TED Conversations

Cameron Bosinski

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

A deceptively simple question: What is, was, and will always be impossible to occur?

I'm having difficulty answering this question with any certainty.

At first glance, most people would agree that some things are impossible.
But then have a difficult time giving an example.

The imagination allows us to think of something seemingly "impossible" and then in the next thought, to think of a way that it might be possible.

Is this a true reflection of reality?
Might nothing be impossible?

Impassable numbers such as the speed of light and absolute zero are not as absolute as they were once considered to be.


This type of thinking leads to the suggestion that all endeavors will eventually succeed and that any idea put forth at one point was, or will be valid.

Dare I say, might a god exist, just not yet?
Can any of this be true?


As a caveat, this question does not concern labels.
It is impossible for a triangle to have 4 sides, but it is possible for a triangle to be modified in such a way that it now possess 4 sides. The label of triangle is no longer appropriate, but it was never meant to be binding in the first place.

+1
Share:

Closing Statement from Cameron Bosinski

This conversation has come to an end and I thank everyone that took the time to participate.
We certainly did cover a lot of territory.

I think the take away message here is that nothing should be assumed.
At one time or another, we (all) assumed something that wasn't true.

In order to overcome this, we needed the help of another perspective.
Indeed, I started this conversation on TED to seek out this very thing.


Although I have not come across anything that I am convinced is impossible, another interesting question has arose.
As proposed by LaMar Alexander, it is impossible (for humans) to know what is impossible.

This may be true. But why might it be true?

Is it impossible because our minds are limited?
OR
Is it impossible because impossible doesn't exist?

Are we unable to find the destination or does the destination not exist?

Either way,
I think it is interesting to think about the limits of the human mind and how those limitations might be overcome.
And also to consider that minds greater than ours might exist, conceiving of what is just outside of our reach.


Until then, think about it.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    May 19 2013: Psychology - the study of the human psyche

    The question of the psyche was originally for philosophers to ponder, but now the question has been given to cognitive researchers (and the respected mind sciences).

    The problem with studying human consciousness is we have no other type of superior consciousness to compare ours to, so we are in a HOLE as far as finding out where to begin what is 'conscious' or not. We have great ideas, like emotions, memory and reasoning that tell researchers we are conscious, but the general nature of such consciousness, it still a mystery. Because as soon as I rationalized 'this is my nature' I become aware and that 'natural tendency' no longer has as much of an effect on my future reasoning...

    Take the Myer-Briggs personality criteria for example: The test dictates your personality TYPE, so if the test is justified (by you or others) to be true and practical - you accept this assessment of YOU. Well, after this 'acceptance' you are no longer that type of personality, you are now 'more of' or a 'variation of' that personality type. Therefore having accepted who you are on an objective standard, has given you reason to alter future rationalities involving yourself.

    At the point where we actually begin to map the brain out (in an unified theory), we will still be left with questions of how to use those maps to better the human condition.

    So, what will always be impossible, has been and will be is - the perfect education system to train a human being.

    OR - just "perfection" in general.

    It is impossible for humans to be absolute creatures, being born subjective, but we can be objective (by taking from consensus and communities)... Yet, we cannot conceptualize what our species will become even in 100 years, so how can we be able to ever practice absolute reasoning as a casual occurrence?

    A lot is impossible, but it takes creativity and imagination to make practical developments from thinking 'impossible'
    • thumb
      May 19 2013: Are you saying that if something realizes what it is, then it is no longer that thing?
      A human that realizes it is a human, is no longer a human?
      I don't see how this makes sense.

      Are you saying that in 1 million years from now, or even 10 billion years from now, this won't be accomplished?
      I give humans more credit and think that this type of advancement could be done in 100,000 years.
      Do you have a reason that it could never be done?


      Why might perfection be impossible?
      Anything that is completely pure is perfect in that way.
      Space that has nothing inside it (a vacuum) is perfectly empty.


