I saw the Daily Post prompt today http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/daily-prompt-impossibility/ and immediately went off on an internal rant. bah belief and all that. Reading others’ blog posts in response I realise that the spirit of the challenge is to list things that are seemingly impossible (feats of physical endurance, forgiveness, stuff like that) and choose to believe in them. I took a completely different tack with my thoughts, maybe taking it too literally, but this is where I went with it.
Firstly there’s a notion of philosophical scepticism which is that nothing can be absolutely known.Even “I think, therefore I am” assumes too much (how do you really know it’s you doing the thinking?) The Universe may actually be a hologram projection of a 2D surface http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holographic_principle, it may not exist, this may just be a simulation, or brought into existence randomly a millisecond ago complete with memory of the past.
The rational person is aware of all of this, and brings it to mind occasionally, but it would be pretty difficult to allow this to weigh on all of one’s decisions. When we say “is” therefore, we’re using that as a short-hand for “is to the best of our knowledge”. To the best of our knowledge I exist, this laptop exists. The Universe was created 13.4 billion years ago in a Big Bang and arose out of the final heat death of the previous one. And so on. These aren’t a matter of belief though, to say these things are true just means that, looking at the evidence, these are the best explanations we have. That’s really what truth is.
It’s therefore true that there is no God. Or no afterlife. To the best of our knowledge there isn’t. That’s not to say that there definitely 100% isn’t one. It’s always possible that there is an omnipotent divine being who just doesn’t seem to have an impact on anything. But accepting that doesn’t make me an agnostic, any more than accepting that the universe may be a hologram has an impact on my daily life. I will act in such a way that the truth is there isn’t one. To the best of our knowledge. That for me is the essential difference between an atheist and an agnostic. An atheist has made that observation, but is prepared to change his mind (and in the case of Tim Minchin carve “fancy that” on his cock with a compass if proved wrong). An agnostic has put off making that observation. If it was choosing my dessert (the majority of my metaphors include chocolate at some point) an atheist would have ordered their dessert, but be prepared to pick another one if they see one that’s better. An agnostic is still looking at the menu and not picking one.
So is anything impossible? No. Actually it isn’t. There’s a very very very tiny possibility that anything can happen. Even God. Do I actually hold any beliefs about anything? No I don’t. There are making decisions based on weighing of evidence, there are observations. But none of these constitute beliefs. This is what rational people (and rationality is the most human thing we can aspire to) do.
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Looking at the people who requested pingbacks’ blogs I notice that one of Paul Scibbles’s impossible things is a good example of why nothing is impossible. As an exercise on my degree we had to calculate the possiblity of running through a wall (according to the equation describing quantum tunnelling). it’s a very remote one. It would take millions of people running at walls on billions of planets in billions of galaxies several bilion universe-lifetimes to happen. But it’s still possible.
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Erratum: the best guess for the age of the Universe is now 13.8 billion years old. See what I mean about the meaning of the word “is”?