Wednesday, September 22, 2010

3097 Repeating an old post

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

“You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your own soul's doing.”
-- Marie Stopes --


This is from Saturday, January 10, 2009. I'm repeating it because I like it.

Possible or Impossible?

Arthur C. Clarke's three laws of impossibility:

* "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
* "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."
* "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

(Interesting short discussion of three levels of impossibility here.)

Physics and science aside, even we common folks have to be careful when evaluating what's possible and what's impossible.

Judge Judy often decides that since a reasonable person (she herself) would not do what the witness claims was done, the witness must therefore be lying, because what he or she claimed was impossible. And she does shout the actual word "impossible".

My father and Project Blue Book decided that since there was a possible, reasonable, terrestrial explanation for what a witness had seen, that must therefore have been what the witness saw, and therefore there is and has been no such thing as extraterrestrial visitation. It's impossible.

Houdini set out to prove that seers and seances were bunk, and he did so by replicating seance events by non-supernatural means, and concluded that because he could do the same thing, all seance events must therefore have been faked. Impossible.

The fallacy of course is in concluding that just because there's a reasonable explanation, just because the event could have happened in a reasonable way, then it must therefore have happened that way. That's not valid.

I'm not saying all Judy's witnesses are truthful, or that little gray men are flying around teasing us, or that ghosts come on command to shake tables. That's not a valid conclusion, either.

I'm just saying that just because there is a possible reasonable explanation for something that seems impossible does not mean that it IS the only explanation. It could be, but it doesn't inherently contain the proof that it is. Simply making sense doesn't make something true. It's relatively easy to prove something is possible. It's very difficult to prove something is impossible.

I'm tempted to go so far as to say that it's impossible to prove something is impossible, but that's where we have to bring the science and physics back in (keeping in mind that they don't know everything, and they've made some wrong calls, too).

Now, with "improbable", there we have some wiggle room.

1 comment:

rockygrace said...

Occam's Razor!