Dangerous Words

Here are two: impossible and can’t.
Imagine if I could travel back a brief 200 years ago and tell an average person, “what if I told you that with special boxes you could speak in such a way that millions of people— even on the other side of the planet— can hear you and see you with incredible clarity, and even people not yet born will be able to see and hear the exact same thing?” What would their response be?
Of course, the responses would vary from person to person. But many would surely say, “that’s impossible” or “that can’t be done”. With our hindsight we can see that both statements are folly, even the latter. It can be done, humanity just currently lacks the know-how to locate, isolate, extract, refine and assemble the components, all of which are readily available.
Can’t and impossible are worse than folly, they are dangerous words. They limit ideas, halt consideration, inquiry, investigation, study, research, evaluation; insisting on the absence of possibility despite the fact that it is not the nature of possibility to not be. Everything that humanity has created started with the thought that it is possible. Such thinkers sometimes faced insistence otherwise, the “logical certainty” that they were wrong, a litany of “intellectuals” in opposition, ridicule, and outright offense at their notions. We owe it to them that they persisted.
A more useful answer to my proposition might be, “that’s an interesting notion. We don’t know how to do that today, but let’s put our minds to it!”. Rather than keeping the mind stuck in the current circumstance, it engages the mind towards creating a solution.
Some things may be impossible, but given the inherit danger of that notion, impossible and can’t are words best avoided.


  1. That is the beauty of science fiction that so many people fail to see. It imagines the things that will happen tomorrow. A lot of people give me a hard time for being a scifi nerd, for spending too much time reading sf when i could be learning a new language or something. I tel theml that science fiction has changed the world, from Jules Verne to William Gibson, and I feel like I am part of the future.

Comments are closed.