Saturday, September 17, 2005

Passion for the Possible

Edward Scissorhands: A robot-human who has the delicacy of a cherubic infant, the tender sensitivity of an angel and a sharp, huge pair of steel scissors for hands!
The classic film titled ‘Edward Scissorhands’ tells the poignantly delightful story of such a robot-human, who is the miraculous creation of an aging scientist’s novel and striking ingenuity. Endowed already with penetrating human instincts, innocent curiosity and a child-like wonder, and intelligence, Edward is to be finally given a pair of well crafted hands in place of his scissors-hands. And in a dramatic stroke of misfortune, the old scientist falls dead of a heart attack at the moment of fitting those living hands. The muscle hands are ruined completely even as Edward struggles to hold them with his sharp edged blades, bruising himself as well. The rest of the story traces his life in an ordinary and normal colony of people who go on with their lives in the most uninteresting and uninspired manner, lacking in creative spirit and high on false pride. In contrast, Edward with his strange body is seen to have mastered the art of pruning, shaping, cutting, sculpting everything that falls in the way of his scissor-hands. The film simply stirs one in exploring the fantasy of possibilities.
“But the fairy tale only invents what is not the case: it does not talk nonsense'”.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Often, while we dismissively put away works of art, literature, cinema or any aspect of human enterprise by branding them ‘fantastical’, ‘fictional’, ‘nonsensical’ or ‘unrealistic’, we could pause for a moment and wonder why. Rather the question to ask oneself would be, ‘Why not!’
The great part of mythologies and allegories available in most civilizations precisely develop fantasy to convey profound thought and wisdom. Fantasy belongs to the realm of creativity, imagination and intuition. Even in dreams we seem to meander into virgin terrains of possibilities where we get a surreal sense of what it is like to be otherwise, of what is not now, but may be possible. For the state of possibilities is a brewing pot. It offers a glimpse of the uncanny thrill of the unpredictable, the hope of the future, the aspiration to freedom and the will to evolve.
For most of our everyday lives we indeed are occupied with the knowledge of ‘what is’. May be even to just rewind at times it may turn out to be invigorating to engage in ‘what is possible’. In his book The Imaginary, Jean-Paul Sartre is convinced that the act of imagination is really a distinct form of consciousness and claims that the remarkable ability of human beings to imagine- or think of things as they are not – is the manifestation of their ultimate freedom. It is interesting to link this striking knack of ours to break free of the conventionally imposed given ideas, to the very basis upon which something like Thomas More’s Utopia and even all science fictions essentially impinge. That is, the capacity of ours to imagine, the best (though unreal, but in principle, possible) and the weird. Adam Roberts in Science Fiction argues that science fiction is a “symbolist genre where symbols are deployed within a rationalized discourse… The point of the symbolic medium is to connect exploration of the encounter with difference to our experience of ‘being-in-the-world’. It is a revolutionary mode of writing, and encourages to take nothing for granted, to challenge all assumptions, and yet think through how things might be different”. It is remarkable to see how people like Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci imagined things in their time, which seemed so out of the ordinary, even bizarre, that people didn’t take them seriously. These very creations led to the actual inventions and discoveries in science many years later, in almost exact likeness.
The interplay of ‘is’ and ‘is possible’ brings to mind the popular thought experiment of Schrödinger's cat. This cat defies the traditional notions of logic and reason, since the experiment concludes that it is possible for the cat to be both dead and alive at the same time, when nobody is looking. Once, science was the ultimate torchbearer of certainty, definiteness and states of fact, with unambiguous and demarcated classifications of truth, reason, logic and fact. However, the discoveries in quantum physics have reinforced the idea of ceaseless possibilities in the dynamism of the microcosmic world of subatomic particles, where the electrons dance in ambivalence, escaping attempts at categorization, strangely showing up both as waves and particles.
Even the ‘irrational’ can be quite fertile, for it is not necessarily schizophrenic or mindless (as we seem to think usually). Poets, artists, scientists, thinkers and writers are often called ‘mad’ by societies. Perhaps the reason is only our failure to grasp their sophistication of thought, their ability to transcend conventional logic and rationality, to go beyond the trodden path and leaping into a horizon of astounding imagination. Notions of madness and irrationality are laid by societies through some cultural standards in line with their progress in thought. We describe things as such only as far as we can imagine them to be so. Moments that go beyond traditional reasoning are often moments of creative imagination, stunning instants of scientific inventions and discoveries (like the reverie of the benzene ring structures), prolific flashes of literary and poetic achievement, and even spiritual and mystical experiences (like Rama Krishna Paramahansa’s vision of Kali incarnate).
Aren't we free then, in postulating a ‘logic of the infinite’- conceiving of Kierkegaard’s ‘passion for the possible’. To look on the future we must dare to confront the dream, the imagined, the intuited, the strange, the extraordinary, the unreal, the illogical, even the irrational. For, life after all is a translation of thoughts.

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