What is a paradox?

We explain what a paradox is, what are considered “life paradoxes” and examples of famous paradoxes, such as time travel.

  1. What is a paradox?

A paradox is an idea, fact or proposition that contradicts logic or infringes common sense . The word paradox comes from the Latin paradox , which literally means “contrary to common opinion.” It is also called antilogy. It should not be confused with sophistry, which are valid reasoning only in appearance.

They are habitual terrain of philosophical or logical debate , since paradoxes usually lead to dead ends of logic . They are often formulated as a way of transmitting some conceptual complexity in a specific field of knowledge, whose resolution escapes the traditional way of thinking .

We can talk about the following types of paradox:

  • Veridical paradoxes . Those that are verifiable, but have an air of absurdity or contradiction to the terms themselves.
  • Antinomies . Paradoxes whose result contradicts the premises from which it comes, although its deductive methods are perfectly valid.
  • Definition antinomies . Of literary use mostly, they are based on ambiguous definitions, or illustrative thinking methods regarding a key sense.
  • Conditional Paradoxes . Propositions that acquire a paradoxical character as one tries to solve them, either because information is missing for resolution or because it is simply impossible.

It is also usual to categorize paradoxes by the area of ​​knowledge they concern: mathematical paradoxes, paradoxes in physics , etc.

  1. What is paradoxical?

By extension, all situations, facts or propositions that contain an irresolvable , ironic situation , contrary to the logic or challenge of common sense , are considered paradoxical .

We can say that a situation is paradoxical, for example, when we are immersed in conflicts whose resolution makes them worse, or when the persecution of our desires makes them, precisely, unattainable.

  1. Paradoxes of life

We often talk about the “paradoxes of life”, to refer to the fact that people often find ourselves in paradoxical situations , ironic or without apparent solution. In them, doing the obvious further complicates what it is supposed to solve.

There is no “official” or definitive corpus of these paradoxes of life, but rather these are popular formulations , spoken by the people. They are used as ways of thinking about life and its arbitrariness, in the “logic” of life , that is, as a way of teaching about what, paradoxically, can not learn to foresee.

  1. Fermi paradox

paradox fermi destruction of planet extraterrestrial life
Fermi’s paradox raises why we don’t know civilizations from other planets.

The apparent contradiction between the high probability that there are intelligent civilizations on other planets and solar systems (given the dimensions of the Universe ) and the total absence of evidence in this regard that we humans have until the day of today.

Who first formulated this paradox was the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, in 1950 , in the middle of an informal conversation, while working in the United States.

Perhaps due to the pessimism that was lived at that time of the Cold War and possible nuclear conflict , Fermi answered his own question that, along with the technological development that would make space travel effective, civilizations also developed the technological potential to annihilate themselves . Thus, he predicted humanity a promising future.

  1. Epicurus paradox

Also known as the Problem of evil, this philosophical or religious paradox contains the difficulty that exists to reconcile the existence of evil , suffering and injustice in the world, with the supposed existence of an omniscient and almighty deity , which is also benevolent, as classical theism poses.

This paradoxical approach is based on four elementary questions:

  • Does God want to avoid evil, but cannot? So it is not omnipotent.
  • Is it that God is able to do it, but He does not want to? So it is not benevolent.
  • Is it that God is able to do it and also desires it? Why does evil exist then?
  • Is it that God is not able to do it nor does he want it? Why call it God then?

According to the Latin writer and Christian apologist Lactantius, the Greek philosopher Epicurus of Samos was the first to formulate this paradox , which is why he is often mentioned by name.

  1. Paradox of the twins

paradox twins time space example
The twin paradox is part of the Theory of Special Relativity.

Also called Paradox of the clocks, it is a mental experiment that tries to understand the difference in the perception of time in two observers in different states of movement. It was proposed by Albert Einstein .

It is part of what we know today as Theory of Special Relativity, where the physical genius explains how, far from being absolute dimensions, time and space depend on the position of the observer .

The most usual formulation of this paradox is due, however, to the French physicist Paul Langevin, and takes two twins as protagonists: one of them remains on Earth while the other undertakes a long journey to a distant star, in a ship space capable of reaching speeds similar to those of light .

Eventually, the traveling twin returns and realizes that he is younger than his brother on Earth, since the dilation of time would have caused his to pass more slowly than his brother’s own time.

The paradox, however, arises when the observation is made that, seen from the perspective of the traveling twin, it is the Earth that moves away at speeds very close to the light, and therefore it is his brother who would have to age more slowly.

  1. Paradox of time travel

Also known as the Grandfather Paradox, it is a very popular paradox. It was probably formulated by science fiction writer René Barjael in his novel The Reckless Traveler of 1943, although other authors such as Mark Twain had already previously explored it.

The paradox is based on the fact that a man takes a trip back in time, returning to the past and being able to kill his mother’s father , that is, his grandfather, before he meets his grandmother and conceives his mother.

In this way, his mother would never be born and he himself, therefore, neither, so he could not go back in time and kill his grandfather, then allowing him to meet his grandmother and conceive his mother, who will then conceive to him, allowing him to travel in time and kill his grandfather, and so on.

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