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This essay was actually written for school and was a syntopical examination of common themes that ran through many stories and books we were reading. I thought it would be of interest to readers.
The world we live in, now more than ever, is a world of information.
Yet it is clear that there are many different types of information: good and bad, useful and useless, important and trivial. Through the function of our minds we are able to learn, sort through, and evaluate the barrage of information we are faced with every day by comparing the pieces to what we remember, and against each other, in order to find what information is true, important and useful, thereby enhancing the quality of our lives.
This type of information is gained through experience and is called knowledge, which is remembered experience.
And yet, there is a problem here, for as everyone's experience in their respective lives is different, so differs their knowledge of life. When one hangs onto a specific piece or pattern of knowledge, this is called a belief and, as we know, beliefs of different people are often in conflict with each other, and indeed, in conflict even within the same person.
Now, a state of innocence could also be described as a state of ignorance, or a lack of knowledge, as is the case with young children. The benefits of this state is that the mind sees the world without the encumbrance of belief or knowledge and is therefore like an open vessel waiting to be filled. The downside is that in such a state, the individual often does not have the experience to make sense of or deal with the world they are in.
How then are we to resolve this dilemma, to reap the benefits of both innocence and experience, while mitigating their destructive aspects?
Let's look at the role of pain in this process. It is clear in virtually all the readings that pain is a key factor or by-product of a transition from innocence to experience, from ignorance to knowledge, or from one false belief being replaced by a perspective in which one sees the truth clearly or at least more clearly than before.
This transitory process is called disillusionment.
For example, Romero, in Jose' Armas' EL TONTO DEL BARRIO, obviously experiences great inner pain when he gains the knowledge that he can expect to be paid for doing the job he enjoys.
In Grace Paley's SAMUEL, the title character's recklessness in playing on the subway train, is born out of a lack of experience, lack of the knowledge of how dangerous it is. The consequence of this is pain and the loss of his own life.
And in Sophocles' immortal play OEDIPUS REX, Oedipus' disillusionment is obviously the most painful disillusionment of all of these and his intense desire NOT to see the truth at that point (which is of course, impossible) expresses itself through the self-mutilation of his eyes.
And of course, the process which is taking place in all these stories is most elegantly illustrated in Plato's THE MYTH OF THE CAVE, in which this pain is likened to the pain one's eyes feel while adjusting to the light after having been kept in the dark.
This last illustration of the role of pain in this process is particularly relevant to the story of Oedipus in the sense that we could say the longer one remains in a state of ignorance (i.e. innocence, illusion, the darkness of the cave, etc.) the more painful then is the process of losing that ignorance, i.e., being enlightened. Oedipus had spent so long in the dark, that the sudden light of truth he saw was absolutely devastating. And yet why would someone want to stay in a cave except out of fear of losing the comfortable familiarity of that darkness?
So, we can conclude that the process of disillusionment is hindered by the fact that the more time one spends in the cave of ignorance and illusion, the more familiar and comfortable it becomes, the more painful the light seems, and the greater one's resistance grows in regard to leaving the cave and seeing the light. The pain of disillusionment does not come from the light, but from having been in the cave, and the fear of giving it up.
The answer to the dilemma is courage, or in other words, the ability to act despite fear. Another answer is support from the surrounding world. Both in the immediate environment, and the outer one which one is entering into.
The disillusionment process isn't just the passage from childhood into adulthood. It is ongoing and continual. In the process of life, there is always more and more to learn. And so, in a sense, humans are continually innocent, or rather, at best, going from a lower state of innocence to a higher one, going from a state of knowing less to knowing more all the time with all the dangers and benefits that this type of ascendance involves.
A man may have lived many years and done and learned many things, but when he gets to a point where he is confident that he knows all there really is to know, that he's 'figured it all out', he has wandered into a cave the walls of which are his own beliefs.
And so, as well as courage and support being necessary, so is a connectedness or tether to be maintained with one's origins of innocence in the course of this journey: a tether to a remembering of how it feels having been in the dark and what it feels/felt like to come into the light.
The character Dee, in Alice Walker's EVERYDAY USE, understands this when she tries to gather momentos from her past. They are things of 'everyday use' to the family, still comfortable in their 'cave', and yet to her they are 'priceless' totems to the process of disillusionment, to be kept and displayed and not to be forgotten.
It is a remembrance of 'from whence one came' that orients us toward where we're going. And it is only through knowing how much we still do not know that we gain the wisdom necessary to sustain us during the journey.
Ignorance, or innocence, in some cases, may be blissful, but in an ever-changing world, one can't remain blissfully ignorant for long but must adapt with the benefit of knowledge gained by experiencing that world. And yet, at the same time, it is necessary to be able to view the world with the open-minded non-prejudice that comes from a state of innocence.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. And wisdom is not truth. And yet, to effectively negotiate this "journey upwards" this "ascent of the soul" as Plato calls it*, the child needs to gradually develop the mind and resources of an adult. The adult, having this mind and resources, ideally needs to, in turn, be able to see the world of information through the creative and playful eyes of a child, unencumbered by preconceived and pre-conditioned patterns of belief, thought and judgement. He needs to be willing to constantly give up any cave he might have wandered into, without fear, to constantly question his knowledge and experience with the wisdom that comes from knowing how much more there is still to know and experience in order to attain the light of truth.
* - Plato, THE MYTH OF THE CAVE, from LITERATURE FOR COMPOSITION ed. by Barnet, Berman, Burto and Stubbs p. 337