plato's Cave Analogy (full text) /

Some years ago, someone asked me, "What's your story?" in one of those offhand questions that you aren't expected to think to hard about. Naturally, I've been thinking about it ever since.

If you can find a cave dark enough, with an opening small enough, and a wall flat enough, the outside world should show up projected on the wall like a bad movie. The effect is known as a camera obscura which just means "dark chamber" in Latin, We know this principle is what makes a pinhole camera work, and back in the days when film was a household commodity, you could experiment making your own with an oatmeal box and, a little tape, and something to poke small hole in the end of the box with. Not to get too Western Civ on you, the technique is originally credited to Mozi (470 BC to 390 BC), a Chinese philosopher who is also credited with the discovery of Newton's First Law (1), though in deference to Geico's cavemen, you have to wonder who the first protohuman to be puzzled by the blurry image on the back of a cave actually was.

I'd always been been impressed that Plato (you knew I'd get here eventually) was familiar with this phenomenon and used it to reflect on how imperfect our understanding of reality was in his Theory of Forms. Sadly, it turns out that my understanding of Plato was pretty fuzzy too…in the "Plato's Cave" allegory, he's actually talking about shadow puppets.

But back to our story, already in progress.

We all have a story. It's the framework of beliefs, verifiable and not, that let us make sense of the world beyond ourselves and the even weirder world within ourselves. We get our story from the people around us growing up, starting with our parents, our friends and enemies, and from the tales we're told along the way. Since you're reading this (unless it's been podcast or beamed into your brain by direct neural access) you're probably a reader, and have picked up a lot of your story by reading stories for entertainment.

What's interesting about this is that humankind has been coding messages about the nature of reality into stories since the first story (Which, as I recall was pretty funny and involved two guys and a proto-lion…and I know for a fact he made it up…but that's another story, and I got it second hand anyway.). The point is that even though the stories are about events that never happened, they directly inform our world view.

I know people who are heavily influenced by what they've read of Tolkien, Heinlein, Clarke, LeGuin, Niven, Martin, Gaiman, or even Pratchett and Adams, to name just a few. Would I say they believe in their stories? Not literally, but from a practical sense, absolutely.

Do I think that they believe the stories represent actual occurrences? Not for a second. But they do believe that they contain truths about life, the universe, and everything..and I'm sure they're right.

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