The idea of a virtual world, or the so-called preserve of modern thought, is not really new. It was the philosopher Plato, who first suggested the idea of a virtual world — a long, long time ago. He equated the “physical realm of being” to a cavern in which imprisoned folks were shackled, with their backs to the entrance. It was only because they had spent almost their entire lives, in captivity, as Plato evidenced, they were able to see nothing beyond the shadows cast on the far wall of their dungeon by people walking past — so much so, they mistook their flickering shapes, or silhouettes, for real human beings. This was also the imagery that led him to his articulation that our daily perceptions work, more or less, in the same way, primarily because what we perceive around us is nothing, but the kaleidoscopic reflection of a “higher realm,” although the expression is a subject of eternal conjecture, rather than the perpetual objective of knowledge.

What does this connote? That all knowledge of the physical world, as we know through instinct, or think we truly understand, as Plato argued, appears to be equally and “truthfully” real. Such “truly real” objects are eternal and unchanging, just like numbers or hypotheses, or concepts, or a natural metal, which needs to be, of course, discerned from its synthetic, worldly “equivalent.” Yet, there’s a palpable difference of degree, as Plato again suggested — principally because the point at which perfect entities reside is beyond the ambit of our normal vision, or hearing. What Plato really emphasised, in other words, was knowledge could be learned, or explored, through the power of reason.

Plato also set the precept for the pursuit of his sublime, well-reasoned idea, through his three-pronged interpretation of knowledge. He necessitated that, firstly, the proposal in question “be” true; secondly, that one believes in it; and, thirdly, one could offer the ground, if not defence, for one’s belief. The “ground” idiom, as Plato insisted, was a powerful requisite to differentiate real knowledge from just “true belief,” whatever its weight — to be right, or correct. He also “paraphrased” his canon that knowledge should never, or cannot, be assigned to wealth, nor should it be, likewise, permitted to celebrate truth through providential speculation.

Some philosophers concur and acquiesce to the fact that true belief has more than just a likeness to knowledge. It is also, in a variety of instances, or conditions, more than just as useful as the real thing. However this may be, for Plato, this exemplar was like a bird without wings, or a boat bereft of sails, to provide such a justification for rational corroboration. He also went a step ahead. He believed that mere beliefs embraced without reason are like statues so life-like that they could flee at night. He, therefore, thought of an alternative explanation — of “locking” the truth into place. The idea is simple. It reflects the mental state of possessing knowledge to mirror the objects, as they were — eternal, perfect and unchanging — more so, when our understanding of them is rock solid and beyond reason. This leads us to one big question. What establishes the crux of, and for, compelling, valid knowledge in philosophy? We’d, perhaps, draw a principle from Eastern philosophy, where a number of philosophers with different tenets, developed their “take,” based on the concept of error. This led them to distil, valid knowledge from invalid knowledge, doubt from truth, or novel from clichéd — including what adds, or subtracts, their essence and context.

The writer is a physician, researcher and author

Rajgopal Nidamboor