Three Impossible Things We Can’t Do Without

May 21, 2019

If you want to know what human beings really want, consider how Alice reacts to Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s inventions are so entertaining, we tend to smile at how upset, vexed, and unsettled Alice actually is. Wonderland overturns our regular, orderly, and predictable life, which is what people actually want.

The inhabitants of Wonderland aren’t just fantastic. They are unhappy. The White Rabbit is anxious enough to be a study in stress over a deadline. The Duchess’s cook throws dishes in a state of rage, and the Duchess herself hands Alice her squalling baby, which turns into a pig.  Alice is very glad to get out of there.  But Wonderland haunts us, and for good reason.

We are shadowed in everyday life by fear of the unknown and unpredictable, and perpetual chaos would be  intolerable. To assuage our fears, we have mentally constructed a picture of life that is reassuring, but wrong. There’s a kind of silent conspiracy to impose logic, reason, order, and predictability which actually isn’t there in Nature.

As an Oxford mathematician, under his real name of Charles Dodgson, Carroll was deeply attached to order, reason, and logic. In the Alice books he was sending two messages that modern people still believe in. The first has already been mentioned: It is better to live an orderly, well-organized life than its opposite, a disorderly and messy life.
The second message is that the natural world runs on logical and predictable cause-and-effect. This message is sent by reverse example, since Wonderland is the place where the Red Queen “believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Alice laughs at this, but there are at least three impossible things that everyone cannot do without. The first, known as intuition, defies logic, because intuition strikes out of the blue, giving rise to sudden insights, breakthroughs, and discoveries. Without it, the modern world wouldn’t exist—we might not even have the wheel.

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