The History Behind Bad Data

In Book VII of Plato’s dialogue, The Republic, the Greek philosopher introduces his powerful imagery of learning and means of perception in Allegory of the Cave. In his allegory, there is a group of prisoners who have lived in a cave since childhood, legs and necks chained so that they cannot move. Above and behind them is a fire blazing at a distance so that they can only see shadows of what is between the fire and the wall of the cave in front of them. A low wall has been built to hide men who carry statues and figures of animals so that the shadows of these figures appear on the wall. Everything these prisoners know about these creatures is limited to the images on the wall. But were one of the prisoners to be freed, his eyes would at first be overtaken by the brightness of the outside world. After a time his eyesight would adjust, and he would be able to see images similar to those whose shadows he saw represented on the cave walls, but now directly observing the real thing.

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