From Play-Doh to Plato

Here is the main essay that I wrote for my UChicago application. It is very cheesy and uses too many rhetorical questions, but I think it somewhat describes my outlook on life. It was very inspiring to write at the time, and I've stolen ideas and sections from a prior personal writing.

Prompt:"What does Play-Doh™ have to do with Plato?" - The 2011 University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt ListEvery May, the University of Chicago hosts the world's largest scavenger hunt. As part of this year's hunt, students raced to find the shortest path between two seemingly unrelated things by traveling through Wikipedia articles.
Wikipedia is so passé. Without the help of everyone's favorite collaborative internet encyclopedia, show us your own unique path from Play-Doh™ to Plato.

            Play-doh. Playdo. Playto. Plato! Only a few letter tweaks stand between Play-doh and Plato. The clearest link between the two words must be their spoken sounds. Nearly homophonic, Play-doh and Plato could each be easily mistaken for the other in conversation. The minute change of a consonant can completely transform the meaning of a word.
            Such is the peculiarity of language. Language is grammar, syntax, diction. Language is the stringing together of words to convey an idea. Words are arbitrarily designated sets of lines on a page. Words are simple vibrations from a human larynx.
            Why then, do we ascribe so much importance to the words that we use, and the words that others use towards us? The answer seems to be of course, that they are our only manner of communicating abstractions and complexities to our fellow human beings. But do they really communicate the things we wish to communicate? Words hold no innate meaning. When we choose a word, we do not choose what it means to ourselves, but rather what it has meant to the reader or the listener as well as anyone else who has ever used that word.
  Consider the color red for instance; when I use that word I know what I am describing. Surely though, I cannot be the only one who has wondered whether everyone sees the same colors that I do. We may call them the same names and associate them with the same things, but how can we know when someone else sees red, whether they view the same color? We can define red as light wave of about 650 nanometers, or the color of the blood in our vessels, but what do we actually see? Furthermore, what we see is not only constructed of what is in front of us, but how our brains decide to muddle it with the rest of the information that is already filed.
These contemplations demonstrate the subjectivity of the world. When we take this into consideration, the facts that we take for granted begin to falter in their conviction. Reality is something that wavers, if it exists at all, and I am sure that Plato would concur. Of course, I cannot mention Plato without referencing his allegory of the cave. We know not what truth is. After all, there is no way of knowing whether we see reality, or its mere shadows. One who believes himself to know truth must be mistaken and, on the contrary, knows very little. For all we know, we could be merely brains responding to chance stimuli in glass jars.
With this insight, there are some questions raised. There are always questions raised. If nearly everything conceivable in this world is potentially false, then what is there that we can believe in? What is even the point of believing? As with most things, we have a few options here. We may: 1) ignore this revelation; 2) decide that there is nothing real in life worth living for; or 3) take it in stride and attempt to find something that is real. Plato philosophized comprehensively on the topic of the apparent nature of our reality.  
In Plato’s Book X of The Republic, he gives the example of “bedhood,” the essence of the ideal bed. Once that bed is actually created, it is impossible for it to be a true bed because of the limitations of the physical world. A painting of that bed would unavoidably be filled with an artist’s preconceptions and interpretations. A child who attempts to mold Play-doh into a bed fumbles in futility. Let the child dream of his perfect bed, let him decide what it means for himself, but the physical world would never let him shape it. The only truth can be found in the child’s own idea of the bed, the intangible “bedhood.” Truth is found in the intangible. It appears to me that there is indeed something that remains when material and outside input are stripped away. The human experience is filled with emotions and sensations. These are the truest and most essential components of being alive.
I have dabbled in many different activities, arts, and classes during high school. When I play badminton, I feel the rush of endorphins and the closeness of my team around me. When I paint, I feel an overwhelming flow of energy depositing onto the canvas from the brush from my fingers. When a student I’m tutoring has an epiphany about combining like terms, I feel a surge of pride and contentment. I’m finding that the more I experience, the more I want to experience. We only live once, and I want to use my life to learn everything I can. Each time I am enlightened with something new, I feel something new.
The change to jump from Plato and Play-doh is small and insignificant. The world is so much more. What is true are our sensations and feelings. I expose myself to more and I feel more. I want to think more, to see things beyond face value. I want to see from all perspectives and delve deeper. I want to let go of the words, I want to let go of my preconceptions. The truest parts of life are found in those fleeting time-stopping moments. It is the rush of endorphins and the stillness of breath and the tingle of fingertips. It is what Play-doh or any other medium will never pin down. It is what I felt when visiting the University of Chicago, and what I could feel over and over again if I might be lucky enough to attend. Plato might say that a true college cannot exist in the material world, but I beg to differ. I have found little pieces of truth in so many places, and I cannot wait to find even more. 

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking of Play-Doh and Plato this morning. And I was also thinking of how kids create stuff. I've seen it happen quite often that they first make stuff and only then signify it. They don't know what they're making up until the moment they decide it's done and only then they tell what it is, by looking at it and naming what they recognize in it. So, from that point, I was then wondering if the tools Play-Doh provides along with their clay (ice cream machines, barbers, dentist, etc...) impose ideas upon kids before creating. And why?

    This adds a nice twist to Plato's ideas as well. The "Bedhood" only comes into existence once a thing is recognized and ascribed the functionality as bed for the first time. It is impossible to think of the ideal bed before the first bed ever existed. Or is it?

    What is the "ideahood" of an idea?