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How to Think About Weird Things 2: The Possibility of the Impossible

05/10/2013

The authors argue against the claim that “nothing is impossible.” They say that “according to true believers (those who accept the reality of the paranormal), nothing is impossible” (15). This seems a little broad brush to me, but whatever. They use the counter-example of logical impossibilities, like 2+2=5 or married bachelor to falsify this. Anything that contradicts the basic laws of thought are impossible:

The law of noncontradiction: Nothing can both have a property and lack it at the same time.
The law of identity: Everything is identical to itself.
The law of excluded middle: For any particular property, everything either has it or lacks it (17).

No thought is possible if we don’t accept such rules. There’s also physical impossibility, which occurs when something violates the laws of nature, like a monkey hitting the moon with a rock. Lastly is technological impossibility, which is something beyond our current abilities to do, like set up a sustainable colony on Pluto.

These three different possibilities are new to me. I know of logical and epistemic possibility, which are a little different.

The authors attack the fallacy of appeal to ignorance, which is to argue that if something is not conclusively proven, it is false, or if it is not conclusively disproven, it is true. Basic, and embarrassingly common.  They apply this to the supernatural as well (which I more or less applied today in a comment on this post on the unmoved mover argument).

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