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If you’re thinking of voting for metaphorical, allegorical Al Gore to
be our maximum leader, you might want to check out the piece by Nickolas
Lemann in the July 31 New Yorker. A metaphor is transferring to one
word the sense of another, while an allegory is a symbolic
representation, and the man who poured out his conscience in “Earth in
the Balance,” the man who gave us the Kyoto Global Warming Protocols,
goes long on both metaphor and allegory. But as the New Yorker reveals,
Gore has some really wacko ideas he is trying to communicate to us by
metaphor and allegory. Ideas about a) science b) religion and c) the
application of either to the universe, the planet earth, rocks, trees
and to us, his chosen people.

For example, after drawing a bunch of circles and lines on a piece of
paper, Gore provided interviewer Lemann this pearl of metaphor and
allegory:

    If you believe that every object, living or inanimate, which
    populates your world has its own animating spirit, then intellectually,
    if you observe some mystery that you can’t explain, you’re going to be
    less than curious about the nature of the phenomenon, because you will
    most likely assume that that mystery is easily explainable in terms of
    the whims in the animating spirit of that object. If, on the other
    hand, you come to believe in a creator or a deity that is responsible
    for having set in motion or having created all of the universe, then you
    have a new power of curiosity, because you don’t assume there is a
    whimsical animating experience that explains what you are observing.

Wow!

You probably ought to read and re-read that Gore pearl of wisdom
several times every day between now and the next election. Better yet,
gather two or three friends together each evening and — after all
children are safely out of earshot — take turns reading it out loud to
each other. Then go home, take a shot of something and try to get some
sleep.

Now, Gore’s pearl is logical nonsense. Neither premise leads,
logically, to the conclusion that he claims it does. As to the two
metaphysical options, Gore doesn’t actually say which option he accepts,
but of the two, the implication is that no one holding the “animating
spirit” view could possibly be a scientist. A tree-hugger, yes, but not
a scientist. And guess what Gore considers himself to be, a
tree-hugger? Nah, a ‘scientist.’ Another Feynman!

Well, the late great Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman was a pretty good
scientist and he frequently described little electrons — which are as
“inanimate” as material objects come — as “deciding” to do this or do
that. And Feynman wasn’t joking. As best Feynman could tell, electrons
did have what Gore characterizes as an animating spirit. Furthermore,
having come to that conclusion about material particles and other spooky
stuff, Feynman was anything but incurious. He also drew funny little
allegorical figures on paper. They’re called Feynman Diagrams, and
unlike Gore’s meaningless allegorical figures, they are immensely useful
and illuminating to the practitioners and cognoscenti of Quantum
ElectroDynamics.

It is not just Feynman who was forced to conclude that fundamental
material particles make what can only be described as “decisions.” In
accepting the 2000 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, British
Physicist Freeman Dyson had this to say: “Atoms in the laboratory are
weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances.
They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities
according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It appears that mind, as
manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent
in every atom.”

Card-carrying Christian, Dyson is no less a believer in the Creator
– but neither is he a “creationist” — for having been forced to accept
Quantum Mechanics, the most important development in Western metaphysics
since the fusion of Judeo-Greco thought by the Apostle Paul. Paul knew
that reality is not only material but interdependently spiritual as
well. Body and soul.

Because of quantum mechanics we now know that every level of reality
is both deterministic and probabilistic. There are “god-given” laws all
of us have to follow in the material world, but from time to time, we –
as well as electrons — have “spiritual” decisions to make.

That is not to say that electrons have what we call our “soul,” but
they do appear to have — Al Gore to the contrary — a metaphorical
allegorical non-material reality, which manifests itself in the
“decisions” each electron individually and collectively makes. You may
not accept that, but as James Durante, the late great 20th century
philosopher frequently observed, “Dese are da conditions dat prevail.”

Gore’s problem is that he strongly supports modern science, but he
obviously doesn’t know anything about it. He is scientifically
illiterate if he thinks scientists of whatever stripe still view — if
they ever did — the universe as some sort of Clockwork Orange. He is
also scientifically illiterate if he thinks all modern scientists view
the universe as some sort of mindless crapshoot.

Now, it is true that many — perhaps most — working scientists are
still “reductionists.” That is, experimental psychologists, when
confronted with something inexplicable in their scientific field, turn
to biologists, assuming they can provide the answer. And biologists,
when confronted with something inexplicable in their field, turn to
chemists. And chemists turn to physicists. Eventually they are all
turned to Feynman and Dyson. “Don’t turn to us,” say F&D. “We have all
the spooky problems we can handle. Your problems are your problems, and
our solutions — few, though they may be — are not your solutions.”

It is also true that a basic “understanding” of the Quantum Mechanics
of physicists is an enormous help to chemists in understanding
chemistry. Chemistry cannot be explained by physicists, but the
problems of physicists and chemists are sometimes somewhat analogous.
Similarly, a basic understanding of Quantum Chemistry helps
microbiologists understand microbiology. And so on.

But that is not to say — as laymen, pure “reductionists” and Algore
suppose — that chemistry or biology or human behavior is ultimately
reducible to the properties of some set of “fundamental particles” and
their mutual interactions. Many scientific reductionists — if truly
confronted with the realities of quantum physics — would probably be
shaken out of their metaphorical trees. And if they landed on some of
Al Gore’s tree-huggers, we could perhaps metaphorically, allegorically
kill two birds with one stone.

If you had thought that Gore, the inventor of the Internet, knew what
he was talking about in his magnum opus “Earth in the Balance” (which
has just been re-issued) and were thinking of buying it, you would be
well advised to spend, instead, your hard-earned money on “Surely You’re
Joking Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character” (which has also
just been re-issued). But, after all, it’s your decision.

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