Optionality versus Possibility

Abstract: In another one in the series of articles on the concept 'optionality', this article compares 'optionality' with 'possibility', to conclude that 'optionality' has advantages that 'possibility' lacks. In particular, possibility does not imply choice.

What is a Possibility?

Possibilities are attractive, generally people will be glad to have more possibilities. However, having more possibilities is no guarantee that one will get what one wants. It may be that none of the possibilities is attractive, it may also be that all the possibilities stay what they are: possibilities, perhaps never to become manifest in reality, except maybe for a possibility that was not a very attractive one in the first place.

If there are more possibilities, that does not automatically result in, say, a more pleasant lifestyle or in more success business-wise. The reason for this is that a possibility does not necessarily eventuate. There is the possibility that it will happen, but whether it will is unclear; maybe it will, perhaps it won't.

Furthermore, if there are possibilities, this does not mean that one has a say in which one of them will eventuate. Possibility as a concept implies that one does not have such choice, instead it is implied that it is chance or destiny that will determine which of the possibilities will become a reality. Even if the outcome of possibilities is not determined by dictatorial decree, but is left to chance or decided by some random procedure, this does not make it much less dictatorial. Denying people choice is endorsing dictatorship and the concept of possibility does just that.

Possibility is a word that, in many respects, is associated with words such as truth, facts and reality and this association is one of its major weaknesses. Hinging on such singular concepts to derive its meaning from, possibility itself becomes quite singular, as if it is inevitable that eventually only one possibility can become reality. Although the concept possibility looks deceptively plural, it does not reject, but tends to endorse a singular outcome.

Where do Options differ?

Sometimes, the word possibility is used in the sense of having the possibility to choose. Placed in such a context, possibility does not seem to have the disadvantages mentioned above. Used in such a way, the concept possibility comes close to having freedom of choice. But it takes a verbal rhetoric to clarify this, which may lead to ambiguous interpretations.

One can even argue that choice and possibility are in some respects inconsistent and that one cannot have possibilities. By contrast, the word options unambiguously implies that it is up to the persons who are offered the options to decide. Also, multiple options can co-exist and continue to co-exist, even if one selects one of the options as the preferred one at a given moment. If one selects a particular option, one can still choose other options too, if one wanted to. The result is not a static, singular outcome.

The concept Optionality

The concept optionality has all the advantages of options that possibility lacks. Optionality gives people the freedom to choose, without forcing them to choose. Optionality encourages multiple possibilities to co-exist, but it does not force all of them to become equally manifest. Optionality encourages other options to continue to be there, if someone selects one of them. Associated with the concept possibility is the question which one of the possibilities will become reality. By contrast, optionality rejects the idea of a singular truth or reality. Whether one particular option becomes manifest or not is not relevant, instead optionality encourages many options to co-exist, without forcing any particular option on people and without enforcing plurality on people who do not want that.

There are various ways to express what optionality stands for and this magazine has devoted many words to this purpose, emphasizing that optionality is not merely verbal rhetoric. This magazine does not claim to be the sole authority on optionality, e.g. much of Don Paragon's music expresses optionality, sometimes without containing any words at all!

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