From an early age, it has been impressed upon me that anything is possible. Often, the axiom has an accompaniment: if you just believe. But, is that true? Is anything truly possible if I believe? Because I’d really like to grow a pair of wings on my back. Let me clarify that. I’d like to grow a pair of functioning wings on my back and not some useless feathered structures loosely hanging from my back. That would be annoying. No, they’d have to be able to function as wings and I’d have to be able to fly, cause otherwise, what’s the point? Am I right?
While the saying “anything is possible if you just believe” may be inspiring to youth (it may not…) it’s a completely different matter when we take the statement as fact and attempt to build entire philosophical structures and theoretical physics stances around the concept. For if anything is possible, then anything imagined can be used as proof for a philosophical framework. And if any philosophical framework is justified, then where does reality end and insanity begin?
There are, however, certain justifiable limitations on conceivability becoming possibility. I can imagine an airplane constructed of five thousand living meerkats which can fly, not only around the world on a single tank of gas, but can also leave the atmosphere and hover around Mars several times and still make it back in time for afternoon tea. Let’s just say I can imagine quite a bit.
There are certain limitations that would quickly erect walls between my imagination and its focus becoming reality. First of all, how could you erect an airplane out of living meerkats and possibly hope it could ever fly? Second, where would you get enough duct tape in order to duct tape all of those meerkats together? How would you avoid being bitten? To death? There are also several laws of nature that would need to be ignored for the airplane to make it around the world on a single tank of gas. And to make it to Mars and still be back in time for afternoon tea would require the airplane to run at speeds that are several times faster than the speed of light and Einstein said that it is impossible for anything to go faster than the speed of light, especially where meerkats are concerned.
On the other hand, I can imagine me getting a flat tire on the way home from work. That wouldn’t require much to bring to reality, especially if I had a handy ice pick or sharp rock. Now, imagining a flat tire occurring without any human intervention (such as me intentionally running into a curb or over several pedestrians). That might also be a stretch, but still may remain within understandable limits of possibility. My tires, especially the one on the driver’s rear side, are in pretty bad shape and there’s a good probability that if I don’t get it fixed soon, I will end up with a flat tire and no spare (gotta get that fixed as well).
So, there are certain limitations and fundamental barriers between what we can imagine and what is actually possible. For what we can imagine or conceive to be possible, the object or situation must meet some standard qualifications.
In the movie, “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” two elves, named Jingle and Jangle, are told by this snotty kid named Ignatious, that they don’t have a snowball’s chance in South Town of succeeding in their mission, which was highly top secret and very hush hush. Of course, one of them (Jingle, Jangle, I don’t remember or care), asks what kind of chance that is. Well, South Town is a city in the South where it hasn’t snowed in, like, forever. So, it’s not a very good chance. But it’s not impossible.
For our purposes, snow falling in a very hot place is rare but not impossible. In fact, in 2013, it snowed in Egypt and Israel for the first time in over 100 years (and, yes, I know there is snow on the mountains, but I wasn’t talking about them). So, the point is that it’s happened before. There is precedent. It’s officially not impossible.
But what if we took a slightly different example? What if Jingle and Jangle were told that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance on the moon? Well, I can certainly imagine a snowball lying on the surface of the moon, but what would it take to turn what I can conceive into reality? Well, from experience and scientific experimentation, we know that to generate snow or ice, we need to have water and atmosphere. Okay, well there’s two problems already. The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere or any liquid water, so precipitation is gonna be a problem.
Now, there’s always one joker out there who can always come up with a loophole, so let’s consider a loophole. Okay, so what if an astronaut, landing on the moon, brought a snowball with him? Well, okay. My first question is: do we really expect NASA would budget for such an eventuality? And again, we’re stuck with the whole no atmosphere thing. The lunar day would be so hot, the snowball would melt and the lunar night would be so cold, that the snowball would freeze into an ice ball. So, a snowball’s chance on the moon is a whole lot less certain than a snowball in Egypt.
In fact, for a snowball to last more than a day on the moon (and not in a fridge on the moon, and not under a pile of fifteen million ice cubes…just a snowball on the surface of the moon), for it to last more than a day by itself on the moon would be an impossibility from what we know about snow, atmosphere, weather and the moon. Unless there were some sort of miracle that caused the natural to act unnaturally, that conceivability would never become a possibility.
Through just two examples, we have identified two limitations or qualifications for the imagined to become reality. One, like the flat tire, for the conceivable to become possible, there must be a cause and effect that turns the conceivable into reality. In the case of the flat tire, there must be an actual cause for the flat tire (there’s a leak in the tire…I ran over twenty porcupines…somebody let the air out of my tire because they caught me doing donuts on their lawn, etc.). But we just can’t stop at the cause because what if porcupines couldn’t pierce through my radials or what if that vandal of a neighbor only released most of the air from my tire? See, for the conceivable to become possible, there must also be an effect. The effect, in this case, is the flat tire.
