We all love thinking about complicated paradoxes which we can use to thoroughly confuse ourselves for a couple of minutes before we decide to confuse our friends instead.
I’ve always been a fan of famous paradoxes but what’s always annoyed me is that the amazing people who came up with these things gave them really boring and obvious names. Have a look at this list of paradoxes:
1. The Ship of TheseusThis is one of my favourite paradoxes. Let’s say you build a ship using 100 pieces of wood. You name this ship “Ship” (obviously you’re a creative genius the likes of which the world has never seen). Every day, you take one wooden piece off Ship and replace it with a metal one.
Eventually, you’ve replaced every single piece with a metal one. Now, what if you take all those wooden pieces and built a completely identical ship which you also name “Ship”? Which Ship is the real Ship?
2. The Grandfather ParadoxHave you seen Looper? It’s a great film. But if you’ve not seen it yet, I’ll not ruin the story for you. Here’s a totally unrelated paradox. Imagine a man goes back in time to kill his grandfather before the grandfather can meet the man’s grandmother. This means that one of the man’s parents will not have been born, which in turn means that he himself will not have been born.
If he will not have been born, then he can’t travel back in time to kill his grandfather. Obviously, this paradox doesn’t take into account the possibility of parallel realities since it would just complicate things even more and ruin the paradox.
3. Schrodinger’s Cat ExperimentThis is one of my favourite paradoxes, though it may be difficult to understand its relevance without a basic understanding of quantum mechanics. Imagine you have a cat and you put it in a box along with some explosives. The cat has a 50% chance of living and a 50% chance of dying. The only possible way you would know if the cat’s still alive is to open the box and look inside. However, before you go blundering in and opening up the box, the cat is both dead and alive. It’s a zombie in a state called “superposition”. The second you open that box, you force nature to pick one outcome. This creates the idea that there will be no single outcome until it is observed.
While it is understood that our observing causes the cat’s reality to collapse into one outcome, it leads to the question about our reality and our outcome. Who’s observing us and forcing nature to pick one outcome? Or are there multiple realities and parallel universes? To this day, Schrödinger’s Cat experiment remains one of the greatest and most annoying paradoxes; even Schrödinger himself eventually wished he had never met that stupid cat.
4. The Unstoppable Force ParadoxFans of The Joker will remember his little speech at the end of The Dark Knight: “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object…” The same idea was shown in The Avengers, when Thor smacks his hammer (an unstoppable force) into Captain America’s shield (an immovable object).
But what would actually happen when one meets the other? Theoretically, it would seem as though nothing is happening, but there would actually be an infinite transfer of energy. The two would push against each other and constantly transfer energy to each other and would never reach equilibrium because they both have infinite amounts of energy. It’s like the constant battle of Good vs. Evil.
5. The Liar ParadoxThis simple and yet mind-boggling paradox was thought up by P.E.B. Jourdain, an English mathematician, in 1913. I’m sure you’ve heard it (or a variation of it) before: “The next statement is true. The previous statement is false.” Which statement is true? If the second statement is true, then the first statement is false which makes the second one false which makes the first one true which makes the second one true which makes the first one false which makes the second one…
6. The Crocodile’s DilemmaA crocodile steals a man’s child and promises that he’ll return the child (how nice of him!) to the father only if the father can correctly guess what the crocodile will do will the child. Assuming the father is an alcoholic who doesn’t really want his son back and loves creating problems, what would the crocodile do if the father guesses that the crocodile won’t return the child?
7. The Barber ParadoxThis particular paradox was used by Bertrand Russell to illustrate a seemingly believable scenario that is logically impossible. It’s one of the best examples of a paradox. Imagine there’s a really small town where there’s only one male barber. In this town, every man keeps himself clean-shaven by doing one of two things:
- Shaving himself, or
- Going to the barber
So the barber shaves every man who can’t be bothered to shave himself. But then the problem is: who shaves the barber? If he can’t shave himself, the barber has to shave him. BUT, if the barber doesn’t shave himself, then he must shave himself. In both cases, he (the barber) ends up shaving himself and so breaks the rules. Of course, the obvious question is this: Why isn’t there another barber in this town?
8. The Paradox of the HeapAlso known as the “Sorites’ Paradox”, this paradox is deceptively simple: imagine a heap of sand from which you gradually remove one grain of sand at a time. You can construct the argument using 2 premises:
- 1 Million grains of sand is a heap of sand
- A heap of sand minus one grain of sand is still a heap
If you follow Premise 2 and repeatedly take one grain of sand away from your original heap, then you will eventually end up with a heap with only one grain of sand. But it’s not possible to have a heap of one sand grain. Or is it? But this goes one step further. If you still follow from Premise 2, then it follows that you can have a heap with absolutely no grains of sand. Furthermore, you can actually have a heap with a negative number of grains.