"Impossible"

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chaos_mora
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"Impossible"

Post by chaos_mora » May 24th, 2018, 4:37 pm

I'm no professional, so I'm just going to take my thoughts and run with them.

Why is anything "impossible"? I feel as though the word "impossible" is in itself an anthropocentric assumption based on the axiom that what we know now has absolute metaphysical merit. To say something is "impossible" is to say that our knowledge now is sufficient to place limitations on what "reality" can do. Science and philosophy are so often concerned with attempting to track down fundamental "laws" that govern reality, consciousness, etc., but doesn't each law just demand a new explanation for that law? What could an ontological primitive even be - in other words, what is the meaning of a "fundamental" if it cannot be justified?

Sometimes I feel that our attempts to search for the "true nature" of reality are based in a wholehearted and yet misguided faith that there is a distinct set of simple fundamentals. But imagine, if you will, a being with the capability of altering reality itself, including the laws of physics and even perhaps logic. We don't even have to condone a traditional sense of monotheistic omnipotence; just consider an extraterrestrial intelligence or something (i.e. a Singularity entity) which is able to change some of the apparent rules governing the universe. You might say that this intelligence is bound by more fundamental rules, but are those "more fundamental" rules ever truly "fundamental"? In other words, where is there any justification for limitation? Why is our physics or logic "absolute"?

In my opinion, all of this seems to indicate that there really is nothing "impossible," at least not within human understanding. Sure, we have our soft limitations, but even the most trying of difficulties can be resolved. Many of the things we consider "inevitable," such as death, are seeming less and less inevitable just based on the advancement of technologies such as medicine. And, if I am to humbly use an old argument, nobody in 1890 would believe we'd land on the moon in 1969. Why, then, are we arrogant enough to continue to use the word "impossible," to place limitations on what we may be capable of?

I feel that reality is much more fluid and subjective than we'd like to believe it is, and because of that, I don't give much merit to the word "impossible." I don't see this fitting well with materialism, but I think idealism might allow for a paradigm like this. If anyone feels the same way, I'd love to hear about it.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by ThomasHobbes » May 24th, 2018, 5:43 pm

There are still things that are not possible. You can present as many examples as you like about moon landings, but that does not change the fact that it is not possible for a human to swim on the surface of the sun or eat 20 gallons of sulphuric acid and expect to live.
It's not arrogance.
But your example is false. The idea of travel to the moon was imagined in Greece over 2000 years ago.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by ThomasHobbes » May 24th, 2018, 5:44 pm

PS.
Oh yeah ... you are going to die too.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by chaos_mora » May 24th, 2018, 6:17 pm

Okay.......

Basically proving my point here about assuming the primacy of current knowledge. Sure, the Greeks may have imagined landing on the moon 2000 years ago, but that doesn't mean it was feasibly possible at the time, nor that the Greeks had figured out any of the possible mechanisms for reaching the moon. The examples you presented are what I think of as practical and not fundamental limitations. I know of no technologies that could allow humans to swim on the sun or drink sulfuric acid, but that doesn't mean they are fundamentally impossible; just that we are incapable of them at our current time and technological level.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by LuckyR » May 25th, 2018, 3:30 am

chaos_mora wrote:
May 24th, 2018, 4:37 pm
I'm no professional, so I'm just going to take my thoughts and run with them.

Why is anything "impossible"? I feel as though the word "impossible" is in itself an anthropocentric assumption based on the axiom that what we know now has absolute metaphysical merit. To say something is "impossible" is to say that our knowledge now is sufficient to place limitations on what "reality" can do. Science and philosophy are so often concerned with attempting to track down fundamental "laws" that govern reality, consciousness, etc., but doesn't each law just demand a new explanation for that law? What could an ontological primitive even be - in other words, what is the meaning of a "fundamental" if it cannot be justified?

Sometimes I feel that our attempts to search for the "true nature" of reality are based in a wholehearted and yet misguided faith that there is a distinct set of simple fundamentals. But imagine, if you will, a being with the capability of altering reality itself, including the laws of physics and even perhaps logic. We don't even have to condone a traditional sense of monotheistic omnipotence; just consider an extraterrestrial intelligence or something (i.e. a Singularity entity) which is able to change some of the apparent rules governing the universe. You might say that this intelligence is bound by more fundamental rules, but are those "more fundamental" rules ever truly "fundamental"? In other words, where is there any justification for limitation? Why is our physics or logic "absolute"?

In my opinion, all of this seems to indicate that there really is nothing "impossible," at least not within human understanding. Sure, we have our soft limitations, but even the most trying of difficulties can be resolved. Many of the things we consider "inevitable," such as death, are seeming less and less inevitable just based on the advancement of technologies such as medicine. And, if I am to humbly use an old argument, nobody in 1890 would believe we'd land on the moon in 1969. Why, then, are we arrogant enough to continue to use the word "impossible," to place limitations on what we may be capable of?

