A Science of What Can’t Be Done

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My friend David Coole recently took his masters in architecture and has been advising me about the graduate degree experience. After building an impressive career in film and video production, including supervising post production for Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, he decided to enroll in architecture school.

In a recent discussion he proposed a necessary new science: a science of what can't be done. After decades -- centuries really -- of the science of what might be possible, its time, he thinks, for a science of the not possible.

Alchemists for centuries attempted to turn lead into gold. Others attempted to create a perpetual motion machine. For years the belief exceeded the practice. Only after a scientific theory proved it wasn't possible did the resignation sink in.

What do we currently believe might be possible some day, and what damage and waste are flowing from this?

David believes that if we maintain an unflagging belief, for example, that we are just a short distance from undiscovered methods for remediating our destruction of the environment, it gives us licence to continue business as usual. Where has all the discussion of superconductors and other fantasy technologies taken us?

Let's say we could go back 1000 years and ask: is it possible to have a clear, room temperature solid? It's easy to think could not have imagined glass. No cameras, no eyeglasses, no airplanes, no windows, no , etc.

I'm intrigued by this for another reason. We can't truly discuss one -- what is possible -- without knowing about the other -- what isn't. We are beginning to understand more about our own cognitive and physiological limits as we build a fuller picture of what our forebears inherited and gave to us -- that is, to what point has evolution delivered us thus far?

We need to understand that we are not at the end point of an evolutionary process. We are embedded in a co-evolutionary process. We're not done, and we're not alone. Those facts are the starting point of a new science of the what can't be done and why.