The Philosopher of Paradoxes

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“The goal of life is living in agreement with Nature.” 
Zeno

Athens

Zeno of Elea is renowned for his paradoxes. Indeed, they continue to challenge, confound, inspire and amuse even until this day. We can thank Plato for what little we know of Zeno’s life.  Plato wrote in his Parmenides dialogue of a meeting in Athens between Parmenides, Zeno and a young Socrates.  I can only imagine the intellectual energy generated by their conversation.

Zeno defended Parmenides’ views against the followers of Pythagoras by introducing a series of paradoxes to argue that change and plurality (a belief in the existence of many things rather than only one) are illusory. It seems that there may have been up to 40 paradoxes; unfortunately, only two have survived over the centuries.

The paradox that I recall suggests that Achilles of The Iliad fame, at his best speed, could never catch a tortoise that had been given a head start.   Suppose you want to walk to the other side of a room, the end point. Before you reach the end point, you must first reach the halfway point, but before that, you must reach the halfway point of that, and the halfway point of that, and so on.  If space consists of an infinite series of points, to complete the walk across the room, you must pass every one of those points.  Bottom line – you can never move through all of those infinite points within a finite timeline.  A tortoise, with the benefit of a head start, will outperform even the great Achilles.

“if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like” 
Zeno

16 thoughts on “The Philosopher of Paradoxes

    • I remember the first time I heard about this when I was in high school math class. I tried to make sense of it back then. Now, I just let greater minds mull it over while I enjoy my coffee! To me, this is the proof that the journey is greater than the destination. Who cares if we ever get to the other side of the room.

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  1. My little brain is confused by these paradoxes but if the last one means that Usain Bolt could never catch up with me if I had a head start, then I am all for it!

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    • It gives new meaning to the early bird catches the worm. Or a stitch in time saves nine. Or the tortoise and the hare. Or as Ben Franklin once said, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise….
      I am with you – my brain starts to hurt after all this thinking! 🙂

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  2. Good morning to you, dear ((Rebecca!))
    Thanks for bringing up Zeno at the beginning of a brand new week. 🙂
    Enjoy your Monday.
    Greetings from windy Norfolk in England
    Dina

    2 quotes from Zeno in my personal quote book:

    Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue. – Zeno
    We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say. – Zeno

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  3. What a trio–Parmenides, Zeno and Socrates. I don’t think I could have added anything worthwile to their conversation, maybe very simple things, but it would have been good to have lbeen there to listen.I

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  4. That’s interesting, months ago I watched a short video 60s speaks about this paradox, being used to touch sarcastically on finance, that mortgage payments is “bottomless pit”, enjoy!

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  5. reading this baffles me like those maths problems I used to weep over… ” If a train travelling at 30 miles an hour has travelled fifteen miles along the track when will it meet a train travelling at 60 mph, starting ten minutes later?????

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    • I can only imagine the two of us in math class together! We would be more concerned about 1) Where the train was heading? 2) Who was on the train? 3) Would they be serving tea or coffee? and the best question of all 4) Why did it matter when the other train caught up with us? After all, as the great Albert Einstein, once said, “Time is an illusion.”

      P.S. We would have had so much fun!!!

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