When the Impossible becomes Possible

I was struck the other day by how often the word “impossible” gets bandied about. Me, included. And personally, I have used it again and again only to get myself proven wrong. I’ll give you an example. One day I was showing off and seeing if I could make “impossible” shots. This particular shot was with me sitting in a lawn chair and saying I could make a dog’s rawhide bone land in a plastic bucket about 20 feet away without knocking over the bucket.

Well, after 2 throws, I said, “Wait, this really is an impossible shot. Even if the bone lands in the bucket, it’s momentum will knock over the bucket.” Well, of course, my next shot landed 2 feet short, but it did a somersault and landed upright in the bucket. And yes, I had witnesses. What’s humorous is that although they thought it was a great shot, I’ve done this kind of thing before and they were not overly impressed. But I had thought the shot was impossible, based on the known laws of physics. Obviously I was wrong. I wondered how often other people deem something happening as impossible only to discover they’re wrong.

Sometimes a person will say, oh yes, it’s impossible, and if it happens it’s just a fluke. What? Doesn’t that make it possible however unlikely it appears to be? Other times, they come up with new scientific theories and explain their past incorrectness on the fact that they had been operating under a false set of data. This comes to mind when I think about scientists who predicted the 4-minute mile would never be cracked based on how much oxygen the body needed to perform certain tasks (such as running very fast, sprinting, for 4 minutes straight). Humans were able to chase down wild horses based on their long-distance running ability, not their ability to sprint for 4 minutes straight. Most predators would have us hunted down long before the end of the 4 minutes.

And anyway, what does impossible mean? Does it mean, nature doesn’t allow it but it’s possible to happen with supernatural intervention? Think, miracles. But how do we know what comes from Nature and what is supernatural? Humans at one time thought lightning was a supernatural phenomenon. Today we know it is not. It’s the simple laws of physics. And anyone who studies quantum mechanics knows that on the quantum level, all bets are off. Matter/energy can just disappear from one place and pop into existence in another place. This is the scientific basis for the operation of tunneling microscopes. On the quantum level, it’s even possible to be in two places at once. Is the same true outside the quantum realm? I really hesitate to say it’s impossible. That rawhide bone might just land in the bucket via an unexpected avenue. And in some sense, maybe that’s what religion is all about.



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