I’m writing about Plato’s Allegory of ‘The Cave’ today and I said I would in yesterday’s blog article. Last weekend at the UK Hypnosis Convention, I spoke briefly about the importance of philosophical reasoning at the Gala Dinner. It may seem a little bit unusual to reference such a topic during a convention dedicated to hypnosis and hypnotherapy, but such reasoning is something I believe is important if the field of hypnotherapy is to move forward, and so I thought I’d explain that in a bit more detail here.

Plato’s ‘Allegory Of The Cave’ is a theory about human perception found in “The Republic” Book VII, that really resonates with me as a hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. Plato claimed that knowledge gained purely through the senses is nothing more than opinion and that, in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning.

Anyway, in the Allegory of the Cave, Plato distinguishes between people who mistake sensory knowledge for the truth and it stimulates discussion about how to seek the actual truth.

Plato would start off by asking his students to imagine a cave that has three prisoners inside of it. The prisoners have been in the cave since birth and know nothing of the world outside of the cave. They are unable to move because their limbs are tied up to some heavy rocks and they have their heads tied into a position so that they cannot look at anything but the stone cave wall in front of them.

Yeah, I know, Plato’s Allegory of ‘The Cave’ sounds pretty brutal as far as allegory’s go. But it is hypothetical, designed to stimulate philosophical discussion and not to highlight the cruel plight of 3 prisoners, remember that.

Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between them is a raised walkway. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see.

Having set this scene, Plato would then ask his students and listeners something along the lines of; “imagine that you are one of the prisoners. You cannot look at anything behind or to the side of you – you must look at the wall in front of you.”

When people walk along the walkway, you can see shadows of the objects they are carrying cast on to the wall. If you had never seen the real objects ever before, you would believe that the shadows of the objects were ‘real.’ You would not know any different or any better.

Plato suggests that the prisoners would begin a ‘game’ of guessing which shadow would appear next. If one of the prisoners were to correctly guess, the others would praise him as clever and say that he were a master of nature.

He then says that one of the prisoners escapes from their bindings and leaves the cave. This prisoner is shocked at the world he discovers outside of the cave and does not believe it can be real. As he becomes used to his new surroundings, he realises that his former view of reality was wrong. He begins to understand his new world, and embarks on an intellectual journey where he discovers beauty and meaning and recognises that his former understanding of life and the world was mistaken and the guessing game they used to play is wrong and misleading.

Therefore, the prisoner returns to the cave, to inform the other prisoners of his findings. They do not believe him and threaten to kill him if he tries to set them free.

And that is it; that is Plato’s Allegory of ‘The Cave’ –  discussions would ensue. There are many interpretations, including Plato’s own explanation whereby the escaped prisoner represents the Philosopher, who seeks knowledge outside of the cave and outside of the senses. His intellectual journey represents a philosophers journey when seeking and finding truth and wisdom.

For me, Plato’s Allegory of ‘The Cave’ is useful as it helps me to often question my own love and leaning toward empirical evidence and to do all I can to offer up philosophical reasoning as I look to understand this wonderful field that we all work in. I look to seek as much truth as we are able to do as far as hypnosis and hypnotherapy goes.

More than this though, I believe it is important for us all to recognise that a lot of what gets taught in the professional hypnotherapy field may be just shadows cast upon the wall by those providing training. Much is taught as fact when actually a lot of the ‘received wisdom’ in the hypnotherapy field often does not stand up to scientific scrutiny (I have referred to lots of this here) or philosophical reasoning.

Recently, I have been working with a highly respected educational society here in the UK who have not permitted non-medically trained individuals to teach, lecture or educate their members, yet I shall be lecturing for them later this year as a result of some colleagues and I pointing out some issues with some of their curriculum and recommending that they philosophise a little more about their stance and how it could benefit them greatly to do so as they seek to discover more of the truth of this field themselves.

Even they were swayed. Even they were capable of escaping the cave.

In order to liberate this field of ours, and advance it’s credibility, I believe that we all need to be swayed more, we all need to critique who and how we are more of the time, and we all need to robustly examine our beliefs, the way we conceptualise hypnosis, the way we explain the mind, the way we teach hypnotherapy, the way we examine and critique what we are taught and the way we all develop our credibility and education of this wonderful field of ours. I thought Plato’s allegory of the cave helps illustrate that beautifully.

If you are a hypnotherapist and this has got you interested, then here are a number of articles that I think you’ll find to be highly stimulating and very rewarding to read:

a) Why Prominent Hypnotherapists and Hypnotherapy Training Schools Need To Know How To Take Criticism.
b) Hypnotherapy Training: I’m Frothing at the Mouth About Why Hypnotherapists Need More Advanced Training.
c) Why “Science by Press Release” In The Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis Fields Frustrates Me.
d) Why All Hypnotherapists Need To Know What “Shoshin” Is.
e) Are Hypnotherapists Aware Of The Diversity Within The Field of Hypnotherapy? Is There More Than Erickson vs Elman?
f) The Cult of Anti-Intellectualism and Ignorance In the Field of Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis.
g) Why It Is Dangerous To Tread Water As A Hypnotherapist.
h) Another Scientific Reason For Hypnotherapists to Abandon the Myth of the Unconscious Mind – Cognitive Bias.

If you’d like to learn more or if this has resonated with you in some way, then visit these pages

1. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others to think more effectively? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
2. Are you a hypnotherapist for whom lack of critical thinking is detrimentally effecting the success of your business?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.

Self-hypnosis is a great way to help advance critical thinking. If you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar.