Of improbable possibilities.
My Literary Criticism class is admittedly one of my most difficult classes, partly because of my readings (our book weighs about a kilo or something like that) but mostly because I have a hard time hearing our very, very soft-spoken professor so it really takes herculean effort to be attentive in his 8:30 am class. But the funny thing is, just when I'm about to fall asleep, something interesting like this jolts me up and suddenly I'm all ears.
"With the respect of the requirements of art, a probable impossibility is to be preferred to an improbable possibility."-- from The Poetics by Aristotle
The moment he dropped this line and wrote it on the board was precious. I knew I read it but I just didn't grasp its whole meaning until this morning. Probable impossibilities. Improbable possibilities. You ask: what the hell are these messed up paradoxes? And is there even a difference?
I'm actually quite befuddled too but I shall (try to) explain by giving illustrations. It's actually quite difficult to differentiate them but I hope the examples give you a clearer picture of the two:
A probable impossibility is something likely to happen but cannot be true or accomplished. Like man reaching Pluto. An improbable possibility meanwhile is unlikely to happen but is capable of occurring. Like winning the lottery.
(See, it is VERY confusing.)
The whole period, I was just pondering on this. What is more preferable? Was Aristotle correct with his conclusion? I wanted to have a clear-cut distinction and be able to compare what the better situation is between the two. The problem was this wasn't the main topic of The Poetics so it was only a matter of minutes before our professor moved on to other more important details like the explanation of plot and the comparison of epic and tragic poetry. I couldn't not listen to him otherwise I'd get lost. So I scribbled it on my notebook and told myself I shall worry about it later.
And now, here we are in the "later." I'm still not over it. I just can't stop trying to figure it out.
Both in some ways have a chance of happening, but in different degrees. One is more likely to occur than the other. With the first argument, it just sounds doable in theory. It's like knowing how a car works, but not being able to actually drive it. On the other hand, you have the odds up against you in the second scenario. But it can come true. Like searching for a needle in the haystack. It's a tedious task, but it's there somewhere -- you can find it. So from what I can understand, I have to disagree with Aristotle and say that an improbable possibility is more acceptable.
Well then again, perhaps I got it all wrong. After all, Aristotle was talking about the requirements of art, not life. What about in reality? What is more desirable? Or the better question may be, which one is better to hold onto: an unattainable event, or an unreasonable one?
Jeez, I just got even more frustrated. A bigger (and quite unwelcome but inevitable) thought popped in my head: Is [insert name] a probable impossibility or an improbable possibility? I hate it how I can't put a label on him -- he's not a friend, he's not a lover. And now this. What is he then?!
Partially defeated, I looked at my notebook again. I couldn't help noticing:
Impossible. ImPossible. I'm Possible.
Improbable. ImProbable. I'm Probable.
Whatever the real explanation of these two ideas may be, they're just both banking on the likelihood of something transpiring. Occurring. And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how plausible it is for something to take place. Maybe it doesn't have to all come down to chance. At some point, it's up to us to make it, not the statistics. So what if we get there seamlessly or beat the odds? Just as long as it does happen.