Everything that we’ve ever experienced is but a shadow of the reality that lies beyond our perception.
Just like how the concept of space (or top and bottom) is beyond direct observation for a hypothetical 2-dimensional creature, so is the world we live in for us.
Now, I’m only talking about the visible physical world in the previous instance. There are many concepts, ideas, and other abstracts that can be experienced in this world.
You can hear, smell, taste, and even feel the touch of someone/something.
However, how much of what we perceive is really true?
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave explains the concept of shadows brilliantly. From then on, this concept has been expanded upon by stalwarts such as René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Huxley, and many more. It’s one of the cornerstones of philosophy, if not the central focus.
Some of the modern sci-fi classics such as The Matrix and Inception are a perfect example of what it’s like to live in an alternate “reality“ and not know you’re living in one. Even if you do doubt it, how would you really confirm? The mind-body problem is hard to beat.
No wonder then Socrates claimed that true wisdom lies in knowing that you know nothing. Once this ignorance is established, it becomes quite tolerable to tackle every other idea.
If everything that I’ve ever experienced and know is but a shadow, what then is casting these shadows? The most honest answer I can muster now is “I don’t know.” I’ll just make sure that I’m always aware of this ignorance.
While shadows pertain to everything that we experience, masks are about how we perceive other people. They’re interpersonal. In a way, masks are a super-subset of shadows.
How can I ever know what exactly you are without placing myself in your shoes? I’m not talking about figuratively placing myself in your shoes, but literally consuming your entire self and being you.
As far as I’m aware of, that’s impossible. Maybe science can tackle this in the future, but until then, we just have to embrace the limitations of reality.
My experiences and biases shape the way I perceive you, and by extension your personality. Who you are to me is but a mask of your real self, a shadow.
And I bet the same is true for you regarding me. But I cannot be sure of that, can I? Only you can tell.
Also, we ourselves put on distinct masks around different people, muddling the perception further. I certainly am a different person by myself than what I act around others, and I don’t act the same with everyone else. A different mask for different people.
So, who am I? Can you really tell? Maybe, if given enough time, but not exactly.