Friday, January 15, 2016

Impossible Usually is Not

Oil at $100 a barrel is “impossible” the headlines said. But I remember Tom Peters in the early 1990s warning us that we would never again see oil at $35 a barrel. And today’s dollars are even smaller than they were in 1992. In terms of 1992 purchasing power, we are living with oil at about $15 a barrel right now.
 “If true, that could also eliminate the threat of $3 a gallon gas. In an interview with the Middle East Economic Survey, an oil industry newsletter, Ali al-Naimi responded "we may not" when asked if oil markets would ever lift prices to $100 a barrel again.”  (The Middle East Economic Survey website requires a login. The news was widely reported on CNN, Reuters, CNBC, etc.)
“Impossible” is an absolute claim. Physical absolutes are primaries. As Ayn Rand pointed out in Galt’s Speech in Atlas Shrugged whether you have your cake or eat it – or whether your neighbor eats it – is an absolute. Either-or, the excluded middle of logic, is an absolute. Whether the price of crude oil can never again be below $35 or above $100 is not an absolute. 
Casio and Texas Instrument calculators, both simple and advanced, for sale.
Calculators at Walmart cost
a fifth or a tenth of their prices
in 1976 when the dollar was
three times as large as ours.

It is pretty easy and common to create a list of statements of impossible outcomes that are now integral to our lives. No steamship could carry enough coal to cross the Atlantic. Heavier-than-air transport was a pipe dream. The world only needs five computers.

Most events and circumstances that are open to human action are objective. “Objective” means rational-empirical: at the same time both logically consistent and evidentiary to the senses. 

A better explanation, a better theory, is better logic. Cartesian geometry is an example. It does not contradict Euclidean geometry, but subsumes it under a wider set of truths. Epigenetics improved upon Darwinian evolution. Statistical mechanics completely replaced phlogiston as an explanation of “heat.” 

New discoveries  – the atom, the chromosome, distant planets, accelerating galaxies – lead to new inventions: stainless steel, Kevlar, rayon. Those are the new facts that require and validate new theories.

I forget where I read it, but it has been pointed out that physicists have no Journal of Phlogiston, but philosophers still have peer-reviewed periodicals for Aristotleanism, Platonism, and other archaic collections. Another expression is, "The news is always the same. It just happens to different people." Researching 19th century America from newspapers in order to write about numismatics, I found many stories that could be reprinted (almost) verbatim today. 

Previously on NecessaryFacts

No comments:

Post a Comment