The Common Core of Being, Part Three

Tod Desmond and Boyce Brown I Education I Theory I April 22nd, 2015

Part three in a series of inquiries on "the philosophical foundations of 'Common Core' in Education. Read Part One and Part Two.

The modes of music the guardian children are allowed to listen to is also severely censored by the state, so that certain modes (such as the Lydian) are rejected, and those modes (such as the Phrygian) that breed courage and moderation are allowed. Finally, the guardians will also be given a Pythagorean education in mathematics, culminating with a combination of music and astronomy. Developing an awareness of the mathematical forms underlying space and time is supposed to help students train their souls away from the outer world of temporary forms to the eternal, mathematically describable forms underlying them, culminating with the common core of all being at the center of every soul, the brilliant idea of the good, which is no less than the spiritual archetype of the Sun. Socrates, calling his educational method "dialectic," concludes by saying, "when the eye of the soul is really buried in a barbaric bog, dialectic gently draws it forth and leads it up above" (Plato, 1991, 533d).

The mention of being buried in a barbaric bog is an allusion to the Orphic myth. Like the mystical-mathematical Pythagoreans, the Orphics were also an ascetic, vegetarian mystery cult; a secret society that publically described itself as such. They worshipped Dionysus, the patron god of wine and choral theater, who is also associated with ivy. Unlike the concept of Dionysus as one of many demigods espoused by the public religion of Athens, the Orphic Dionysus was much like the later Christian monotheistic God. Socrates' allusion to the Orphic myth above recalls the original Dionysian utopia he described, the one Glaucon rejected as fit for pigs.

It is fitting that the ultimate vision of the philosopher king recalls the Orphic imagery of the original utopia, considering the philosopher king was created to counteract the feverish luxuries added to that first ideal.

In light of the importance we are placing on Plato's theory that the material world is a kind of shadowy projection of the spiritual world, it is important to note that Gore (1992) argues that our ecological crisis stems from a spiritual crisis rooted in just such a theory, one which often causes us to disrespect Earth by teaching us that we are separate from it. He therefore prescribes a quantum physics based, holographic cosmology as an antidote to Plato's theory. According to Gore, in the same way that all of the information recorded on a holographic film is located in each fragment of it, so too is God located in each fragment of nature. The one in the many and the many in the one. "By experiencing nature in its fullest - our own and that of all creation - with our senses and with our spiritual imagination, we can glimpse, 'bright shining as the sun,' an infinite image of God" (1992, p. 265).

Gore's alleged alternative to Plato repeats salient features of Plato's cave allegory, culminating with a vision of a spiritual Sun, a metaphysical and empirical idea of the good. Moreover, physicists have explicitly pointed out parallels between the holographic metaphor Gore uses and Plato's cave allegory (Greene, 2005, 2011). First, however, it is helpful to summarize this most famous part of the Republic.

In the cave allegory, Plato depicts Socrates asking his interlocutors to imagine prisoners who are chained head to foot in a subterranean cave at birth, in such a way that all they ever see are shadows cast on a wall in front of them by a blazing fire in the back of the cave. The prisoners see shadows of their own bodies, and of puppets shaped like natural forms (such as trees and animals) that are carried up on sticks by guards who walk back and forth across the width of the cave, hidden behind a low wall between the fire and the prisoners. According to Socrates' interpretation, as the two-dimensional shadows radiating from the fire in the cave are to the three-dimensional objects on Earth radiating from the Sun, so too are the three-dimensional forms on Earth like shadows of the eternal forms radiating from the idea of the good, the spiritual Sun, which Socrates describes as follows: "in the visible it gave birth to light and its sovereign; in the intelligible, itself sovereign, it provided truth and intelligence - and the man who is going to act prudently in private or in public must see it" (Plato, 1991, 517c).

As we will explain in more detail, a tentative equation of the idea of the good with the central singularity and surrounding horizon of the cosmos described by Big Bang cosmology could possibly shed light on a point of confusion regarding what Greene describes as an obvious but apparently inverted parallel between holographic string theory and Plato's cave allegory.

A hologram is a two-dimensional piece of etched plastic, which, when illuminated with appropriate laser light, projects a three-dimensional image. In the early 1990s, the Dutch Nobel laureate Gerard't Hooft and Leonard Susskind, the same physicist who coinvented string theory, suggested that the universe itself might operate in a manner analogous to a hologram. They put forward the startling idea that the comings and goings we observe in the three dimensions of day-to-day life might themselves be holographic projections of physical processes taking place on a distant, two-dimensional surface. In their new and peculiar-sounding vision, we and everything we do or see would be akin to holographic images. Whereas Plato envisioned common perceptions as revealing a mere shadow of reality, the holographic principle concurs, but turns the metaphor on its head. The shadows-the things that are flattened out and hence live on a lower-dimensional surface-are real, while what seem to be the more richly structured, higher-dimensional entities (us; the world around us) are evanescent projections of the shadows (2005, p. 482).

In a subsequent book, Greene says:

Two millennia later, it seems that Plato's cave may be more than a metaphor. To turn his suggestion on its head, reality-not its mere shadow-may take place on a distant boundary surface, while everything we witness in the three common spatial dimensions is a projection of that faraway unfolding. Reality, that is, may be akin to a hologram. Or, really, a holographic movie (2011, pp. 272-273).

According to Socrates' interpretation of the allegory, the idea of the good is the source of visible light (of which the material world is made) and consciousness (of which the spiritual world is made). The gravitational singularity at the Big Bang satisfies one of the criteria of the idea of the good: it is the source of all visible light (understood in the sense of electromagnetic radiation). Moreover, the singularity is the source of the elastic fabric of space-time, which is expanding at an exponential rate. The "distant boundary surface" (Greene 2011) is the cosmic horizon, a two-dimensional spherical boundary of the universe where, from our perspective on Earth, space appears to be expanding away from us at the speed of light, which furthermore causes time to stop there, according to the special and general theories of relativity (Susskind, 2008, p. 438). Holographic string theory explains that the three-dimensional forms we experience in everyday life are projected by one dimensional threads of energy from the timeless two-dimensional film at the cosmic horizon. That inward radiation is also known as the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is the echo of the Big Bang.

To summarize, according to Socrates, the idea of the good is the brilliant source of the eternal forms from which the temporal forms of our three-dimensional world are projected. According to holographic string theorists, the singularity at the Big Bang is the source of the timeless holographic film at the cosmic horizon from which our three-dimensional world is projected. However, as Green points out (2005, 2011), according to the cave allegory, the two-dimensional shadows in the cave are illusions projected from three-dimensional forms, whereas according to holographic string theory, the three-dimensional world is an illusion projected from the two-dimensional horizon of the cosmos.


Gore, A. (1992). Balance: Ecology and the human spirit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Greene, B. (2005). The fabric of the cosmos: Space, time, and the texture of reality. New York: Vintage Books.

Greene, B. (2011). The hidden reality: Parallel universes and the deep laws of the

cosmos . New York: Random House.

Plato. (1991). The republic of Plato. New York: Basic


Susskind, L. (2008). The black hole war: My battle with Stephen Hawking to make the world safe for quantum mechanics. New York: Little, Brown and Company.