The Adjacent Possible

Have you ever been so close to something that you knew nothing about? To be on the cutting edge of Breakthrough. It’s only after Neil Armstrong step foot on the moon that we learned that it wasn’t made of cheese. To be the very first in a long line of succession is intimidating but that’s where we raise the bar with every step. We are the beneficiaries of prayers we know nothing about. We’ve grew up in cities we didn’t build, Water we didn’t pump, food we didn’t sow but God was working long before we got on the scene.

Michael Crichton in his book Timeline says, If you were to  tell a physicist in 1899 that in 1999 (hundred years later) … That moving images that would be transmitted into homes all round the world from satellites in the sky, that bombs of unimaginable power would threatened the species, that antibiotics with abolish infectious diseases but the disease would fight back, that women would have the vote and pills to control reproduction, that millions of people will take to the air every hour in aircraft’s capable taking off and landing without human touch, that you can cross the oceans beyond the speed of sound, that microscopes will be able to see individual atoms, that people can carry telephones weighing a few grams and can speak anywhere in the world without wires and most of these miracles depended on devices the size of postage stamp which utilize new theory of quantum mechanics. And if you had said all this. That physicist would most certainly pronounce you mad.

Most of these developments could not have been predicted a hundred years ago cause back then scientific theory said they were impossible. A vast number of  things were impossible a hundred years ago, even more 200 years ago, or even more 500 years ago.

The realm of innovation is a concept called the ‘Adjacent Possible’.

The phrase was coined by a biologist named Stuart Kaufman. It’s a picture of how transformation happens. Causality is a long chain of events that happen and then there’s a domino effect which is beyond our ability to control or calculate, both with intended or unintended consequences.

Nowadays we take the air conditioning for granted, before the invention of air conditioning, the population of Florida in the United States was less than a million people (that was 80 years ago). No one wanted to live in Florida. And now millions of people now live there. I have a friend who moved there for research studies. Now Florida is the third largest state in the country, why?

Well..The story goes back to a foggy night in 1902, a 26 year old engineer named Willis Carrier who had an eureka moment . He wondered If he could use fog to cool a building. He patented and pitched the idea at the New York world fair in 1939. He called it the Igloo. This was science fiction eighty years ago.

Carrier now is a 12 billion dollar business. We don’t think about it much. We take it for granted because it was invented before most of us were born.

Steven Johnson says, the smartest mind in the world couldn’t invent a refrigerator in the middle of the 17th century, it simply wasn’t part of the adjacent possible at the moment.

The basic principle of the Adjacent Possible is this: In any given time only a certain steps are possible.

In mathematics, you can’t go from arithmetic to calculus without having algebra, geometry and trigonometry. When you do then Calculus is the Adjacent Possible.

You’ve got to walk before you run, it’s step by step, day by day. Over time the possible gets closer and closer,  layer upon layer of labor of others. And then the  next thing you know the adjacent possible is all around us and we don’t even know it.

By the way it could be argued that the last USA election was decided by Willis Carrier. Nothing had more of an effect on the electoral college than the air conditioning. Since the advent of air conditioning the colder states lost their electoral college votes to warmer states like Florida, a swing state. So Willis Carrier didn’t just circulated air, he circulated people around his country. I don’t think that’s what he was thinking on a foggy night in 1902.

I think the  Adjacent Possible is a  wonderful picture of  faith. When the disciples first started following Jesus, they did have a category for walking on water, its called impossible?…No! It’s possible. For a man being born blind receiving his sight with just a touch, impossible?…No! It’s Possible. Feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, impossible?…No! Possible.

The truth is when your next to Jesus you’re in the adjacent possible. You are in a realm where all things are possible. When Jesus walked out of the tomb the word ‘impossible’ was removed from our dictionary.

All things are possible. It’s a mystery I fully don’t understand but I firmly believe in. We all need this mystery. You can’t get any closer to the adjacent possible than Jesus. Stay close to Him.

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