      These are all possible.
      If you have more impossible things to name, then please do so.
      Don't hold back.
      • thumb
        May 19 2013: " A human that realizes it is a human, is no longer a human?"

        Ha, this is why the social sciences should be stressed more.. Consider the variety of fields of study for the human body, let alone the brain and how the mind works. A better question: "If a human realizes/learns/rationalizes more about their biology, psychology, physiology, etc. they no longer are just a human?" Well, that still doesn't answer the very important question of "what is a human being?" How do we objectively describe ourselves if we are the consensus which establishes conceptuals categorizes? In another sense, how can an individual ever really realize their full potential if they do not know ALL the actuality that can be known about humans? And that answer, will suggest when an 'agent' realizes more about what it is, it is no longer the same agent.

        Maslow's Peak Experience // Buddhism's Satori - the questioning of self, and it's existence leading to enlightenment
        Nietzsche's Übermensch // Sagehood - the idea we must become more than human by understanding human nature
        (What it is to be human, is a matter of acceptability from society...While some say we need to "this" to be human, others will say "that" is the worth of being a human)

        Compare us to the people from 3000 years ago. I am assured, there will be far more differences than similarities. What will we emphasize as being "human" is a matter of social acceptance, not merely a time dimension. But, now considering the evolution of culture... A 100 years from now, where would our languages and philosophies have taken us? We will be "human" but less identifiable with us as humans now, for we would be more advanced. More developed humans, our ideas of ourselves and our conceptions would have also developed, thus different, thus impossible to solidify timelessly. Unless perhaps you say "we are celestial beings responding to other celestial beings" - which is just too holistic for my taste.

        Perfection is like beauty - perspecti
        • thumb
          May 20 2013: You give examples in which learning to be human makes one more and less human.
          This seems to suggest that one can achieve all levels of "humanness."

          "when an 'agent' realizes more about what it is, it is no longer the same agent."
          Why this is true? An enlightened individual is still that individual.


          I'm not debating the definition of what it is to be human.
          I'm not sure what you consider impossible about this situation.
      • thumb
        May 20 2013: Learning to be human cannot make one less human? If anything more of a human, when in pursuit of being better than a 'human' or normal person.

        "An enlightened individual is still that individual." This position doesn't seem valid. Enlightenment clearly implies wisdom obtained by trails of effort. How can someone who worked to be more of them self but not different from the person they were? Who a person is, is not a static agent. WE are agents of evolutionary adaption and social relations - if by nature we evolve, than by individual distinction that extension of thought should apply - we evolve when we adapt to reality.

        Please define human, in a way, that EVERYBODY will agree is an usable definition. Impossible.

        It is impossible these questions will be resolved and applied to public agencies in the next decade.
        • thumb
          May 21 2013: A buddha is not born enlightened, but once he is, he stays the same person.
          The soul inside of him is the same, but it is now enlightened.

          Once enlightened, you Nicholas, would still be Nicholas.


          To take the easy way out.
          Human - what most people consider to be human.


          How could you know with any certainty that this won't happen?
          It is just as possible that you might die within the next decade or within the week.

          Just because something is unlikely, like a comet hitting the earth, doesn't mean it won't happen soon. As we have seen recently.
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: Nice cereal box interpretation of Buddhism, but that's not the point of enlightenment and reflections on satori. The point is, that it is continuous once you begin on that journey. "Once you seen the peak of the mountain, you can't forget what you saw." A human is born with buddha or as buddha, which means we are already enlightened (or have the tools to be) but need to work to maintain the light. This changes a person, a name is not a representation of who someone is - nor their eyes. "A flower by any other name... still has the essence of a flower" We create our own essence constantly with our ideals of what is to be a good and proper human. To be happy. It is not impossible to know what makes everyone happy, it will forever be impossible to make everyone happy.

        Possibilities are all not the same, that is an absurd notion.

