It occurred to me, after I wrote ‘The Paradox Of My Blog’ yesterday, that what I was referring to (the fact that when I stopped posting, people started reading my blog) wasn’t in fact a paradox. Seeing as I get quite annoyed at other people for using words in the wrong way I thought I would stop to address what a paradox is. (Also, I just like talking about them.)
A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. What I was referring to was probably just unfortunate or ‘Sod’s Law’ (originally ‘Murphy’s Law’, but that’s a whole other post in itself).
A real paradox is something that just can’t happen. The most famous being that someone might say they are going to go back in time to kill their grandfather. Well, if that was your intent, and you carried it out, you wouldn’t actually exist to be able to say that. Why someone would want to kill their grandfather? I don’t know. Maybe their grandfather was a dick?
The one that most people jump on is that they would go back in time and kill Hitler. Of course, if you had gone back in time and killed Hitler, he wouldn’t have existed and you wouldn’t be able to say that and carry out the murder. (Because yes, going back in time to kill an young innocent Hitler would actually be murder… sorry about that.)
(If you’re interested in that theory there’s a fun book by Stephen Fry called Making History, about this exact idea.)
Yep, time travel comes into talk about paradoxes a lot. Some people say that time travel couldn’t exist because of paradoxes and they’re probably right. And it’s always fun to see how movies like Back to the Future find ‘a way around’ the paradoxes to justify their narrative (not that that’s a bad thing, I absolutely love Back to the Future).
On the subject of time travel it’s amazing how often people talk about it. I recently listened to a This American Life podcast episode where they discussed this in relation to the Pew Study (you can read more about it in this The Atlantic article), which found out that a startlingly high percentage of the US population wanted time travel and that the older you got the less likely you would travel if you could. Indicating that as we get older we become more relaxed with the state of things.
(Interestingly, Back to the Future isn’t available in China. Apparently philosophising about time travel is not constructive in a communist society. People are supposed to be happy and content with what they already have. Which is logical. But it’s Back to the Future dammit!)
Anyway, I went off on a tangent then. But you can’t really talk about paradoxes without talking about time travel.
Paradoxes are an intriguing thing, there’s an amazing list of classic ones on Wikipedia. (Yeah, I link to Wikipedia, what of it?) My favourite is, of course, the ‘Catch-22’, named for Joseph Heller’s novel I would suppose (it may be a bit more complicated than that). The paradox where by the thing you most want you can’t have, because you can only get it by not being in that state of wanting it. Sounds complicated, but that’s just the way I put it. A Catch-22 is basically all about mutually dependent conditions. In the case of the book it’s about airmen applying not to fly because they were worried about their mental state, but if you actually applied that meant you were of sound mind enough to worry about yourself, so you weren’t excused… See how this goes?
So that’s all I know about paradoxes, hopefully it’s been relatively helpful or intriguing. I can highly recommend This American Life, by the way, very informative stuff.