Gamma Ray – “The Cave Principle”

Plato is perhaps the most well known philosopher from ancient Greece, and among his many influential theories about the nature of morality, psychology, and physics, the Allegory of the Cave is the most iconic. This comes as no surprise, as a major factor in Plato’s profound influence was his skill as a writer in presenting his ideas through vivid and memorable illustrations. Plato depicts humans imprisoned in a cave as a metaphor for the general ignorance of humanity trapped in a world of illusion, and only through education can we reorient ourselves and perceive true reality through the proper lenses.

The Cave analogy opens the seventh book of Plato’s dialogue The Republic, where Socrates and his friends discuss the nature of justice, and the fundamental question of whether it is preferable to live a just life. Socrates is convinced that it is, and to prove his point he constructs an ideal society to demonstrate that, just as a city with just rulers flourishes, so an individual who lives a just life also lives the best life. Partway to arriving at this conclusion, Socrates asserts that the best government is that ruled by “philosopher-kings,” i.e. those who through a rigorous education gain the ability to distinguish the moral principles of a higher reality perceived by the mind from the illusions of the world that we apprehend by the senses. In the Cave, prisoners are chained such that they can only face forward toward a wall. Behind them is a fire and a series of puppets paraded in front of it that cast shadows on that wall. Once freed the prisoners are guided, arduously, up toward the light of the true fire, the Sun, and discover that the shows of the cave were not real. In general, living our lives according to the images broadcast to us, and trusting our senses rather than logic to live a proper life, is to limit our human potential to attain true freedom, that is, freedom of thought. Plato may or may not have believed that reality truly was divided into a world of shadows and a world of true light, but the Cave as an analogy for the liberation of the mind through education can be appreciated by most.

Gamma Ray combine Platonic philosophy with Teutonic power metal in this song from their 1993 album Insanity and Genius. The song is written from the point of view of one of the prisoners in Plato’s Cave as they undergo the process of liberation. As they stare at the shadows on the wall, they hear from others that there’s another reality out there, but they’re too “afraid to turn and fall.” Relinquishing one’s lifetime of illusions is easier said than done. It’s a painful process climbing out of the darkness into the light. But one must persist, since only by escaping the Cave can we discover our true purpose, to “find the reason for the cross you have to bear.” Once leaving the Cave, and seeing reality for what it really is, free of illusion, the ex-prisoner swears never to return to the Cave. The song ends by making that oath over and over. Never again will we fall victim to false beliefs.

The spiritual liberation at the core of the metal aesthetic, the swearing off both of one’s childhood beliefs and of the values of mainstream society as counterfeit and superficial, is a notion shared with Plato’s teaching about the Cave and escaping therefrom. Plato might have had very different ideas of what kind of truths one arrives at once freed, but the journey may be just as, if not more meaningful, than the destination.

I crawl across the floor never see the light
Only shadows on the wall
Somebody said there’s reality behind
But I’m afraid to turn and fall – oh no

Set me free – for eternity

And now they talk about my destiny again
I hear their footsteps in the dark
But then again there was the silence and the pain
Uh lord that made me feel so lost

Heal me – get out of here
Save me – my world’s an illusion

I’m still inside the cave imprisoned in on mind
And silhouettes on the wall
I have to turn around to see what’s goin’ on
Cause what I saw was never all!

Just a move is the solution
it’s not enough to stand and stare
Leave the cave and find the reason
For the cross you have to bear

Never, never, never,
Never return to the principle

Never, never,
Never return to the principle

Never, never,
We will never return to the principle

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