Beyond The Cave

Today, those of us at National Collective were instructed by a rather eloquent Better Together supporter to “go back to our art caves”. This got us thinking.

Firstly, we remembered how much we liked caves. And then, how much the great philosopher Plato liked caves.


A synopsis of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Picture a cave, in which people are held. They have been there since childhood, feet shackled to the floor, necks braced, allowing only a view forward to the cave wall. Unable to move their gaze is fixed upon the same spot, only able to witness what imagery is placed in front of their eyes.

Behind their back is a fire, offering a glimmer of light. Above, hidden from their view stands a walkway upon which a cast of peoples can carry artefacts. High above these artefacts cast shadows – through the glow of the fire – upon the cave wall.

The people of the cave are accustomed to their existence. This is their reality, they have never witnessed anything other than the shadows cast afore them. The cast carrying the artefacts would creates sounds but these would be the sounds of the shadows. The reality is unquestioned, the prisoners of the cave accept the status quo of the shadows and their sounds.

But one prisoner is set free, chains unshackled. However their turning and walking towards the cave entrance would be painful and blinding, their eyes unaccustomed to the clarity of the light. They could not yet see the artefacts of the shadows.

When shown the artefacts would become indescribable. He would desire the safety of his shadowy reality, his natural reaction would be to run back to the safety of the darkness away from the blinding light of the fire and the truth of the artefacts.

But imagine he were to be pulled out of the cave to the daylight, away from the dark into the light. His eyes would be filled with pain from the brightness of the sun. He would feel rage and blindness would prevent him from seeing the artefacts or their shadows.

But he would get used to the light. He would acclimatise and understand the artefacts he once saw as dim reflections on the cave. He would question his false reality in the dark and look at the world afresh. His understanding of the cave would be altered forever. He would consider himself fortunate to be offered the clarity the light and to hold the artefacts and their possibilities in his hand.

The prisoner would embrace his life beyond the shadows of their past life. He would prefer anything than being shackled to the caves alternate reality.

And if he were to return to his cave and rejoin his fellow prisoners he would be unable to join them in recognising the shadows. His eyes to them would be corrupted. He would be ridiculed.

However, beyond the ridicule his eyes are open.


Could it be that this was the cave Hayden meant we should return to? Is it time for all Scots to embark upon a journey of considering leaving the cave behind – questioning our reality?

We’re still not entirely sure.

Ross Aitchison
National Collective 

 *In no way does National Collective believe that Scots are prisoners. This is for metaphorical purposes only.*


About Ross Aitchison

Ross Aitchison is a Part II Architectural Assistant based in Edinburgh and a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, originally from Aberdeenshire. He is a national organiser for National Collective.