By Ralph Losey & ChatGPT. The original 2009 of this essay was entitled “Plato’s Cave: why most lawyers love paper and hate e-discovery and what this means to the future of legal education” and is still online. ChatGPT improved the language of the original and “Dall-E” created all of the images, many of which astounded Losey who merely engineered the prompts. Losey did provide the idea, hardly novel, of cell-phone equivalence to false shadows of reality.
Plato’s Cave is one of the most renowned allegories in Western Civilization. The allegory is based on Plato’s understanding of human nature and provides a powerful tool for comprehending the world and relating to others. The prisoners in a cave in Plato’s story is analogous to our human experience and our limited perspective on the world. Plato emphasizes the significance of education and the pursuit of truth, while highlighting the dangers of relying solely on appearances and commonly held beliefs. The allegory has remained a popular and impactful piece of Western philosophy, sparking ongoing debates about the nature of knowledge, reality, and human perception.
The allegory seems particularly appropriate for use with lawyers because the Socratic Method, a core part of Plato’s philosophy, is still used in most law schools today. The Socratic Method emphasizes the importance of education and critical thinking in problem solving. In the context of the current challenges faced by the legal profession with electronic discovery, the Socratic approach suggests that a new form of education is necessary to address the crisis of competence in this area.
Due to the rapidly changing nature of technology, many lawyers and legal professionals are struggling to keep up with the latest developments in electronic evidence effectively. The lack of e-discovery competency has led to problems and challenges in the practice of law, including difficulties in preserving and producing electronically stored information, and misunderstandings about the admissibility and authenticity of electronic evidence in court.
By adopting a hands-on Socratic approach to teach e-discovery, both in law school and CLEs, we can help students and practicing attorneys to attain experience, critical thinking and deep understanding of the issues. This can help the legal profession to ensure lawyers are equipped to handle the challenges posed by e-discovery competently and effectively. The alternative may well be radical inter-generational disruptions and discontinuities in the practice of law. For that reason, experts in the field, professors and CLE presenters, should avoid mere lectures and Powerpoints, and look for ways to engage students in an interactive process.
The Matrix movie is the latest popular cultural expression of this perennial idea.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
First a refresher on Plato’s Analogy of the Cave. It is found at the beginning of book seven on The Republic, which was written by Plato in 380 BC. It takes the form of a dialogue between Socrates and Plato’s brother, Glaucon, concerning education. Socrates tells the story of prisoners who have been held captive in a cave all of their lives. They are chained so that they can only see shadows on the wall of people walking on a path behind them in front of a fire. They can not directly see the people or the things that they carry. They can only see their shadows cast on the cave wall. That is all they have know all of their life and so they mistake the shadows for the people and things themselves. They are totally absorbed by the shadows and have become quite adept at interpreting what they supposedly mean.
One day a prisoner is freed of his chains and taken out of the cave and dragged up into the light. After a long period of adjustment he is able to see in the new light filled world and discover that he had been mistaking shadows for reality. He returns to tell his prisoner friends, but has trouble adjusting to the dark and shadows. He cannot still see the fine distinctions that the prisoners make out in the flickering forms. They still cannot turn around or leave the cave. They still see only shadows and know nothing else. They do not believe their returning friend. He does not see the shadows as they do. They think he is quite mad. In fact, they hate him for his better-than-thou stories and would kill him if they could.
After telling the story, Socrates explains to young Glaucon the significance of the analogy of the cave to life and education. Here is a quote from my favorite translation from the ancient Greek by Edith Hamilton and Hunington Cairns, published by Princeton University Press as part of the Bollingen Series.
Socrates Question: And again, do you think it at all strange, said I, if a man returning from divine contemplations to the petty miseries of men cuts a sorry figure and appears most ridiculous, if, while still blinking through the gloom, and before he has become sufficiently accustomed to the environing darkness, he is compelled in courtrooms or elsewhere to contend about the shadows of justice or the images that cast the shadows and to wrangle in debate about the notions of these things in the minds of those who have never seen justice itself?
Glaucon Answer: It would by by no means strange, he said. …
Socrates Question: Then, if this is true, our view of these matters must be this, that education is not in reality what some people proclaim it to be in their professions. What they aver is that they can put true knowledge into a soul that does not possess it, as if they were inserting vision into blind eyes.
Glaucon Answer: They do indeed, he said.
Socrates Question: But our present argument indicates, said I, that the true analogy for this indwelling power in the soul and the instrument whereby each of us apprehends is that of an eye that could not be converted to the light from the darkness except by turning the whole body. Even so this organ of knowledge must be turned around from the world of becoming together with the entire soul, like the scene-shifting periactus in the theatre, until the soul is able to endure the contemplation of essence and the brightest region of being. And this, we say, is the good, do we not?
Glaucon Answer: Yes.
Socrates Question: Of this very thing, then, I said, there might be an art, an art of the speediest and most effective shifting or conversion of the soul, not an art of producing vision in it, but on the assumption that it possesses vision but does not rightly direct it and does not look where it should, an art of bringing this about.
