A Sense of Possibility

From Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities

If there is a sense of reality, and no one will doubt that it has its justification for existing, then there must also be something we can call a sense of possibility.

Whoever has it does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen; but he invents: Here this or that might, could, or ought to happen. If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: Well it could probably just as well be otherwise. So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might be just as well and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not,. The consequences of so creative a disposition can be remarkable,  and may, regrettably, often make what people admire seem wrong, often make what people admire seem wrong, and what is taboo permissible, or, also, make both a matter of indifference. Such possibilists are said to inhabit a more delicate medium, a hazy medium of mist, fantasy, daydreams, and the subjunctive mood. Children who this tendency are dealt with firmly and warned that such persons are cranks, dreamers, weaklings, know-it-alls, or troublemakers.

Such fools are also called idealists by those who wish to praise them. But all this clearly applies only to their weak subspecies, those who cannot comprehend reality of who, in their melancholic condition, avoid it. These are people in whom the lack of a sense of reality is a real deficiency. But the possible includes not only the fantasies of people with weak nerves but also the as yet unawakened intentions of God. A possible experience or truth is not the same as an actual. experience or truth minus its “reality value” but has –according to its partisans, at least –something quite divine about it, a fire, a soaring, a readiness to build and a conscious utopianism that does not shrink from reality but sees it as a project, something yet to be invented. After all, the earth is not that old, and was apparently never so ready as now to give birth to its full potential.

Translated by Sophie Wilkens

This entry was posted in Being Human, mindworks, Other peoples words, philosophy, thinking in words and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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