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Language and Paradox
Category: Other Articles
Last Updated: March 2011

So... what does happen when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

And why is it relevant to us?

Shortly after I first started reading about the 'language patterns' that indicate that important information may have been lost (further discussed in the article on Language & Communication) somebody happened to bring up the subject of 'Zeno's Paradox'...

This is where a runner (or an arrow) covers half of the distance to their target, then half of the remaining distance, then half of the remaining distance again, and so on - forever covering 'half of the distance to the target' and never actually reaching the target.

...and it was like a little 'red flag' went up: Presupposition.

Zeno's Paradox assumes that space-time is infinitely divisible. If, on the other hand, we assume that space-time consists of tiny building blocks of reality that cannot be split into two then there will come a time when the 'runner/arrow' cannot traverse only 'half' of the remaining distance to it's target - it must either stop where it is or complete its journey.

- as soon as you recognise the hidden presupposition then Zeno's Paradox melts away.

The presence of any kind of 'paradox' can be profitably used to recognise some kind of hidden limitations, contradictions or presuppositions in the 'map' we are using to understand the world around us.

Elementary, my dear Higgs-Boson

As a slight aside, the big question for me at one point in time was: does this 'solution' for Zeno's Paradox in turn prove that space is not infinitely divisible? If Paradox highlights an 'incorrect' map then would the resolution of the Paradox be automatic 'proof' of an accurate map?

The process of deduction states that once you have removed all other possibilities then whatever remains, no matter how implausible, must be the truth. The difficulty is in knowing that all other possibilities have indeed been removed rather than just overlooked.

If somebody is able to provide accurate information about a target that might be 600 kilometres (or 600 years) away, then does this 'prove' that 'Out Of Body / Astral Travelling' must exist? Does this 'prove' that 're-incarnation' must exist? This is evidence for the phenomenon but not the actual mechanism by which the information has been retrieved.

The fact that someone might have - so far - found only one possible solution does not mean that this one possibility must be the truth. Deduction is a tool that can give erroneous results if not used with care.

So that whilst it would appear that Quantum Physics might back this up - what with various sub-atomic particles jumping back and forwards apparently without traversing the in-between ground - there may well be other solutions to the paradox, other limitations that can be unravelled that will allow for an infinitely-divisible universe.

The Unsinkable Ship

What happens when an 'Unsinkable Ship' hits an iceberg? Well if this is the Titanic that we're talking about then what happened was that the ship sank. But how could this be possible?

How could an unsinkable ship actually sink? What if we put it like this: How could an ‘unsinkable’ ship actually sink? And maybe one step further: How could a ship, which some people believed to be ‘unsinkable’, actually sink? The solution is a bit clearer now. The problem is that the people who assigned the label of ‘unsinkable’ were incorrect - or at best 'quoted out of context'.

And, crucially, giving the ship the label of ‘unsinkable’ did not 'magically' give it powers of invulnerability.

So... back to our example:

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Hopefully one solution to resolving this paradox should be reasonably clear: what happens is that we find out which of the two has been most incorrectly described as 'unstoppable' or 'immovable'.

What makes you think that this force cannot be stopped?
What makes you so sure that this object cannot be moved?

If you look at it this way then it is obvious. The problem is that language is not taught in a way to assist this. We are taught to use words in a magical way, without a ‘reality check’ going with it, and have moved from words being a tool to describe the universe - to believing that words 'dictate' how the universe 'should' work.