Glaucon Answer: Yes, that seems likely, he said.Plato as translated by Hamilton and Cairns
Open AI’s Rewrite of Plato
OpenAI’s Text-Davinci-3 was prompted to rephrase this dialogue (which is somewhat like a chat) with the following prompt by human Losey, which was in turn preceded by the original quote:
Please rewrite this question and answer exchange using contemporary American English. Do so in such a way that it conveys the intended meaning of Socrates in his famous “Analogy of the Cave” found at the beginning of book seven of Plato’s book, “The Republic.” You may use more than eight paragraphs of questions and answers if need be to convey the overall intent and meaning of the Allegory of the Cave.Ralph Losey
Socrates Question: “Do you think it is strange, I asked, when a person is returning from a spiritual journey, that they may appear silly or ridiculous when they are trying to discuss the true nature of justice in a courtroom or any other setting, when they are still struggling to make sense of it?”
Glaucon Answer: “I don’t think that would be strange at all,” he replied.
Socrates Question: “So then, it appears that our ideas about education are not as some people might suggest. They make it sound like knowledge can be implanted into someone’s mind, as if it was possible to give vision to someone who is blind.”
Glaucon Answer: “That’s what they say,” he said.
Socrates Question: “Then, from what we have discussed, it seems that the real way to understand is to turn the soul and the entire body, rather like the rotating stage in a theater, until the soul is able to bear the brightness of the divine and of the Good.”
Glaucon Answer: “I agree,” he said.
Socrates Question: “Is there a way, I asked, to help speed up this process, to help people quickly and effectively turn their souls, without forcing knowledge upon them, but instead helping them to direct their vision in the right place?”
Glaucon Answer: “I think that’s possible,” he said.Plato as translated by Open AI‘s Text-Davinci-3
Human Losey was very pleased with Davinci and so took this one step further. He prompted Text-Davinci-3 with: “Please summarize using modern English Plato’s Analogy of the Cave dialogue as found in book seven of Plato’s book, “The Republic.” Please put the summary in the form of a chat between Socrates and Glaucon. Losey also increased the creativity index a bit on Davinci.
Socrates: Plato’s famous Analogy of the Cave is a way to understand the importance of education and knowledge.
Glaucon: Go on…
Socrates: Imagine people in a dark cave, chained up so that they can only see the shadows cast on the wall in front of them. That’s what everyday life is like for people who don’t understand the true nature of reality.
Glaucon: So what do we do?
Socrates: We need to help people turn their souls, like they were turning a stage in a theater, so that they can look towards the light, and understand the truth. That’s what education is all about – helping people to turn their souls and understand the truth.Text-Davinci-3
Lawyers today, much like the prisoners of Plato’s cave, love paper because that is all they have ever known. They grow up in a paper world. They learn how to read on paper. They study paper books. They go to law schools where they learn that legal documents are made of paper. Most of their professors are just like them. They surround themselves with great piles of paper literature and paper case law. They teach using paper books and paper flip charts and require students to write papers. When taking evidence and trial classes, law students are taught with paper documents, shown how to test the authenticity of paper records and how to have paper admitted into evidence.
After school, older lawyers give them an endless supply of extra long paper, called legal pads, and do their best to keep them up to their neck in paper work. They are shown how to generate papers, copy papers, pile papers, file papers, notarize papers, shuffle papers, staple papers, clip papers, highlight papers, redact papers, watermark papers, and even add paper stickums to paper. They also learn how to keep paper calendars, speed-read large files full of papers, spot check papers, and carefully proof-read papers till they are perfect.
Some lawyers cover all of the furniture in their office with papers. A few even go so far as to put piles of paper on the floor creating an obstacle course to and from their desk, which is also entirely covered with papers. Papers make lawyers feel safe and secure. They provide status and prestige as a demonstration of productivity. They like to frame papers and put them on their walls. Some lawyers learn how to fax papers back and forth to each other. Some even learn how to email letters to each other and print out important ones to make them real.
Most judges and courts love paper too. Lawyers are required to serve papers on parties and opposing counsel, file papers with the court, and make paper trial exhibits. No witness exam is complete without marking papers, handing them to the clerk, opposing counsel, the judge, and then the witness. Some lawyers even blow up the special papers that they like to make them really, really big papers that everyone can easily see.
The trial lawyers are especially good with papers. They learn to chase paper trails, find tons of paper in other people’s filing cabinets, copy the paper, stamp the paper, produce the paper, and then explain the papers to a judge and jury. Some even learn advanced paper techniques such as Bates stamping papers to bring out their hidden order.
Lawyers live their entire life in a paper world. They start each day by reading a newspaper. When not doing paper work, they read paper books and magazines for fun. It is all paper, all the time, at work and at home. Lawyers are very adept at interpreting paper. They are the experts of paper forms. No paper is too lengthy or complex for them to figure out. Lawyers can and do stare at papers all day long.
Just like the prisoners in Plato’s Cave, they do not know that their beloved papers are shadows, mere print outs of a greater electronic reality.
For even more fun, perhaps even some insights, check out the version of this essay written by ChatGPT on a Second Grader level.
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