We have seen through the example of the snowball in South Town (which we’ll call Egypt, because, well…South Town is kind of a goofy name) and that snowball’s brother (which we’ll call Ernie) which is on the moon, that for the conceivable to become possible, the conceivable must obey certain laws.
There are three kinds of laws which the conceivable must conform to in order to become the possible. First there are the natural laws or the laws of Science and Mathematics, such as the Laws of Thermodynamics, the Law of Special Relativity and, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the Law of Not Double Dipping at Social Events. These laws make up the majority of reasons why the snowball on the moon would not last for too long.
After the laws of nature come the laws of logic. I can conceive of a completely white dog with white eyes, white paws and a white tongue to boot, sitting on top of a large pile of white undershirts, eating a bowl full of sour cream. And I guess that imagined scenario could become reality if I had enough white paint. But I couldn’t also imagine that same dog at the same time he was completely white also being entirely black, sitting on a pile of coal, munching black licorice (to complete the illusion) because that would break the Law of Non-Contradiction. See, it couldn’t be entirely white and entirely not-white at the same time. That would be silly.
Finally, for a conceivability to become a possibility, that imagined object or scenario must not break divine fiat. Now, for this one to even be a player, we have to concede an ultimate Creator of the universe. If there is a Creator, then the Creator had to be the one that fashioned the natural laws. Laws just don’t appear out of thin air. For laws to be, there must also have been a Lawgiver. Laws don’t grow on trees, you know. As such, the Creator of those natural laws should, if He had the ability to create the laws, also have the ability to break or bend those laws. It just makes fiscal sense. However, if there is a Creator, it would be logical to assume that the Creator had His own rules; His own code, if you will. If He created an orderly universe, then He must be able to think orderly. He thinks orderly, and we already know that He’s creative because He created the universe, so He’s an intelligent agent. Being an intelligent agent, He should have some sort of moral code that He abides by.
To illustrate this point, let me give a terrible example. I can (under pressure or torture) conceive of a five foot round ball of shaved puppies and kitties stapled together with me riding on top like an anti-PETA lumberjack. And I’m halfway sure that I could make this a reality under the cover of darkness. I am reasonably sure that the Creator, through the actions of the authorities, my children or just a well-placed lightning bolt, would stop me before my imagined scenario found fruition. Now, it may very well be that the Creator would allow my puppy and kitty ball to make its evil way into the world. I just don’t know. But I do know that if there’s a Creator, He would have a say in the whole conceivability turning into a possibility thing.
Now, the mention of a Creator brings up another interesting point, lightly touched upon earlier. If we allow for the existence of a Creator that could effectively create something from nothing, then the conceivable could potentially break a natural or logical law to become possible with the assistance of the Breaker and Maker of Natural Laws. For example, I could conceive of a world where leprechauns rode unicorns all day long, while dancing to Justin Bieber’s repertoire of music (it could happen). And the Creator, through some weird coincidence, may allow that world to pop into existence.
Now, granted that there is a Being that could create universes, worlds and laws, then anything is conceivably possible (even Gettier situations). But this is where our train of logic begins to head off the track in search of a capable engineer. Even if the Creator brought such an evil and ill-designed world into existence, how would we, in our current framework, know about the existence of that alternate world and what, if any, consequence would it have on our existence? Just because there is a world somewhere, where there is a black dog that is also a white dog or where snowballs don’t melt on the moon or where a guy can find a decent sandwich for under a buck, does not mean that that particular world’s existence changes any of the laws or possibilities within our known universe. In fact, barring the possibility of the Creator actually advising us that such a world exists, how might we know about it?
Again, this is where cause and effect becomes pertinent to a conceivable becoming possible. Supposing that anything imagined can become reality, if that imagined situation or object does not possess a cause and effect in this known reality, then it should also not affect our philosophical presuppositions.
There is a trend in theoretical physics concerning multiple dimensions that allow for all outcomes and possibilities. While this may be a wonderful theoretical exercise and may test the boundaries of our imagination, it in no way represents reality that we are privy to in this framework. And unless and until the humans in this reality can gain access to some other dimension, the myriad of possibilities are doomed to remain conceivables in search of missing possibilities, just lonely ships sailing forever on a barren and unpopulated sea in search of signs of life which they will never find. Sorry, unicorn-riding, Bieber-loving leprechauns. Better luck next time.