Discussion by: AguazulI witnessed a handful of stones move some 300m up a mountain the other day. Actually it was me that carried them up. “So what?” you may say, but you must know that this is completely contrary to the nature of mountains, which are forever in a process of erosion. They sit there as evidence of the laws of thermodynamics, forever gradually moving towards their lowest energy level and least ordered state. So what a miracle that a handful of stones contradicted that tendency and went the other way! What was needed for that to happen?
In the short term, it required the sun to be burning, plants to be collecting that sunlight, those plants to enter the food chain, eventually ending up, directly or indirectly, on my plate. Powered by chemical energy, my body contradicted thermodynamic tendencies, paying off the debt of maintaining higher order within itself by reducing the order in the food. Looking at longer time-scales, we needed all of evolution to have happened, millions and millions of years of trial and error to reach an animal sufficiently complex to do something as unlikely as carry a bunch of stones up a mountain for no good reason. Despite having a (methane) precipitation cycle and mountains and rivers, there are no stones being carried uphill by weird animals on Titan (that we know of).
So what an incredible and unlikely thing I witnessed, up on that mountain, some stones moving uphill — what a wondrous thing. But without an understanding of Science I could never have been aware of a big enough picture to understand what had just happened. There would have been no Wonder in that moment without Science.
But wait a second, the curious child inside me has a question: Why is it that I only have thoughts like that when I am up a mountain? Uh-oh. Science can’t help us much here. Is it the lack of oxygen at altitude causing my brain to work in unexpected ways? Is it the sun burning on my head, or the partial dehydration, or the muscular exhaustion that I’m suffering? Could these cause big thoughts?
Let’s go through the magic window and see if we can make any more sense of it in the land of poetry, myth and metaphor. By climbing 900m up to the top of a mountain I moved to a higher energy more ordered state far away from daily life in the valley below. Let’s use this observation metaphorically. The lowest (conscious) human energy state is probably bored channel-surfing in front of a TV, barely one step up from a coma. A layer above that is the city-dweller’s “daily grind”: the office, the commute, the microwave dinner and sleep. We can suggest that big thoughts don’t happen in states of low-energy, and the further away you get up from it (which requires effort), the more likely they are to happen. This is a theory not in the land of Science but in the land of Metaphor, in the land of description of reality, not reality itself. But like the fine Science-inspired metaphor-users that we are, we can still see if it has any predictive value in real life. Hmmm, looks like it could — go for a walk in the park, meditate for an hour a day, go away on holiday — all these minor elevations from the lowest energy state are known to bring greater thoughts.
Reasoning in the land of Metaphor isn’t like reasoning about Scientific laws. “Absence makes the heart grow stronger” doesn’t contradict “Out of sight is out of mind” — they can happily coexist. Apparent statements of ‘fact’ are no such thing. “Is” isn’t a logical identity operator — rather it indicates a metaphorical comparison. For the metaphorically-unaware, perhaps we should rewrite the above sayings more precisely: “Absense, in some cases, can make feelings associated with the heart become stronger” and “Out of sight can, at times, also mean out of mind”. But if we’re reasoning in the land of Metaphor the extra words just seem redundant — we know that we’re not talking about absolutes and logical identities. Rather we’re defining and reorganizing abstractions and creating associations between them. There is truth and meaning to be found here, but it is a different kind of truth to scientific truth.
In fighting against religion’s lies, manipulation and corruption, I wonder if sometimes people here on the forum also think they’re fighting against poetry, myth and metaphor. I think we’d all be happy if everyone regarded the Bible as a collection of myths and metaphorical stories. So why at times am I reminded of that scene in the film “I, Robot” where the computer says “My logic is UNDENIABLE”, to which Will Smith replies “You SO have to die!”. Just because metaphorical thought isn’t like Scientific or Mathematical thought doesn’t mean it is wrong or useless.
And if you’re worried about me up at 4300m on a Peruvian mountain, flying higher than even kites do (possibly) due to the lack of oxygen, you have no need to. I have to keep my head screwed on tight, because if I break my leg up here, there is no helicopter coming to save me. There is nothing like an awareness of the proximity of imminent thermodynamic collapse to keep you focussed.