        There are impossibilities, but imagination allows us to overcome those thoughts, but we must IMAGINE how to, not merely because they do not exist.
        • thumb
          May 22 2013: Reaching enlightenment allows one to shed the physical form.
          Liberation allows one to enter the true and pure form, nirvana.

          Speaking in terms of personhood in this context is futile.
          Also, I'm not really sure how this relates to the initial question.


          Why will it be impossible to make everyone happy?
          What if everyone becomes enlightened?


          So your stance is that through the power of imagination, all is possible.
          What physical limits does reality have that do not exist in the mind?

          What exists in your mind that was not gained from experiencing the world?
          All that exists in your mind has a basis in the physical world.
      • thumb
        May 23 2013: "Why will it be impossible to make everyone happy?
        What if everyone becomes enlightened?"

        Your very LARGE what if should answer your own question.

        You never are able to shed your physical form, that's the 'IDEAL' the 'attempt' or 'desire' but never actually happens, but this desire seems to put other desires in perspective, which is the goal. To have a great perspective. Seriously, stop reading the side of the box and think its that simple.

        "So your stance is that through the power of imagination, all is possible.
        What physical limits does reality have that do not exist in the mind?"

        While I sit here at my laptop, on my floor, in my room. While I try to pinpoint and piece together who you ARE entirely, is impossible - enough cannot be known to understand. Imagination wise, "hell yeah" I can figure you out, but realistically, there are TOO many stipulations and assumptions involved to be totally accurate. Impossibility isn't the difference between real and unreal, it's the difference between how you think about real and unreal. The mind can make a minotaur a real-idea, but myself ever meeting one is impossible - at least on earth.

        "What exists in your mind that was not gained from experiencing the world?
        All that exists in your mind has a basis in the physical world."

        Fine and dandy, but what you take/learn with the actuality, is what is the overall potentiality of the object/subject (Aristotle). The "idea" of something is always greater than the "real" thing, therefore when one examines the "real" thing constantly more "ideas" are made. The limit of reality, and what is impossible, is if there is no way to not think without ourselves, without our minds. To assume we can "know" nothing is impossible, is to assume we "know" what is likely to be highly improbably or impossible - but, we don't collectively as humans even understand the mind we use in simple coherent explanation...

        I have given many examples of impossibilities, explore one or don't.
        • thumb
          May 23 2013: I'm happy to explore them all.


          It doesn't matter how small a probability is.
          Any probability > 0 is possible.


          Then what does liberation mean?
          From what I understand, it means that one no longer needs to be born in a physical form.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moksha
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana

          Leaving the cycle of rebirth is only possible by forsaking the physical and by recognizing one's true nature and becoming one with it.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

          Cite something if you wish to argue differently.


          Why can't this be known?
          If every detail of your life was recorded as well as your genome, and epigenome, then why would it be impossible to?
          I understand that this is computationally very difficult, but I'm not convinced that it is impossible.
          These variables are finite and therefore able to be counted.


          "Impossibility isn't the difference between real and unreal, it's the difference between how you think about real and unreal."
          Are you suggesting that something is possible only if you think it is?
          I'm not sure how your mind has an effect on what is objectively real.

          A minotaur seems to have all of the components currently found in animals on this earth.
          Surely, geneticists will one day find a way to create this combination.


          "the "idea" of something is always greater than the "real" thing"
          How is the idea greater? What are you measuring this by?
          Are there not real things that we don't fully understand?
          Wouldn't the reality be greater than the idea of that thing?

          I would limit your use of the word always until you are serious about it.


          "The limit of reality, and what is impossible, is if there is no way to not think without ourselves, without our minds."
          I'm not sure if I understand this statement.
          Are you saying that it is impossible to think without a mind?
          I can't really say that I disagree with that, but any religious person would.