I feel that reality is much more fluid and subjective than we'd like to believe it is, and because of that, I don't give much merit to the word "impossible." I don't see this fitting well with materialism, but I think idealism might allow for a paradigm like this. If anyone feels the same way, I'd love to hear about it.
To my mind impossible is somewhat lazy speech when viewed statistically. Specifically, it is equating a very, very small possibility with zero. When dealing with small populations, with few trials, you can't tell the difference, but when dealing with very large numbers (especially over long periods of time) you might be able to detect the difference.
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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Eduk » May 25th, 2018, 3:40 am

So if you were being held down in a pool of water would you
A. Fight to free yourself
B. Think to yourself that although breathing underwater unaided has proven to be impossible in the past perhaps a passing being will change the nature of reality. Therefore I will wait around to find out.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Karpel Tunnel » May 25th, 2018, 7:58 am

Eduk wrote:
May 25th, 2018, 3:40 am
So if you were being held down in a pool of water would you
A. Fight to free yourself
B. Think to yourself that although breathing underwater unaided has proven to be impossible in the past perhaps a passing being will change the nature of reality. Therefore I will wait around to find out.
He clearly stated above that many such things depend on current knowledge, technology and beliefs. So this test is not relevant. Further it seems to me his point is that we are alwasy working from within incomplete knowledge and interpretations, so when we judge something impossible, we may be incorrect, even in some things we consider obviously the case right now.

This does not mean that everything that is considered impossible is actually possible right now.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Karpel Tunnel » May 25th, 2018, 8:08 am

ThomasHobbes wrote:
May 24th, 2018, 5:43 pm
There are still things that are not possible. You can present as many examples as you like about moon landings, but that does not change the fact that it is not possible for a human to swim on the surface of the sun or eat 20 gallons of sulphuric acid and expect to live.
It's not arrogance.
But your example is false. The idea of travel to the moon was imagined in Greece over 2000 years ago.
His point is that there are likely things we consider impossible now that are not impossible and we may not be good judges of which ones we will be wrong about. Your argument about the Greeks imagining travel to the moon is not really relevant to what people in the 1890s would think was possible in the next 70 to 80 years. And cellphone communication would likely have been denied by Greeks 2000 years ago until they were proven it was possible repeatedly. Or that something could be both a particle and a wave was considered impossible and it took overwhelming evidence that it was the case/ and actually there is still resistence to this, not the results of the experiments. Thats not just something considered empirically impossible. It was considered logically impossible. IOW that we could rule out that, and many other QM phenomena, using deduction alone.

No one today can do your counterexamples, but I am sure the transhumanists and Monsanto will have things like that on their drawing boards sooner or later.

Think about it> all the guy is saying is there should be caution in ruling things out. Thats pretty mundance inductive caution.

He is not claiming that all impossible things are possible. He is saying that our knowledge is current, and hence limited, and what seems obvious to us may not be.

It\s not even a radical position.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Eduk » May 25th, 2018, 8:31 am

Well Karpel that is what you are saying. I don't know what the OP is saying. Hence my example.
As always I prefer specific examples to illustrate a general rule. I know of no one who said mobile phones were impossible before mobile phones were invented. Also what people say is impossible and what is impossible are two very different things. Actually it is the quality of the argument behind why X is impossible which is the key factor here. As in not all claims are equal.
In day to day language impossible is often used perfectly understandably so I see no reason to do away with the word.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Karpel Tunnel » May 25th, 2018, 8:38 am

Eduk wrote:
May 25th, 2018, 8:31 am
Well Karpel that is what you are saying. I don't know what the OP is saying. Hence my example.
As always I prefer specific examples to illustrate a general rule.
The OP gave a specific example.
I know of no one who said mobile phones were impossible before mobile phones were invented.
That was a specific response to Hobbes, specific example about the Greeks. I could also have said the Greeks ideas about what was possible and impossible was completely different than people in Western society in the 1800s. They would not have thought, for example, an accurate oracle at Delphi in thousands of years later would be impossible. It was a very apples/bicycles example of Hobbes.
Also what people say is impossible and what is impossible are two very different things. Actually it is the quality of the argument behind why X is impossible which is the key factor here. As in not all claims are equal.
No, not all claims are equal. But even what seem quality arguments now may turn out not to be.
In day to day language impossible is often used perfectly understandably so I see no reason to do away with the word.
We're in a philosophy forum. He didn't turn to the next table in Starbucks and criticize someone for saying 'It's impossible she would go out with him.'

