Three men stood chained to a wall, deep inside a cave. The wall all that they could see, and it was also all that they knew. Just that one wall, in that one cave. At one point they could remember life before the cave, but now it had all vanished.
Was it due to poor cave diet? A coping mechanism? Did they bump their heads when they got there? Who knows…but life before the chains had vanished from their minds without a trace – and the only life they knew was the one where they stared at a wall.
There was a huge fire on the other side of the cave, and a path that went down the center. The free men would walk down this path, to and fro, doing their own cavey-cave thang. The chained men started to know the others by their shadows on the wall. They gave the shadows motivations, stories, and powers. This infused their lives with some order and meaning.
Early one morning when the chained men were sleeping, the third man was blindfolded and taken outside. His blindfold was removed, and the man stood paralyzed with shock at all there was to see. His eyes shifted from the green grass, the sparkling river, the glowing sun, the lush trees, the colorful flower—he was crazy overwhelmed. He suddenly let out a wail of both desperation and gratitude. (It was akin to the cries of the now-extinct Belieber tribe.)
This piercing wail continued for a while, then he eventually tired, and popped a squat in the warm grass. He slowly started to remember it all, this was life before “life”! He soaked up the juicy bigness of it, of all the things he had forgotten that he once knew.
They then returned him to his chains, deep, deeeep, inside the cave. The other two men were still sleeping (what else are they supposed to do all day?), and the third immediately woke them with his tale.
“There’s this bright glowing thing in the sky, kinda like this [he pointed at the fire’s glow on the wall], but different! And there’s like soft but prickly blades on the ground that are, uhm…I don’t know the word for that…” He continued to struggle with a lack of words for a long time, frequently trying to use his hands to explain, forgetting that they were once again bound. He had no proper tools to express his experience!
Initially, the other two were excited to hear anything about anything, but their excitement quickly turned into annoyance. “Sounds like some stupid dream, dude”, #1 said, rolling his eyes. #2 agreed, “You’re losing it man. This is reality, this is all there is.”
At that very moment, just fifty feet away in a lovely sun-filtered river (whose existence was currently being debated) two young fish were swimming along. An old man fish passed them, flipped his fin hello, said, “Hey boys, how’s the water?”, then swam off.
One of the young fish looked at the other with concern and said, “Poor old man Gilly, he’s really lost it.”
“Yeah”, the other young fish agreed. “What the hell is water?!”