The Problem of Mr Impossible

Unpublished theory-fiction based on the work of Charles Avery


No doubt opinion among readers upon those weighty matters to be pondered in the present work shall be not a whit less strictly divided than upon any like topic. For it is an established precept of the wise, that in all matters philosophic the current of common opinion cleaves into two channels whose courses run antithetical one to the other. I say advisedly common opinion, for may it not fairly be asked what advantage the philosopher may boast over such vulgar say-so, and whether he may not gather into their proper unity once again these divergent currents?

As dignified as such an aspiration may be, I shall remark that the chief advantage accruing to a mind tutored in philosophical thinking is that, having studied and reflected at length upon the disputations of ages past, it is apt no longer to entertain the notion that the many and varied attitudes thus discovered could ever be subject to final resolution. Such a spirit ends rather in adopting as its chief and only principle the following: Never has there been a position held in philosophic discourse so robust and so well-defended against siege, that it has not found on some occasion its ramparts overrun by some cavil or objection, this latter only to be found in some later period to be equally surmountable. Only through this unaccustomedly broad optic may the philosopher tell a stonemouse from a mouse plain, i.e. distinguish, in the great discordant clamour of suit and counter-suit, the consequent from the inconsequent, conning the subtle composition of the dialectic.

It would be hasty to conclude that said dialectic, running now one way and now another, is a thing of mere caprice. It is a burn which, destined for and drawn onward in its course by the attraction of the great sea of truth, nevertheless feeds a great many tributaries, some of which betimes run dry, and never does (so far as our inadequate eyes may see) reach its destination. Nevertheless, one well-versed in its nature may read in its course indications of the great tides affecting that great unseen body.

Considering thus the dialectic and the practice of philosophy, we may appreciate all the more keenly the reason for which Amot Tomamota chose to present his inestimable wisdom in the form of an amicable dialogue between friends. For in this way is conserved the dynamical nature of such a body in its grand procession toward that ocean, that the finest details of its movements rendered manifest – just as the gossamer threads of the windworm uncover to the eye the secretmost movements of the air.

If the form of a conversation be, I say, the most fitting form in which to exercise the philosophical mind, then how much nicer an occasion could be fancied than – as is the case with the present pamphlet – when the fruits of philosophical thought, on a matter of no little importance, do indeed find their historical origin in conversation freely occurring between thinkers at their leisure? In such a happy event, the more divergent these interlocutors’ opinions may be, the more we may be sure of discerning in their ensemble those invisible currents whose twisting ways are our only compass for truth.

* * *

Heidless Magregor’s, Wednesday afternoon.

Charles Avery, Untitled (Heidless MacGregors Bar), 2006

Mandy: Do you recall, Toby, that on Friday last we were disputing about the nature of possibility?

Toby: I do indeed, and a fat lot of good it did us. We tied ourselves up in knots that the blunt instruments of our reason proved ineffectual to cut.

Mandy: Well, it happens that early on Saturday afternoon, three philosophers were discussing the very same topic before me, and with no little intensity. I was behind the bar leafing through a magazine, but I soon became absorbed by their lively conversation, and made sure to remember its cardinal points. They were, to be sure, in their cups; but their reasoning was, so it seems, unimpaired.

Toby: And are you able to recount the circumstances of this conversation, and to recall its details for those of us present here tonight?

Mandy: Indeed I am, for it made quite an impression upon me.

Toby: Pray do so, then.

Mandy: Very well. There were three of them present: Boobs, that haughty and imperious spirit; Penweather – keen as ever to quell his youthful thirst with a draught of truth; and of course Ioroe, a regular in these parts, who never did hear a speculative balloon launched without pulling out a pin so’s to rapidly deflate it. Also present was that most peculiar creature Mr Impossible who, although not a participant, was to become the very object of reflection.

Toby: Please do continue, Mandy.

* * *

Boobs: Really, is it possible that three great minds such as we should be consigned to discourse in the midst of such a dreary establishment?

Ioroe: Since ‘tis manifestly the case, it must be possible; for what are facts but those possibilities which have succeeded in negotiating that narrowest defile, manifestation?

Penweather: But is it no the case, nonetheless, that even baffled by the fine sieve of existence, the possible lingers, casting its shadow upon facts and lending them their vitality?

Ioroe: Only in our fancy, boy, for what has demurred to take its place in this world, is by that token possible no more, and is no more than an imaginary spectre conjured by the mind.

Boobs: [Sighing] To what purpose is it to dilate upon this matter? All is but a footnote to the great Tomomata, who demonstrated, on the contrary, that it is the facts that are mere shadows.

Penweather: Nevertheless, do ye no mark the great number of things that are, despite their seeming most highly improbable? Does the universe no have need of a light sprinkling of improbability, lest it wind down to a mean gruel of sure-and-likely?

Boobs: In present company, one might be tempted to venture that it already has.

Ioroe: A silverbob on your heid, boy, ‘tis a nonsense fit to embarrass the most jejune ponderer. What is, is probable, and what’s improbable, isnay, and let’s have an end to it.

Boobs: Must it be either one or the other? Are there not degrees of probability? And if so, by what compass are they to be measured?

Penweather: Take that hideous creature by the fruit machine there. Can any man own that such a hideous conglomeration is probable, simply because we see it here before us?

Ioroe: ‘Tis, one must admit, a most repugnant and bewildering spectacle, that one. An example does focus the mind, right enough.