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Karpel Tunnel » May 25th, 2018, 8:57 am

Hobbes,
The Greeks had a completely different worldview. And likely whatever they imagined as the way to travel to the moon has not happened yet. And things they considered already not simply possible but currently functions, like oracles, you would likely consider them incorrect about. Each era/paradigm likely has certain things down as impossible that are not, and true or possible, that also are not those things. (and this is not an argument that all epistemologies have the same value) Rather I am saying that the example of the Greeks is not relevent to his example of 19th century thinking and does not undermine it.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Karpel Tunnel » May 25th, 2018, 9:03 am

ThomasHobbes wrote:
May 24th, 2018, 5:44 pm
PS.
Oh yeah ... you are going to die too.
So you know that the scientists who are working towards various ways of extending life will not achieve their goals in his life time and that whatever extensions they come up with technologically will not allow him to live until later innovations extend this permanently. Perhaps you think that the death of the sun or entropy will put an end to any innovations, but then this assume a completeness of knowledge about the universe, I don't think you can have. Cosmologists still consider a variety of possible futures and nature of the universe (multiverse? many worlds?). And even their current considered possibilities may not be the limit or the case. And this is all not even considering possible interventions he mentioned. I think we can speak about liklihoods and extreme unliklihoods, for example, but to set down that pure, final certainty here is speculation.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Karpel Tunnel » May 25th, 2018, 9:08 am

Oh, the above is misleading. I did not mean that sun will not die, at least if it is not somehow altered by technologies as yet not remotely attained. More that future advancement in technology may well solve that obstacle to immortality and others may solve other obstacles. Also the nature of the universe and what is possible is still not completely understood. I mean, we fairly recently decided that we had been completely unaware of most of the energy and matter in the universe (dark matter and energy). We are always in the middle of learning. And just so this is not judged as being based on my fear of mortality, I dislike in the extreme Transhumanism. And I am also older, I am pretty sure, than the OP writer. Significantly. So even if I were interested in the coming solutions, I doubt they will get here in time to be the solution for me. Of course I might be wrong, but I my motivation for defending the possibility is not based on my own hopes.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by Eduk » May 25th, 2018, 9:17 am

What specific example did the OP give Karpel. I've re-read the post and I can't see one.
Also it isn't clear to me what the OP means or what conclusions the OP draws. It seems clear to you, but you must just take my word for it that it isn't to me. For example you mention the Starbucks conversation and that is fine, but I am not certain this applies to the OP, would the OP be fine what that usage of impossible?
But even what seem quality arguments now may turn out not to be.
Ah but what conclusion do you draw (specifically)? How does this philosophy guide your actions? What choices do you make based off of this? The OP believes reality to be 'more' fluid than we would like, but I don't even know what that means.
Personally I believe reality to be as fluid as it appears and hence I have no issue with assuming my pen will fall if I drop it (until I am presented with evidence to the contrary). This is simple but useful as I can then decide to spend my time and energy building apparatus to test pen falling speeds. And out of such simple philosophies I (we) can build great feats of engineering which if I had assumed that my pen fell randomly I may not have thought to do and would likely still be living in a cave or small hut.

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Re: "Impossible"

Post by chaos_mora » May 25th, 2018, 1:09 pm

Eduk wrote:
May 25th, 2018, 9:17 am
Personally I believe reality to be as fluid as it appears and hence I have no issue with assuming my pen will fall if I drop it (until I am presented with evidence to the contrary). This is simple but useful as I can then decide to spend my time and energy building apparatus to test pen falling speeds. And out of such simple philosophies I (we) can build great feats of engineering which if I had assumed that my pen fell randomly I may not have thought to do and would likely still be living in a cave or small hut.
I'm not saying your pen isn't going to fall to the ground if you drop it. Gravity is something you've had years and years in your life to grow to accept; on a practical basis, you're completely justified in trusting that this fact will still hold true. But at the end of the day, it's still a practical assumption, not a recognition of anything fundamentally limiting. In other words, it's a behavior of the world you live in, but a behavior is not the same thing as a law. All of your knowledge is based either on your less-than-a-century of conditioned experience in human life, or on apparatus, behavior, and historical texts that indicate a history of humans with similar experience. It's all perfectly practical to believe in. But it's a different matter to assume that all of this represents the exact and perfect form of reality.

Let me put it this way: imagine, if you will, Descartes' famous "evil demon" argument. In this argument, an evil demon (I'm sort of imagining an Eye of Providence with a top hat - forgive my whimsicality) has constructed your entire reality, every single thing you know, solely to deceive you. None of it is real; it's all a fabrication by an incredibly powerful being. Now, on the one hand, this reality built by the demon is perfectly valid. You could live in it, embrace it, and come to believe that it's "fundamental reality" since there's no evidence to the contrary. But this reality was still a fabrication by an evil demon, not real at all. You'd be taking the practical route by accepting its validity, but you wouldn't be questioning your reality, and you ultimately wouldn't come across any answers.

This is why I question reality, why I doubt that our current knowledge represents anything fundamental. Beyond the fact that our rapid advancement as a civilization corresponds to radical shifts in our scientific view of the world (every scientist in the last century who claimed that science was almost "complete" turned out to be wholly wrong), we can't rely on that knowledge at all to really prove anything. It's perfectly fine to live within the rules of the reality we perceive, since we really have nothing else to do. We can't manipulate reality with our minds, at least not how we are. I'm only asking that one refrain from mistaking the demon's illusion for a fundamental, unchangeable law.

I hope that suffices.

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