Plato lived in Athens from around 428-348BC. As one of the most influential philosophers in Western History, it can be argued that he lay the very foundations of science, philosophy and mathematics.
One of the first things we talk about in Philosophy, is how we gain knowledge – namely through our senses. However, Plato’s point was that whilst we ‘learn’ through these experiences, we are forever trapped in our personal interpretation.
There’s a very famous story – ‘Plato’s Cave’ – in which he described a group of people living under the earth in a cave. The people have been trapped in the cave since early childhood, shackled by both the legs and neck, forced to face a wall. Behind them, a fire blazes projecting light upon the wall.
But the wall is not empty, puppeteers show the shadows of their puppets in a mockery of reality. But the prisoners know no different – they perceive the shadows to be reality for they know no other form. He argued even if they were to break from their bonds and discovered the ‘truth’ it would mean nothing; for it would be utterly incompressible to anyone who had not seen it before. We can only understand the reality that is before us, that we know.
But what has this got to do with Santa? Well, a friend recently told me a tale recently which I found incredibly sweet.
A primary school faced a disaster. Father Christmas had been diverted and could no longer attend the younger children’s Christmas party. Despite lacking the necessary characteristics (he’s very thin and lacks a beard) he agreed to step in to avoid the children’s disappointment. Having practised his ‘Hohoho’ a few times, he donned the outfit, and with belly suitably stuffed – he entered the first classroom.
He didn’t even have time to utter his ‘hohoho’ before the children rose as one screaming ‘SANTA!!’
To those children, he WAS Santa. He admitted to even believing himself that he was Santa as the children’s belief overwhelmed him. He was the reality that was before them.
Does that reality change just because we know otherwise? Does that moment become any less real?
Right now, you are experiencing a reality that no one else will. You are reading this text – perhaps out loud – but I suspect, alone during a 5 minutes peace you’ve somehow found in your day. No one is sharing that reality with you. It is your own.
Does that make it unreal for someone else? Well, they are never going to have the exact experience you are having. Nothing in your life can be true-er than it is for you!
When it comes to belief in Santa, I think we must all find our own reality with that too. For children, that might be a Santa met in a Shopping Centre or heard about in a story. For parents, that might be the role they play for their own children. All of those things are real.
We may question whether someone can deliver a present to every child in the world. We certainly may question how on earth our children made it onto the nice list when they will. not. go. to. bed.
But those questions don’t negate reality. The reality that for many children, Santa truly does exist. In their senses, in their minds and in their hearts. And prisoners or not… it’s not a reality I’m going to be messing with.