          I'm not sure if I understand the rest of the last paragraph.
      • thumb
        May 24 2013: No, any possibility is not higher than 0 - outside of physics. This is absurd on at least three levels. And it is a degree of positivism that I find useless in genuine rationality - to suggest "anything is possible" is TOO idealistic to function in our current conditions of technology and our immediate understand of space, universe and time. I am one for idealism, Socrates/Plato, in pursuits of philosophy. But you are combining momentary conditions with possible reality, and of course THEN (in that mindset) nothing is impossible, but this isn't very practical thinking outside of say, theoretical physics? I cannot do that type of thinking when I research psychology; the mind sciences are still working on concepts let alone an unified theory of how the brain works - to suggest WE WILL have an unified theory, does not give me one now. So it is most certainly impossible that I CAN COME UP WITH ONE ON THE SPOT - but not impossible for there to be one. This division is necessary to be practical, because otherwise we will only get lost in our own conceptions. If you still feel as though NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE - this part of the discussion no longer interest me.

        Seriously, not going to talk Buddhism with you - check out The Zen Experience, or the Way of Zen, Zen for Beginners, and books like those. You clearly do not have a grasp (needing to cite wiki) on the material you are discussing but rather reiterating what a website says. Clearly haven't embodied it, and therefore will not discuss either. "Buddha is a shit-stick" - favorite quote

        Your response to minotaur example exist above ^

        The idea is always greater than the real, therefore the more you understand the REAL you can do more with the REAL! However, just because it is REAL doesn't mean you know what to do with it without more investigation or idea construction. Since things are interconnected (Mr. Buddhist) when the actuality of the thing is full, it will only still show more potential not more reality.
        • thumb
          May 24 2013: I'm not looking for what is practical.
          I'm looking for what is.

          My definition of possible is not bound by time.
          If it is ever possible, then it is possible.


          I'm not exactly sure why you brought in religion in the first place.
          What a group of people believe to be true isn't necessary true.

          And thus, I couldn't find a scientific article to support my claims.
          I didn't realize that one could just cite a book and not give any quotations.

          But if you accept that convention, here is a book I think you will find most helpful.
          http://www.amazon.com/How-Think-Like-Scientist-Scientific/dp/0690045654/ref=la_B001IO9Q7U_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369423903&sr=1-1

          Your investigation of psychology obviously hasn't included the scientific method.


          Does potential not turn into reality?
          Certainly acid and mushrooms have the potential to change reality.
          Even if you wish it weren't so.
      • thumb
        May 24 2013: Oh boy... "what is" IS always going! But part of what is going is DONE going (we can see the effects), at least in the moment, and by understanding the 'DONE-going-parts' or pieces we understand better how things go.

        FINE that is YOUR definition of TIME, not an objective one at all, time is relative to communication. To dismiss the relativity of time in conversation is to be absurd innately, have fun.

        Resisting my urge to continually suggest how much you do not understand what it is you are talking about...

        An additional book you should check out is Kuhn's scientific structure of revolutions, and you will see exactly what the 'scientific method' is, and what it is dependent on... And one of the reasons the book gets so much backlash is because he justifies "how/what a group of people believe can be necessarily true" not specifically data or merely 'method.' Thus the 'religious' type of thinking, is essential to understand how humans think - helps a lot in evolutionary psychology.

        Jesus help me!

        The anticipation of the potential is the always changing the actuality, even if actuality is prior to potentiality.

        And as that last statement is a personal attack, one that is CLEARLY unrelated lol, and it gives me joy. A sign of my correctness, that clearly, you have no idea of what you are talking about with Buddhism (satori, enlightenment, etc) and are doing no more than a commonly confused individual - trying to blend thoughts together when only knowing their most superficial definitions and concepts. And by feeling insulted, you have now resorted to personal attacks. But let me tell you when I was 19 I also fell into the same traps (and I notice when I let myself do so now), perhaps you will get out of your pitfalls in another 2 or 3 years.

        Good luck on your journey! Hope all I have said will linger in your mind enough for it to grow!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.