71. Reality, Thrice Removed
Looking for a photo in my digital library today I came across one I took in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, a few years ago. It was not one of my “picks” so I had not looked at it very carefully before.
I wrote about Tiananmen briefly before (Contemplating Heavenly Peace), focusing on its size (108 acres, capacity 600,000 people) and its significance in the celestial sphere of things. Tiananmen means “The Gate of Heavenly Peace.”
In one of its vast spaces is a huge flat screen where people congregate to look at — and film — the Forbidden City, one of the five most famous palaces in the world. In my photo you can see three or four people with cameras or camera phones filming the panoramic film of the Forbidden City.
Now the Forbidden City is no slacker itself. By one report it was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties. The emperor was said to be a son of Heaven and his modest earthly residence was built as a replica of God’s Purple Palace in Heaven.
The Forbidden City covers 178 acres and houses 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms. It is the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.
And it is right behind the people in this photo! All they have to do is turn around and they will see the spectacular entrance to the splendors of the Forbidden City, which is not forbidden to anyone and can be toured in a few hours (or a few days!).
Now you might guess that their interest was the screen itself — its size is almost as impressive as everything else that is oversized in a country of 1.4 billion people.
But my other photos of this tiny corner of the square show people walking about ignoring the screen except for the ones who are intent upon taking home an image of an image of a site that is right behind them.
I am tempted to bring up Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Plato has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire behind them, and they begin to give names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, for he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.
Thank you, Wiki.
Are we all prisoners to images on a screen? Is that the closest we can get to reality? Do we need a philosopher to help us see it? Or can we just turn around and see it for ourselves?