Paradox – Concept, definition and examples of paradoxes

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

desert tree paradox
A paradox is something that goes against logic or common sense.

What is a paradox?

A paradox is an idea, fact, or proposition that contradicts logic or violates common sense. The word paradox It 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 is only apparently valid reasoning.

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

We can talk about the following types of paradox:

  • True paradoxes. Those that are verifiable, but that have an air of absurdity or contradiction to the terms themselves.
  • Antinomies. Paradoxes whose result contradicts the premises from which it comes, despite the fact that its deductive methods are perfectly valid.
  • Definition antinomies. Mostly literary in use, 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 lacking for their resolution or because it is simply impossible.

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

What is paradoxical?

By extension, all are called paradoxical the situations, facts or propositions that contain within them an unsolvable situation, ironic, contrary to logic or challenging of common sense.

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

Paradoxes of life

The “paradoxes of life” are often spoken of, to refer to the fact that often people find ourselves in paradoxical situations, ironic or without apparent solution. In them, doing the obvious complicates what it is supposed to solve even more.

There is no “official” or definitive corpus of these paradoxes of life, rather these are popular formulations, said by the people. They are used as ways of thinking about life and its arbitrariness, about life’s own “logic”, that is, as a form of teaching about what, paradoxically, one cannot learn to foresee.

In the following points we will see some famous paradoxes from different areas.

Fermi paradox

fermi paradox destruction of planet alien life
The Fermi paradox raises why we do not know civilizations from other planets.

It is known with this title to the apparent contradiction that exists between the high probability that intelligent civilizations exist on other planets and solar systems (given the dimensions of the Universe) and the total absence of evidence about it that we human beings have to this day.

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 existed 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 were also developing the technological potential to annihilate themselves . Thus, he predicted an unpromising future for humanity.

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 all-powerful deity, which is also benevolent, as posited by classical theism.

This paradoxical approach is based on four elementary questions:

  • Is it that God wants to avoid evil, but cannot? So it is not omnipotent.
  • Is it that God is able to do it, but does not want to? Then it is not benevolent.
  • Is it that God is able to do it and wants it too? Why does evil exist then?
  • Is it that God is not able to do it and does not want to? Why call it God then?

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

Twin paradox

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

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

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

The most common formulation of this paradox is due, however, to the French physicist Paul Langevin, and takes as protagonists two twins: one of them remains on Earth while the other undertakes a long journey towards 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 time 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 is moving away at speeds very close to light, and therefore it is its brother who would have to grow older. slowly.

Time travel paradox

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

The paradox starts from the fact that a man takes a trip back in time, going back to the past and being able to murder his mother’s father, that is, to 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 murder his grandfather, then allowing him to meet his grandmother and conceive his mother, who will later conceive him him, thus allowing him to travel back in time and murder his grandfather, and so on.