Boobs: Are we so infirm? Examples are to philosophers as the walking-frame to Old Jack: an extraneous appendage whose only function is to compensate for a frailty and an exhaustion which themselves ought disqualify one from pursuing the finer arts of argumentation.

Ioroe: Yet Old Jack walks to this day, and will do so long after we’re away. Grant us leave to employ that bewildering gallimaufry as a locus for our disputation, Boobs; that we may shape our ideas here on earth afore we raise them to the nicer degree of abstraction you crave. Let us consider this frightful fellow, then. (Mandy, three more of the same – ‘One may drink, or one may philosophise and drink’.)1 What say you, then, Penweather?

Penweather: Can there be a less probable entity in this universe than he? It strains the bounds of sense to imagine how such a thing deign come to exist. To draw nigher the problem: Might such a combination have come about simply through the play of chance? What are the chances of the atoms aligning in such a way that this aberration of nature should appear even for the blink of an eye, let alone that they should persist in doing so … You! Birdog! How old are ye?

Mr Impossible: Thirty-three.

Penweather: There. The original miracle of his existence, thus multiplied by a power of itself, renders a figure so beyond comprehension as to render it impossible.

Boobs: Not impossible, but merely highly improbable. If we really must speak of such things, at least let us introduce a fitting degree of precision.

Ioroe: Och, dinnae come with the mathematic, love.

Boobs: Very well, if we must stoop to examples, then take the very machine of chance itself: We know full well that, though we see cherries alone, they are but one of eight symbols inscribed upon the circumference of a rotating drum secreted within the bowels of that infernal chump-milking contraption. The probability of those cherries appearing being thus equal to one in eight. May it not be, then, that this abhorrent beaked dandy, too, is composed of a number of like figures emblazoned upon great cartwheels in some higher dimension I know not what? Then in principle the probability of his composite existence could be determined through an iteration of like reckonings.

Penweather: Insupportable, too dreich to bear! This image of the universe as a panorama of interminable merry-go-rounds is a torture to the spirit. And yet I cannae find a fault in your reasoning as yet.

Ioroe: Then you are no philosopher, boy…

Penweather: [Breathlessly] Nay, hold up, it comes to me … does not Tomamata’s interlocutor ‘The If’enish Stranger’ proclaim as follows: ‘In a universe of all things, all things are – and not only that, but more’ – For our universe is no game of chance circumscribed by rotating cherry-drums, but a continual tumultuous recombination which exceeds itself in its striving. And – extrapolating – in a such universe of all things and more, there is nae measure o’ the probability of one entity against the whole, for, not ever stooping to make a whole of itself, the entirety of its glory cannae be counted.

Ioroe: Extravagant suppositions, to be sure! Ye’ll soon run into absurdities, boy. We live no in the universe of all things: Just look about ye.

Boobs: The philosopher, nevertheless, must speak not only of this world and of the detritus comprised therein. Such an assortment is paltry pickings compared with the riches the philosopher has at her disposal. For she must consider all combinations that could logically exist were they minded to, as well as those that happen to obtain. To limit the scope of discourse to the latter would be a vain conceit, worthy only of one who believes the limits of the universe to be determined by the walls of this bar.

Ioroe: [Under his breath] Is’t not more conceited to affect to propel oneself, by means of words alone, and in one leap, from a barstool into the firmament of essences …?

Penweather: Nay, I am convinced, this notion exhilarates me. Who cares a whit for the probability of that vile ponce relative to the other, equally vile things in Existence? What is capital is to consider his relation to the more-than-infinite possible configurations of Being. Since these configurations are, properly speaking, numberless, and can never be spoken of as a completed whole, then all relative probability is neutralised, and the least likely as well as the most likely thing is no just probable, but essential. Thus, he must exist, and there no longer remains anything to puzzle over.

Ioroe: If we neglect the ground beneath our feet in favour of the stars set above us by this idealiser’s fantastical pearlbobs, my boy, mark me we’ll end up falling into a pit. Imagine the consequences of lending that pompous ass the aura of the essential!

Boobs: That’s nothing to the purpose. You may charge it with the most absurd of consequences, but no man can gainsay the deliverances of logical thinking, however monstrous they may be to his lousy habitudes.

Penweather: On this we agree. What can be alleged in defence?

Ioroe: That there is no such thing as this domain of Being, but only the existence we know. Bah, such odious emanations on the part of Reason embarrass the mind and confuse the spirit.

Boobs: Nevertheless…

Penweather: Can even the most acute of philosophers divine the nature of Being, and the mechanism by which its numberless possibilities enter the narrow channel of time which it must sometime pass through? For

[t]he If’en, among themselves,
possessed an order; and this order was
the form that made the universe If’enish.
Here did the higher beings see the imprint
of the Eternal, which is the end
to which this order I have mentioned tends.
But beyond the Place of the Rout,
every nature has its bent,
according to a different station,
nearer or less near to its origin.
Therefore, these natures move to different ports
across the mighty sea of being, each
given the impulse that will bear it on.

The continuous and immeasurable plenitude of Being must also be routed so as to found the Onomatopeia of Existence. Yet its divine multiplicity rumbles on beneath the temporal settlement. This little critter marks well for us the place of the rout, where Being, funneled into existence, demonstrates its more-than-infinite capacity to multiply essences.


Ioroe: [Grumbling] Let him walk the plane.

  1. Popular maxim attributed to Amot Tomomata.