Paradoxes are a complex idea and are inherently contorted and difficult to wrap your head around. A paradox is a logical statement that defies your expectations and lead to an unacceptable conclusion.

a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.

Oxford Language

The Oxford definition is definitely clearer than mine, but it still doesn’t really show you what a paradox is. The best way to understand what a paradox is would be to look at some examples. So, let’s do that.

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⌛ The Temporal Paradox

The temporal paradox is one of the most commonly discussed paradoxes. It is frequently used to try and explain why time travel would be impossible.

If we look at the grandfather paradox, we can see how this works. Imagine that you go back in time to before one of your parents were conceived and kill your grandfather. You’ve effectively just broken time. If you think about it, one of your parents never existed, and therefore you cannot exist. But if you cannot exist then your grandfather was never killed, which means that your parent was born and therefore you do exist. However, as you exist you now go back in time and kill your grandfather, which means you no longer exist. You can see how this kind of thing can get very messy, very quickly.

Another good example of the temporal paradox is the fermi paradox. This one poses the question: If time travel is possible, then where are all the visitors from the future?

Well, if anyone can ever go back in time, then they probably would. So unless there’s something stopping beings from the future going back in time, then where is everyone? You could say that they haven’t come back in time yet, however this argument doesn’t really work because it suggests that they wouldn’t really be travelling through time if they hadn’t come back yet.

Something that makes it quite clear these are all paradoxes is the fact that nobody can really answer these questions. This is what makes the topic so interesting for me.

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📷 Visual Paradoxes

A paradox can take on many forms, it doesn’t have to be limited to a topic such as time travel. Visual paradoxes can, as the name suggests, actually be seen. A visual paradox creates a conflict between your senses and your understanding, making it very hard to understand the image you’re looking at. Here’s one to have a look at:

Fork paradox

This image might look normal at first glance, but when you look at it more closely, you’ll notice that it doesn’t make sense. How many prongs does it have? Where is the center prong attached to the base? You can’t really answer these questions, because you can’t really understand what you’re looking at.

Another interesting visual paradox is the well-known duck or rabbit one:

Duck or rabbit paradox

Hint: The rabbit’s ears is the duck’s bill

If you look at this image for long enough, you’ll be able to see both a duck and a rabbit. It’s all about how your brain processes the environment. Nothing you see is actually there, it’s all just being reconstructed in your brain from electrical pulses. This is absolutely fine for 99.99% of the things you need to do, but there are a few cases where you can’t interpret the input. This is where visual paradoxes arise.

One last visual paradox I want to show you today are the Penrose stairs. What first appears to be a simple staircase quickly becomes more complicated when you can’t figure out where it starts or ends, making it impossible for you to gauge what level each stair is at.

Penrose staircase, another example of paradoxes

You can’t even tell which way is up or down. That’s pretty disorientating.

📺 The paradox of Fiction

The last paradox I want to cover here is one that’s a little bit different. The paradox of Fiction tries to explain why we respond emotionally to events that we know are fictitious. There are 3 different sections to the paradox.

  • People respond emotionally to a character that they know doesn’t exist and is completely fictional
  • To be moved emotionally, we need to believe that the character is real.
  • If you believe that the character is fictional, then you can’t also believe that they are real.

The problem occurs when you try to make the whole paradox true. You can’t logically make all 3 points true, because they would contradict. The best you could do is make 2 true. This is the basic idea behind a lot of paradoxes.

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If you’ve found this interesting, then I would like to recommend that you have a look through this Wikipedia article that lists lots of paradoxes:

I have really enjoyed researching and working on this article, and I have learnt a lot from it. I’ve made sure to link all my sources in so that you can go and read into anything I’ve discussed more, should it interest you.

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