Erling Kagge’s book Walking: One Step at a Time was delightful.
On Friday night I had dinner with John Underkoffler. John and I lived together at college and have been friends for over 35 years, working together for the past 13 or so. Our conversation rambled on a variety of topics, as is usually the case when we spend 1:1 time together.
After getting after-dinner gelato at Gelato Boy (amazing gelato, terrible name) we wandered down the Pearl Street Mall and then circled back to The Boulderado where John was staying. After dropping him off, I headed back to my car with a short stop in the Boulder Book Store, where browsing and buying a few books is one of my guilty pleasures.
Kagge’s book jumped off the shelf into my hands, along with C.S. Lewis’s The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Others’ Eyes. Two of my favorite things to do are reading and walking (or running), so I devoured Walking on Saturday and savored Reading on Sunday.
One section in Walking really stuck with me. Kagge, Arne Næss and a few others, including a professor of archeology, took a trip to Nan Madol. While observing one of the structures, the professor of archeology said, “It is impossible, impossible, impossible.”
Arne Næss responded:
“It is completely possible but, when considered with our conventional calcuations, extremely unlikely. Philosophically, there is a chasm between the imposssible and the fantastically unlikely.”
Now, the legend of how Nan Madol was constructed, according to Wikipedia, is:
According to Pohnpeian legend, Nan Madol was constructed by twin sorcerers Olisihpa and Olosohpa from the mythical Western Katau, or Kanamwayso. The brothers arrived in a large canoe seeking a place to build an altar so that they could worship Nahnisohn Sahpw, the god of agriculture. After several false starts, the two brothers successfully built an altar off Temwen Island, where they performed their rituals. In legend, these brothers levitated the huge stones with the aid of a flying dragon.
Fantastically unlikely, but not impossible. This concept reflected nicely throughout much of The Reading Life, which contains Lewis’s essays on things like “Why Children’s Stories Are Not Just for Children”, “Literature as Time Travel”, and “On the Dangers of Confusing Saga with History.”
In the future, whenever someone tells me, “That’s impossible!” I’m going to respond with “It’s fantastically unlikely but not impossible.”