Philosophical musings on the eclipse

The solar eclipse was a subtle reminder of our limited knowledge of the universe and a great metaphor for philosophical insight.

Aug. 21 was a beautiful day in Elkins, and we could see the eclipse clearly using NASA-approved glasses with an ISO 12312-2 standard filter, making the light 100,000 times darker.

It reminded me of a quotation from St. Paul who wrote, “Now we see Thee through a glass darkly, but then [at the end of time] we shall see Thee face to face.”

The sight of the black moon circle covering most of the sun was not as significant for me as the changing images of the sun filtered by the oak leaves and focused between the shadows on the sidewalk at home.

If our family had not been in visiting, we might not have noticed the crescent shapes reflected from the eclipse through the spaces between the leaves. It was like a pinhole box allowing us to look at the eclipse naturally without going blind.

The idea of being blinded by sun light haunted me all day. It made me think of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, when Plato described the process of education and enlightenment.

He said that a true seeker of insight is like a slave bound by chains in a cave where all he can see of the world is the light of a fire at the door of the cave and the shadows of forms that pass between the fire and the cave wall.

The seeker of truth must break free of his chains and struggle to get away from the cave. When he gets out of the cave, he is blinded by the light of the sun, and he cannot look upon the real world for some time. Then when he returns to the cave, he is blinded again and cannot see in the darkness. The enlightened seeker seems foolish to the other slaves because he no longer cares about the false images of true forms.

There were two types of blindness in Plato’s allegory: the blindness of seeing the light and the blindness of returning to the darkness where the seeker would be misunderstood by those who never saw the true light of the sun.

On the other hand, the light of solar eclipse had the potential to blind us for life, but we could look at its shadows on the sidewalk with impunity and our vision would not be impaired.

In the 21st Century when we have so many ways of seeking information, it may be impossible to see the truth because we are blinded by all the people who are selling products or seeking votes. Our culture with all its images and shadows makes truth increasingly confusing.

The blind seers in Greek tragedy would encourage us to look within ourselves and to listen to the quiet lessons of nature that are not in our daily news feed.

I am glad that our family could see the crescent image of the sun between the shadows of the oak leaves.