Revisiting Stability in Instability
August 11, 2022
August 25, 2022

Living with the Paradoxical

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

A paradox is defined as a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement, or a proposition, which when investigated may prove to be nonetheless well founded.

It is also a statement or proposition which, despite sound reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems logically unacceptable or self-contradictory.

Example: all men are liars. I am a man.

Paradoxes are often unresolvable. They are illogical logics that make sense, and yet they don’t.

Zeno invented several. One is Achilles and the Tortoise. Achilles can never pass the tortoise because when he reaches the point where the tortoise started, the tortoise will have moved ahead, and when Achilles reaches that point, the tortoise will have moved ahead again. The process is repeated ad infinitum.

The Greeks weren’t the only ones who pondered paradoxes. Similar ones were developed in Ancient China and in Buddhism.

For instance, the Zen Koan is a paradoxical riddle used for meditation: “Out of nowhere the mind comes forth”, or “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Often, we look at these peculiar logics as philosophical exercises, divorced from reality, but that is not the case. They exist in the physical world

Particles act like waves. Waves act like particles. Physics and mathematics both contain such contradictions. They are often referred to as Uncertainty Principles.

For myself, a paradox is not “a thing” but “a things“. It is two contradictory points of view that exist simultaneously. They flicker from one form, or point of view, to another and back again—always in motion, like the ticking of a clock or the vibrations of a crystal.

People, too, can be paradoxes. Portrayed as good, they are found to be bad. Found to be bad, they are discovered to be good—sometimes even simultaneously. Which is true? Which is false?

Oddly, paradoxes do not resolve with context. They are unique in this regard.

One of the strangest is that we are alive, and yet our bodies are made of inanimate elements.

Death, too, is the subject of paradox. The Ancient Egyptians believed that we die not once but three times. First, when the body dies. Again, when all those who interacted with us are dead (usually within three or four generations), and lastly, when nobody speaks our name.

I’ve used paradoxes in my novels to make a reader pause. In Shadow of the Son, the deceased Alice wrote to her living husband:

“Perhaps life and death are not so very different, and it’s all a matter of degrees. One can be alive and dead. One can be dead but very much alive. Like now. How very strange it is.”

All great truths are likely paradoxes.

Ironically, it’s when we are absolutely sure of a particular point of view that we are most likely to be in error, and that is paradoxical. What we are certain about is not always so certain, given time.

For example, we can love someone but not trust them. That is paradoxical, and yet such inner conflicts are commonplace.

I find them fascinating and disturbing, but how are we to live in a world of fluttering contradictions?

One piece of advice I’ve found that is useful is from Philippians 4 in the King James Bible. It reads:

“For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

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