‘Behind every horse, every pig or human being, there is the “idea horse,”  “idea pig,” and “idea human  being.”

Plato came to the conclusion that there must be a reality behind the “material world.” He called this reality the world of ideas; it contained the eternal and immutable “patterns” behind various phenomena we come across in nature. This remarkable view is known as Plato’s theory of ideas.’

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

On a perfectly lovely Sunday morning, my partner and I wandered into our favourite local cafe on Portobello Rd and sat down for coffee and our usual Sunday morning appraisal of the week we had just left behind us and the week that lay ahead. Stoking herself up for this conversation she went to the counter to order breakfast. I found us a table and gazed around the cafe in my usual way, taking random photo’s with my camera of a ‘Typical Sunday Morning in Local Cafe.’ Sad, I know, but it’s  kind of an obsession of mine, they tell me, to take photographs of absolutely everything, all the time.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was actually taking photographs of something I really needed to see. Something that was so foreign to me that I failed to recognise it. Something that, in reality, bore barely any resemblance to something I have lived with an idea of for over a decade.

In the book ‘Sophie’s world’, on the subject of Plato’s theory of ideas  Jostein Gaarder talks of the bakery and the way it can have gingerbread men, gingerbread horses, and gingerbread pigs because every bakery has more than one mold. That one mold is enough for each type of gingerbread cookie. Yes. But what happens when when you try to push a mere gingerbread human into the mold of a magnificent gingerbread horse?

Kind of what happened in this case, as it goes. It breaks and crumbles.

Awaiting my partner, my eye turned to a woman sitting opposite me, a little way across the room. She was eating breakfast, hungrily, her eyes were down and she was totally absorbed in the plate before her. An older woman, stylish, alone, crumpled and very slight in build, there was something about this woman that reminded me of someone I had once known, intimately, over a decade ago. Dismissing the idea that this might be her on the basis that the woman I had known hardly ever ‘ate’ anything, was tall, statuesque and broad shouldered and certainly wasn’t of this woman’s countenance in any way, I turned to my approaching coffee almost ready to forget what had caught my eye.


Curious about that ‘something’ that reminded me of someone I had once known, I turned back, picked up my prescription dark glasses in order to see this woman more clearly – and saw her. No, I mean, I saw her. Maybe,for the first time ever.

Had she not told me this. Had other’s not warned me when I first met her that what I was seeing was a creature of my own creation. In my own defence I must add, not just my own creation – many had seen her the way I saw her. She was fairly legendary amongst certain circles. However, had this woman herself not laughed at me when I told her what I saw when I looked at her.

Now, if a ‘gingerbread woman’ projects herself in a particular way, behaves in a particular way and gets known-of in a particular way, then one might, just might, be forgiven for trying to squash her into the mold of a magnificent ‘gingerbread horse’, Not so?

But I’m making excuses for myself here, and it wont do.

As I gazed at this woman sitting across the room from me in that crowded cafe, as I absorbed her demeanour and processed all I was seeing, I  began to recognise certain gestures, expressions, a style and remnants of a ‘signature’ I had once known. Reality. Before me was the reality of someone about whom I had held ideas and who I had tried to contain in a mold into which she had never quite fitted.

When I wandered over to her with ‘Of all the cafes in all the towns why did you have to walk into mine  . . .’ she laughed. In her laughter I caught fleeting glimpses of the woman I had known. As I stood there laughing myself, I found myself talking to a person – not an idea. Not a concept. An actual woman. Someone I wasn’t sure I had ever seen clearly before . . .

Jostein Gaarder goes on to tell us that Plato found mathamatics very absorbing ‘because mathamatical states never change.’  He goes on to describe how one person might pick up a pine cone in a forest and say it is ‘completely round’ whereas someone else might argue that it is slightly flattened on one side. On the other hand, you can say with absolute certainty that the sum of the angles in a circle is 360 degrees. ( Of course, an ideal circle which might not exist in the real world but which you can certainly visualise. )

In short, Jostein says, we can only have inexact conceptions of things we perceive with our senses.


Well . . . I have to confess, my senses certainly had a lot to do with what I’d perceived ten years ago. Everyone said it, I came to suspect it and finally, ten years later, I came to see it. Returning to our table,  I gazed at the photo I had inadvertently taken of this woman in the cafe that Sunday. Finally, I could see.

So, it’s your turn now. How do you think other people perceive the ‘reality’ of you? If you want to drive yourself really crazy, ask yourself how you perceive the reality of yourself . . .